Tale of Tales' Michael Samyn (The Path
) describes how narrative linearity got tangled up in the game medium
, and suggests how leaving it behind will allow a true art form to emerge.
Calling "the joys of linearity... beyond dispute", Samyn says that it's no surprise linear storytelling became a function of games early in the medium.
"We love the tension that comes with a carefully constructed story arc. From Greek theater through medieval fairy tales and printed novels to stereoscopic high definition cinema, humankind has enjoyed storytelling for thousands of years," he observes.
"As we perfected the presentation of our creations, the backbone of our designs shifted from the linearity of competitive gameplay to the linearity of the narrative arc. Our characters and worlds simply demanded this," writes Samyn.
This has lead games to paint themselves into a corner, he warns. "On the one hand, we are stuck with stories about conflict and heroism that grew out of our juvenile gaming fantasies. And on the other, we are stuck with interactive designs that require victory, which actively prevent our audience from experiencing the immense virtual worlds and sophisticated characters we build -- the production of which becomes ever more demanding in terms of effort, skill and money."
However, games are a real-time medium, one in which players can explore and interact, he argues, and in which these constraints chafe. "We are designing for interactivity; we are not purely designing rule sets anymore. We are creating situations in which people can have experiences," he writes.
"Some people don't like the cutscenes. We allow them to be skipped. Other people don't like the gameplay bits. It's only fair that we allow those to be skipped as well," he playfully suggests, pointing to how the linear nature of contemporary games restricts play.
To learn more of Samyn's observations about the nature of interactivity, linearity, and game design, be sure to read the entire feature, The Contradiction Of Linearity