Storytelling in Video games and Interactive Media. Chapter 2: Setting and Instruments



“To attain in life is A tough story, However that should not scare you.”

Auliq Ice


Within the final article of the sequence, we discovered what “narrative design” really is within the first place, how it’s totally different from writing or different design specializations, the way it pertains to these, and why it’s so laborious to seek out on the present time.

In case you are studying this, it means you’re already acquainted with the idea and wish to make your transfer in direction of this specialization, or are already working in a associated area (congrats!) and wish to increase your theoretical information. So let’s leap straight into it, and begin with: Half 2, Setting and instruments.

Merely put, narrative construction is the organizational framework of a narrative (MasterClass, 2021). With the oldest recognized data in historical Greece, to Hollywood, many have tried to outline best constructions.

Setting refers back to the time and place over which the story unfolds. Parts of the setting can embrace issues like period, time of the 12 months, time elapsed over the storytime, temper and environment, location, geographic parts, and plenty of extra.

However as described by the references partly 1, it is very important take a step away and ponder story as not solely the written phrase, however as something perceived by the spectator. We consult with these visible and auditive parts as “narrative instruments”.

A story software is a few machine to kind a bit of a narrative in a participant’s thoughts. Our narrative instruments divide roughly into three important courses: scripted story, world narrative, and emergent story (Sylvester, 2013).

Whereas typically used interchangeably, for readability we’ll differentiate between mechanical instruments or units, described under, and literary or model units, described partly 4 of the sequence.

Let’s take a look at every of the software classes described by Sylvester.

Scripted Story

Scripted story is the occasions which can be encoded instantly into the sport in order that they play out the identical means (Sylvester, 2013). Examples of scripted story can due to this fact be: Authored dialogue, cutscenes, and each single factor through which these cutscenes might be damaged down. On this case, a direct synonym to screenwriting might be drawn, evoking matters akin to digital camera angle and motion, surroundings artwork, dialogue, and so forth. Issues like quests might be seen as scripted story instruments to a point as they encompass pre-made duties for the participant to observe, nevertheless the shape through which the participant/protagonist carries out these duties are variable.

For instance in Far Cry, the story is guided by a quest system, nevertheless many of the story outcomes from participant motion, such because the order through which quests get carried out, whether or not an enemy camp will get silently infiltrated or the protagonist runs in weapons blazing, a location is reached by foot, automotive, or airplane, and so forth. World of Warcraft is a extra restrictive open-world setting, nevertheless right here too, it is determined by the participant how the story of every quest unfolds: whether or not it was a single hero that defeated the enemy or the trouble of a giant group, a collaboration between mates or an financial effort to pay for assist, and so forth.

I’d due to this fact categorize “quests” as semi-scripted whereas the instruments they encompass on a microlevel, such because the authored dialogue, stay totally scripted.

Comfortable Scripting

With comfortable scripting, the participant maintains some extent of interactivity even because the scripted sequence performs out. For instance, a participant could also be strolling his character down an alley and witness a homicide. Each scream and stab within the homicide sequence is prerecorded and pre-animated, so the homicide will all the time play out the identical means because the participant walks down that alley for the primary time. The actions of the participant character witnessing the homicide, nevertheless, should not scripted in any respect. The participant could stroll previous, stand and watch, or flip and run because the homicide proceeds. […] Each scripted sequence should steadiness participant affect with designer management. (Sylvester, 2013)

In the course of the opening tramcar journey in Half-Life, the story unfolds in scenes exterior of the tram whereas a recorded voice reads off particulars of facility life. The participant has the selection of strolling round contained in the tram and looking the totally different home windows, however can’t in any other case have an effect on something.

In Useless House 2, the participant walks down the aisle of a subway automotive that hangs from a monitor within the ceiling. Because the automotive speeds down the tunnel, a hyperlink to the monitor provides means and the automotive drops right into a steep angle. The protagonist slides unstoppably down the aisle, and the participant’s regular motion controls are disabled. Nevertheless, the participant retains his taking pictures controls. As he slides by a number of practice vehicles, monsters crash by doorways and home windows and the participant should shoot them in time to outlive. This sequence is an explosive break from the sport’s traditional deliberate pacing. It takes away a part of the participant’s motion controls to create a particular, authored expertise, however sustains move by leaving many of the interface intact.

