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Story Design: How to make your games more meaningful and

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Story Design as Experience Design:
How to make your games more
meaningful and memorable
Aki Järvinen
Game Development, ITU Spring 2009
Practical notes
• Arnav Jhala: Computational Models of Narrative, this Friday
the 27th, 11:00
• Michael will give a talk on SVN at Friday’s lab sessions
• Course readings for next week have been revised:
• Sicart, Miguel: “The Ethics of Game Design” Chapter 7 from
forthcoming book. – pick up handout!
• M. J. Taylor, D. Gresty, and M. Baskett: “Computer game-flow
design”. Computers in Entertainment, Volume 4 , Issue
1 (January 2006) – link on course page, print out!
• Espen Aarseth: Story design meets narrative theory
• Techniques to design meaning into play
Goal structures
• Examples & points of reference
• How to translate these concepts into �Unreal’ terms?
• Notes about your concepts’ story potentials
• Even if your game does not have something we could call a
�story’, it will produce meaning
• Games as systems; as dynamic wholes with interacting
parts – how is meaning generated?
• Hermeneutic circle: one's understanding of the whole is
established by reference to the individual parts, and one's
understanding of each individual part by reference to the
• Thus, gameplay-related processes of understanding are
fundamentally hermeneutical
Meaningful Play
• "Meaningful play in a game emerges from the
relationship between player action and system
outcome; it is the process by which a player
takes action within the designed system of a
game and the system responds to the action.
The meaning of an action in a game resides in
the relationship between action and
– Salen & Zimmerman, Rules of Play
Elements of meaning in games
• Analysis part: Unraveling hermeneutical circles;
identifying their parts
• Design part: Raveling them back together, with new
combinations and realizations of parts
• Using stories/gameplay to create the combinations,
and deepen them
Story as Information
• An aspect of game design is how to distribute
information, e.g. about goals.
• Structuring that information into a story is one
way to do it.
• There are other ways...
Information about goals
Story as embedded goal structure
• Stories’ motivational function:
– Propelling the player from one goal to the next
– Rewarding the player with more information
– Rewarding the player with narrative twists
• Player’s progression in the formal goal structure of a
game might be in contradiction with the diegetic
progression of the character in the story:
• An achievement for the player (e.g. advancing to a
location) might be a setback for the character (once
location is reached, story throws character into jail);
rewards are asymmetrical
Story as �Texture’
Characters = Agents in a World
Emotional Game Design
• Emotional game play experiences matter, since emotionally
salient material is remembered better than neutral material.
• Emotion creates memorable meaning
• Emotional game design as a means to amplify meanings; to
pepper the meaningful elements with emotions
• �emotions depend on evaluations of what has happened in
relation to the person’s goals and beliefs’
• �emotions emerge at significant junctures in plans’
- Keith Oatley, Best Laid Schemes
• -> consequences for design of player choices & conflicts
Events, Agents & Objects in a World
• �emotions are valenced reactions to events, agents,
or objects in a world’
- Ortony, Collins & Clore:
The Cognitive Structure of Emotions
• Designing emotional responses to gameplay is about building
worlds with particular events, agents, and objects
• …and designing the player’s relation to, and means to act in
that world
• Fable 2: moral choices as emotional dispositions designed into
each choice
Hemingway’s six word story
For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.
�For sale’: an action (prospect of a game mechanic)
�Baby shoes’: an object
�Never worn’: an event (/an attribute of shoes)
The emotional impact is in the implicit relations of
these three; in an implied event: a gap
• How does one (game) design such gaps?
• �understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in
terms of another’ – Lakoff & Johnson
• metaphors support the experience of rules as game
• Examples:
– “Game as real estate business”
– “Game as war”
– “Game as geometry”
• Metaphors help in communicating emotions
Metaphorical objects
Reading: Lens #69
• The Lens of Weirdest Thing
• ...of appropriate scope:
– Gravity Bone, made with Quake 2 engine
• Ambiguous meanings can be puzzling in a
positive way; they diversify player experiences
and create discussions
Designing meaning with Unreal Engine
• Actors
Triggers = location or time-based events
Volumes = system procedures; scripted events
Pickups = metaphorical objects
Brushes = environmental rules; worlds
• Compare with events, agents, objects
• Think about how your games’ events, agents, and
objects can embody meaning and emotion
• �Triangulate’ their relationships into goal structures
• Communicate & specify the story elements of your
game in the terminology of Unreal
• TBC: next week’s lecture about game flow specs
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