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What Is A Good Game Story?

Are the fundamentals of a good story medium-dependent, or is there such a thing as a universally 'good' story regardless of delivery? This is a question that I would like to address during the next few posts; it may or may not be answerable.

Jeff Spock, Blogger

June 25, 2009

2 Min Read

It has been the case -- or the assumption -- since time immemorial that a good story is something universal. A good story in a play will be a good story in a book or a graphic novel or a podcast or a movie. This is, of course, assuming that it is not a ham-handed adaptation from one media to another.

In other words, the theory is that a well-executed story in any medium, if it is taken up and placed down in a well-executed way in another medium, will still be a good story. Sufficient adaptations of Shakespeare plays exist to partially validate this. When they are well done, they are good stories. "Macbeth" becomes the Japanese film "Throne of Blood," "Romeo and Juliet" becomes the stage musical "West Side Story." It seems that good stories have been (and I shall repeat the critical caveat: "If well executed") good stories in other media.

Yet with video games I am no longer so sure that this assumption is valid. How would one make the Macbeth game? Start off hunting ingredients for the witches, then accepting or not their interpretation of your fate? Having a choice of whether you kill Banquo or let him live? And if you let him live, what happens during the feast scene?

In other words, here is one classic story that simply may not be feasible as a video game. Is this the case, and if so, why? There are other examples that come to mind -- the difficulty of making the film "Adaptation" from the book "The Orchid Thief" is one, and let's not even talk about trying to film Proust or Joyce.

So I should narrow the target of 'good story' to 'good mainstream entertainment story.' Which may be a cop-out, but is also a protected sandbox to play in while I try to figure out some of the basics. While "Johnny Got His Gun, the Game" ought to be made, that's not the market that I am addressing here.

I need to think about this because developers, players and critics all clamor for 'good stories' in video games, and I am one of those who is paid to deliver it. The question could be broken down into a few sub-topics:

    * What is a good traditional (non-video game) story, and why?
    * What is a good video game story, and why?
    * Are there common elements, and if so, what are they?
    * Based on the common elements, what should we be writing?

I will try to develop these thoughts during the course of the summer (with time off for vacation, of course). Any and all comments are welcome.

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