Micheal Abbott, in a blog post titled “Who needs winners?” writers how there is no crecct way to construct narratives for videogames, and there exist multiple successful approaches that various audeinces are drawn toward. Abbott begins this arugment with a comparison to both visual art and theather in the 1800s and the social upheaval these new art forms and narrative styles which met with both supporters and oppenenets. Abbott mentions that these debates can range from simple things like whether the character of Link should be able to speak to the much larger ideas of what a game is. “I’d say roughly a quarter of the sessions at the annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco could be classified as mini-manifestos, calling in one way or another for a chage in thinking, a reassessment of methods, a challenge to assumptions. GDC and similar gatherings continue to ask fundamental questions about the nature, form and purpose of games” (Abbott). This leads into his main point that audiences often assume that there exists only one correct method to game design that is superior in order to make a successful game. However, Abbott argues that in history, the concept that there is only one correct way to construct a medium has never been true. Especially in regards to videogames and its various different forms of narrative. Abbott narrows it down to four pillars that reflect different ways narrative is told in gaming.
The first pillar he describes is one that has repeated elements in both its story and gamplay over its series that seek to refine issues to create a fun game for audiences to enjoy. The next is the more movie-like games where the narrative feels like that of a movie with a cinematic style but a linear story that allows players to enjoy the thrill of adventure. The third is where the game has a central narrative but the player is allowed to explore the open world as the game lets the player’s imagination guide the adventure. The final pillar is the true sandbox in which Abbott describes a narrative that allows the player to create and do whatever they wish in an open world that has no central story for the player to follow unless the player wants to make one themselves. In Abbott’s final thoughts, he clarifies that these pillars are not to classify all narratively driven games but rather to help audiences understand where designers can draw inspiration from to create something new with the lessons learned from the old.
An example that that comes to my mind that helps show Abbott’s argument is in the differences between the successful series of games from Bioware’s “Dragon Age” and Nintendo’s “Pokémon”. The “Dragon Age “series allows the players to directly make changes that impact the central narrative of the story but also provides a cinematic action style with you character fighting dragons and monsters in movie like story events. For example, the character of Ironbull in “Dragon Age Inquisition” can betray the party or not based upon the choices the player makes prior to these events. We see the player is given a cinematic narrative event at this moment with a betrayal of a party member, but the player has the freedom in how to approach this possible event.
While the “Pokémon” series is where the players follows similar narrative plots in each game but is given the freedom to customize their teams and create a narrative behind these teams. These can range from challenges the players can put on themselves, like the “nuzlocke” challenge, or merely choices based upon the aesthetic of the pokémon. While these decisions seem minor, it allows one to craft a story based upon the challenges one can face which are based upon how their team is formed. Some fights are harder for some teams while easier for others for example. While both series are very successful and popular, both are also very different in how they approach narrative structure. Abbott primarily argues the medium of videogames is one that allows multiple approaches to a narrative that players can enjoy, with new games coming out that challenged the notion that there is a “winner” in the creation of videogame narrative. Much like art, videogames as a medium continue to evolve based on past lessons and experiments for the future.
4 thoughts to “Facilitation: Abbott- “Who needs winners?””
I mentioned during class that I’m not as familiar with video gaming production but after diving into this reading by Abbott, I really got a better understanding of this type of rhetoric. I like the fact that Abbott distributes different attributes or types of narratives that associate with specific types of games. It’s not the idea that games are made for the sole purpose of telling a story, sometime a game doesn’t intend to tell a story, but it is the way visually and cinematically they are produced to appeal to a particular audience. Unlike in a typical film, you are able to control your outcome and you have a variety of alternate routes you can take towards a specific goal with respect to the theme ( or pillar of narrative approaches ). By this he says, “he believes these games represent distinct and variable paradigms for storytelling” and I think that reflects a lot on his distinctions influencing targeted audiences.
After reading this facilitation it made me think of being an athlete and the importance of winning in those situations. When you’re engaged in a sports competition there’s a saying amongst athletes that “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” After reading this I thought about why it is that someone can both enjoy a sporting event and be emotionally invested in a team winning or losing and then that very same person enjoys a narrative game or movie in which this idea of “who needs a winner” may exist?
This idea makes me wonder if there’s a simple distinction between some people caring about winning and losing. We in America at least will designate ourselves as either competitive or non-competitive people and I wonder if this could be an explanation for this theory. I would have to say that in my opinion that it’s not the case that some people care about winning and losing but rather it’s the setting, so while I’ll always care about the result while on the baseball field I may not care as much when I play Dragon Age.
I think you did a wonderful job in this facilitation, and I’d like to expand the discussion on the 4th pillar that Abbott described, that being the true sandbox narrative. Abbott described true narrative via Minecraft, quoting Rich Lemarchand who stated that he “play[ed] Minecraft narratively. This is the key to a true sandbox, the player is given all the tools to make a compelling story that will captivate them and compel them to keep playing.
Kenshi (the game shown above) is an example of a fourth pillar narrative, and an almost perfect true sandbox. The game is centered in a post apocalyptic world, with several small kingdoms arising that try to bring order to a given section of the world (map). The world is harsh and unforgiving, with bandits numerous and food scarce; this is the world that out player character is dropped into it. With no instruction, almost no money to our name, and just possessing the clothing on our back, the player is expected to make something out of the situation.
MathasGames (to be refereed to as Mathas from here on) takes this sandbox, and weaves it into a compelling tale. Mathas is able to utilize all the tools given to him in game, and by understanding the design of the game he is able to create a narrative revolving around his character Rusthilt. The game provided the world and the tools for Mathas to create his work. Mathas is following the idea of the fourth pillar here, with the player utilizing the idea of a true sandbox and making the story their own, weaving their own intricacies and thoughts into narrative and creating a personal experience.
I think this facilitation does really god job of illustrating the most important parts from the reading. Mentioning that some games there are actually challenges put in place by players for others to challenge themselves and complete. The facilitation uses the Pokemon “nuzlocke” challenge as an example while there are also many others like the infamous “no hit run” or “no damage taken” challenges that are prominent challenges within the Dark Souls series as well as other “souls-like” games. This shows even if a narrative is set in place for the game, the player can always choose their own way to play and in some cases, even their own narrative or new way to “beat” the game.
And I believe this is what Abbott means when he said “The real action is in the margins, crafting something new out of lessons learned from the old.” People who play these games ultimately get more out of them in the end due to having more freedom to play the game the way they would like to.