January 23, 2004

Reflections of a Larger Issue

by Andrew Stern · , 8:58 am

Our making, not telling terminology debate is a reflection of a larger issue, often framed as game vs. story or ludology vs. narratology, but I’d rather frame it as high-agency vs. low-or-no-agency. Let me quickly state, I’m not saying I don’t like stories or experiences without agency — I love them! I consume tons of books and movies and comics and music — but they’re not the new form I and many others are envisioning here… I think “gamers” or “ludologists” often have a distaste for interactive stories in their current forms not because interactive stories are not “games” per se, and not even because they’re often text-based instead of visual, but because the interactive stories built to date don’t have much agency. I feel the same way. (Go here for more on story vs. game.)

If you’re a developer or critic shying away from all-out-advocating of high-agency experiences, perhaps experiences leaning more towards the “telling” end of the spectrum are just what you prefer, or you don’t want to advocate / prefer one form over another, that’s fine. But another reason I could imagine is because high-agency experiences are really hard to design, and even harder to implement. But a lot of us believe they’re an extremely promising future for interactive entertainment, a holy grail that people want, evidenced by the most popular interactive experiences out there, e.g. the Sims, GTA3, which have high agency relative to others. Many of us have faith (e.g. informed by experiments over the last 15 years, often with mixed results) that high-agency interactive stories are theoretically buildable, with enough time and effort.

I’m not intending to attack anyone with this post, by the way, I’m merely stating my position on the directions I’d love to see developers and critics pushing towards.