Games and stories

I had a great conversation this week with a writer friend. We were discussing one difference between the experience of playing a game and the experience of being told a story.

There are many differences of course, but one in particular, we both agreed, is essential. It’s the question of “who am I here?”

When you play a game, you yourself are an inherent part of what happens. You are an active participant in the experience, and your choices explicitly affect the outcome.

One consequence of this is that your ego is on the line. You have a different experience if you win than if you lose.

When you read or watch or listen to a story, the opposite is true. Your goal is to effectively observe. It is not up to you to determine the outcome, and therefore you are free to use your powers of inference and observation, without being judged.

One consequence of this is that your ego is not on the line, because you are not present within the world of the narrative. You don’t “win” or “lose” a story — you receive it, hopefully you are entertained by it, and perhaps you learn from it.

There is an argument to be made from this that the hybrid genre of a “story game”, although certainly possible, is difficult to do well. In a sense, something that tries to be both a game and a story inherently clashes with a fundamental difference between the experience of “playing a game” and the experience of “being told a story”.

Leave a Reply