I have a strange new blossoming interest in narrative. It started last week (or I should say, earlier this week) with drones, but maybe it started a year ago, or a decade ago, or even longer ago when I first started playing games.
I've been thinking about how many stories in games I don't get to finish because I'm not interested in working for my story -- I want to experience the story, but I don't want to play the game. This is something worth interrogating, and I have often done so: what does this say about me? Am I lazy, unwilling to put in effort for something I want? (The answer is, of course, yes, but I still wanted to discover other aspects of this.)
In an emergent narrative, the stories that I tell myself are about the contents of my play.
In a linear narrative, the stories that are told to me ignore the contents of my play, except for:
- The things I was forced to do, and
- The simplification and flattened outcomes of my play: for example, getting to see the end of the game acknowledges my fungible effort as having pushed my progress in the game to a certain point.
Item 1 is a whole topic I won't go into right now, and I think Item 2 is a bit messy and wordy, so the point I really want to make is that doing to work to 'unlock' a story beat sucks because this loop treats my play as unimportant, as a means to an end.
I was listening to a Literary Analysis of Transistor, and I really enjoyed it. I thought to myself, yeah, this is a story with intriguing themes delivered in this fascinating playable-audio-visual way, with impactful moments that require interaction. But... the combat and the movement are not really discussed. In some cases the mechanics might communicate something, but never the play, which I imagine takes up a great deal of the playtime of the game. And maybe this is just the scope of the video, or even a failing of the analysis, but it seems to me that it speaks to a core disconnect -- common to most games (I don't mean to single out Transistor, which I have never played) -- between the details of what you choose to do, and the details of the story you're told.
I might be missing something. Maybe it's just not for me. I stopped playing Disco Elysium because although I was terribly interested in the story and the world... I stopped being interested in the Thought Cabinet. I stopped being interested in poking around the world. I stopped being interested in playing Disco Elysium. This isn't to say I wish Disco Elysium was a novel. Again: maybe it just wasn't my kind of game. But I feel hard-pressed to name a game that did a good job of making me feel like the story I was playing with, rather than something I was labouring in order to unlock. Fun labour for a while, but still in a way that does not feel like it appreciates my play.