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.