Late in 2007, a year, a select group of experienced game designers converged on a remote Texas ranch for the "Project Horseshoe" think tank, organized by Game Developer Hall of Famer George "Fatman" Sanger.
The goal of the Project Horseshoe sessions is to brainstorm and ultimately create practical steps for changing the gaming world. Veteran game designer Daniel Cook's session comprised 10 game designers putting their heads together on the issue of story in games. Cook notes that in the present era, game designers constantly aim to address the intersection of games and story -- but, he says, perhaps this is the wrong way to look at it.
"We believe that game designers are in the business of experience creation rather than that of storytelling. The story that is generated through gameplay is the player's personal story that has been mediated by the game systems.
This is a rather substantial shift from the concept of the auteur sitting down and penning a tale of love and despair. Instead of writing about passion, our goal is to help the user experience passion. Instead of describing fear, our goal as game designers to is cause fear. We construct systems, whirling social and mechanical environments that lead, poke, prod, react, connect and encourage the player to reach, out of their own free will, a peak physiological and mental state.
Despite the fact that player-constructed stories are highly personal, and shared stories are a sign of a great game experience, Cook stresses that stories are nonetheless a secondary effect -- the "tail" of what designers must do, where the mediated experience is the "dog."
Aiming squarely for "the meaty center" of these mediated experiences, Cook's team focused on three pillars of discussion: Examples that play outside the current rules of the game industry; models for supporting player emotions & experiences, and vexing problems -- the big problems that still need to be discussed further.
The full feature
includes details on Cook's solutions from each "pillar," with some of the most forward-thinking examples they could come up with -- and Cook explains what a "watery pachinko machine of doom" has to do with story in games (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).