In the latest feature for Gamasutra sister educational site Game Career Guide, Stephen Schafer, an instructor at DigiPen Institute of Technology, elaborates on the power of premise in storytelling
as a tool for learning, commercial entertainment, and psychological interaction for video games.
In his introduction, Schafer says that the commonly held belief that says that authorial control over suspense and plot is wrenched away once the player has control is far from true, and that narrative and interactivity aren't as 'diametrically opposed' as many think:
"Not true! In games, the programmer has control, and the game player only has the appearance of control. Game stories do not need to be open-ended, they only need to offer choice sequences among which some are game losers and some are game winners. In traditional storytelling, the protagonist makes choices designed by the author, and the reader/viewer of the story learns through identification with the protagonist.
With interactive storytelling, the game player makes choices for the protagonist (avatar), but the programmer takes the place of the author in designing choices. Like the author in traditional forms, the programmer has the ultimate understanding of the story and of which choices are losers and which choices are winners. Interactive stories may segue into a greater variety of scenes leading to choices, but the story ending-winning the game by making a predetermined number of correct choices-is under the control of the programmer as author. It is not surprising that programmers tend to overestimate the virtue of programming in the overall artistic process, and it is mostly ignorance of psychology and literary art that results in their devaluation of the traditional craft.
Good game play, like any learning process, requires making poor choices and correcting them, so making poor choices is just as instructive to the player as making good ones-if all choices were good, there would be no game. In order to win the game a player must learn what "good" choices, are, and it is the same with learning in general. Players naturally identify with winning choices, so in a game story players will tend to identify with choices that win the game. Because the human mind is naturally associative, if game stories have some substance (character depth, purpose, and premise), players will associate story substance with winning action and games will become powerful teaching tools."
You can now read the full Game Career Guide feature
on the subject, with much more from Schafer on storytelling as a tool, as entertainment, as psychological, and how to express the purpose of the story in terms of plot and character -- getting to the heart of the premise (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from external websites).