Monday, 9 April 2012

This Is the Story of a Thing That Is Not a Story

Here's the difference between an immersive game and a story:

The persons in a story don't know they are in a story.  The persons reading it do.

So the person playing an immersive game shouldn't be aware of a story structure to his or her experience, either. The player should be focused on the play within the world, not consciously waiting for the big twist, the climax moment, or any of the other screenwriting-class crutches. ("Hey, GM, is this the part where they invade my safe space?")

Just like the experience of playing a tactical miniatures game, i've found the experience of playing a "story game" with mechanics aimed directly at narrative elements can be enjoyable, but is ultimately somewhat "cool" in all senses of the word. It sticks a critical, self-aware distance between the players and the characters. Perhaps this is what some people want ... but to me it comes off a tad insecure.

Embrace character identification! It's our hobby's dark, dorky secret. Hell, I'll even let you wear elf ears to the table if that helps.

These thoughts have come up as I preside over the wrapping up of our Tomb of the Iron God game. Instead of a big, climactic mastermind fight, there have been a number of tense moments, revealing areas, and epic battles, and the party is currently debating how many loose ends to tie up in the dungeon before moving on. C'mon ... you know you want to fight the Eater of the Dead ...


  1. I disagree. Games in which the narrative is the focus demand a lot of work on the player's part to construct a character. It's more than just putting a race and class together, which is essentially the only character building D&D demands - everything else is superfluous and to the taste of the player or the DM. The only way to enjoy a story game is by fleshing out your character and making him/her into a fully realized member of the pen-and-paper world. Putting effort into this process, makes you care about your character, because he/she becomes more than a series of numbers to test combinations of feats, and powers, and, spells, etc...

    Secondly, White Wolf, the company that specializes in story games (their flagship product is Vampire: the Masquerade), also created Mind's Eye Theatre, or MET. MET is a set of rules so you can convert the vampire that you are playing in the pen-and-paper world into a live-action role-playing character, so you can play a Vampire in the real world. This is character identification at its highest form.

  2. @Nate: I went stumped for a reply until I saw this post from Christian which clarified better than I could, that I was talking about systems with explicit narrative mechanics - by that standards White Wolf wasn't really putting out "story games" but games where the characters were encouraged to develop a story through simulationist play.