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Non-player-centric Games

A lot of narrative games focus on the player character and control; why not make games with situations larger than the player; events that happen regardless of input?

(note: for this post, when I say ‘games’ I am referring to digital games, not card, field, or board)

Videogame developers and players have become accustomed to certain conventions: we still assume that games are mostly made to be fun, while there is a wide range of other emotions and experiences that games can provide; death, a vestigial mechanic from the arcade area, still holds fast in the majority of home PC and console games; and, the one I will focus on in this post, most games are player-centric.

Most videogames exhibit plot and character driven narrative.  This isn’t bad; it is just a standard that we expect when entering a new narrative game. While games do rely on environmental and world storytelling, these typically remain passive behind plot and character. I believe we need more games that are environmental/world and plot driven (rather than character/plot). Games where the player character isn’t the hero, nor does the story, or world, bend for them or wait for them.

In such a game, the outcome would be independent of the player’s actions. The player may try to exert freewill, but ultimately the world does what it does. This may be accompanied by feelings of helplessness or could reassure the player: no challenge, relax and enjoy.  A good example is THE RAPTURE IS HERE AND YOU WILL BE FORCIBLY REMOVED FROM YOUR HOME. In here, the player explores the space around them and uncovers sound bites (passages drawn from various Lovecraft tomes), but the game continues on its own time, ending regardless of player intervention. A similar game is Time Frame, where you watch the last 10 seconds of the world’s end in the stretched span of 10 minutes.

These games may be hard to craft, how does one create an experience that flows naturally even without the players interaction? I’ve found music video games to be an inspiration. By focusing a game’s play around a single song, you have to create a narrative that fits the music; and the game must end when the song does. So far, I’ve made one true example of this: Bottle Rockets, and am working on a second, Eloi. I hope to continue to make games in this vein; games that don’t steal the spotlight but instead showcase the featured music. Perhaps these types of games could be used to showcase much more than just music in the future too.


Some additional links:

These games are also music videogames; they don’t quite demonstrate my desire for story/world driven games, but they combine music with gameplay in interesting ways.

  • PaRappa the Rapper: Each level is a different rap; the player supplements the rap with key triggered audio.
  • Proteus: Proteus is a hybrid sound landscape exploration game.
  • Soundself: This one is similar to Proteus, yet is way more abstract and focuses on generating images through player input.
  • Skrillex Quest: Skrillex Quest sometimes repeats music for the player to complete a task, while other times altering the story and triggering events in time with the songs.


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