Halo: Attain has a system that encodes predefined tactical hints for the computer-controlled characters. These scripted hints make enemies have a tendency towards sure tactical strikes, however nonetheless enable them to reply on a decrease degree to assaults by the participant. […] Designers use these hints to creator higher-level strategic actions, whereas the AI handles moment-by-moment tactical responses to participant habits. (Sylvester, 2013)

One other instance of such guided comfortable scripting might be present in Bioshock Infinite‘s companion AI, Elizabeth. The engine makes use of curiosity factors and sensible terrains to information Elizabeth’s actions. Curiosity factors might be positioned in numerous amount all through the extent as a way to outline, with a sure diploma of randomness, the place Elizabeth will transfer to or have a look at (Robertson, 2014). The place Elizabeth appears at, the participant will most definitely understand a focal point as properly, as a result of drawing energy of stimulus crowds(Milgram, 1969).

There are additionally methods of scripting occasions that are naturally proof against interference. Mail can arrive within the participant character’s mailbox at a sure time. Objects or characters can seem or disappear whereas the participant is in one other room. Radio messages and loudspeaker broadcasts can play. These strategies are well-liked as a result of they’re highly effective, low-cost, and don’t require the cautious bespoke design of a customized semi-interactive scripted sequence. (Sylvester, 2013)

I see a damaged shell and I remind myself that one thing may need wanted setting free.

See, damaged issues all the time have a narrative, do not they?

Sara Pennypacker

World Narrative

WORLD NARRATIVE is the story of a spot, its previous, and its individuals. It’s informed by the development of a spot and the objects inside it. World narrative will not be restricted to chilly historic knowledge. Like every other narrative instruments, it could possibly convey each info and feeling. Prisons, palaces, household houses, rolling countryside—all of those locations carry each emotional and informational prices. They work by empathy—What was it prefer to stay right here?—and uncooked environmental emotion—lonely, desolate tundra. (Sylvester, 2013)

Richard Rouse III (2016) refers to Sylvester’s world narrative as explorative story house. The vital factor for this “aspect content material”, in line with Rouse, is that it must be utterly non-obligatory. This enables for various gamers to seek out totally different items, and give you their very own model primarily based on that items – and once they evaluate tales later, they’ll narrate a distinct expertise to one another, rising their engagement within the work.

determine 1: Rouse, R. (2016). Dynamic Tales for Dynamic Video games: Six Methods to Give Every Participant a Distinctive Narrative [Screenshot from Gone Home]. Recreation Builders Convention.

World narrative can leverage cultural symbols to speak by affiliation. What sort of particular person do you consider whenever you image graffiti on brick partitions? Or an igloo? Or a tiny monastery atop a mountain? (Sylvester, 2013)

Similar to in the true world, every little thing within the sport world requires a purpose to be there, a historical past. As Behnam Mehrafrooz (n.d.) argues, “The very world of your sport itself wants to supply that form of stuff. A destroyed palace? It will probably’t simply be any ruined palace. It’s obtained to have a previous and a justification to be in ruins, and your degree design ought to mirror that. Have an previous knightly order go well with of armor? It should have their image on it. And in addition every little thing else that comes from that order. “

In accordance with Sylvester(2013), “world narrative will also be expressed by paperwork”. He mentions Deux Ex for the usage of PDAs, though this technique has been exhaustively used all through the style, for instance in Bioshock Infinite or Borderlands 2. These PDAs are a really clear and non-intrusive approach to embrace the non-obligatory aspect content material described by Rouse(2016), as gamers can both cease to pay attention, proceed their means with out taking note of the spoken content material and decide out fully, or rehear them at any time when it feels snug to them.

“One notably attention-grabbing set of PDAs follows the lifetime of a brand new recruit in a terrorist group as he travels by the world one step forward of the participant character, on the opposite aspect of the regulation. Because the participant finds every PDA seemingly minutes or hours after it was left, he involves know the younger terrorist recruit with out ever interacting with him.” (Sylvester, 2013)

In accordance with Sylvester(2013), “video logs take the idea one apparent step additional”. They may run in a loop on a display screen, or be discovered able to be performed. World narrative might be transmitted by TV applications, information, propaganda, residence movies, digital camera footage, and so forth.

One other mood-setting world narrative might be discovered within the radios of GTA (or saints row for that matter), or racing video games. The sensation transmitted by music and broadcaster tells us concerning the particular tradition of the world that we’re positioned in.

After all as designer we’re by no means alone, as there’s a entire crew of specialists, and no matter the kind of challenge, it is going to all the time be important that everybody on the crew understands the “really feel” we wish to transmit. Take these units of decorations from GoodGame Empire.

“Lover’s Fall”, a reward from the 2018/19 valentine’s occasion, creates a powerful narrative with simply two phrases describing one asset. Symbolism used right here embrace the pink-purple coloration, culturally related to romance, intimacy, ardour. Two coronary heart shapes, one forming the bushes cover and the opposite shaped by the twist within the trunk. Roses are a logo of affection in numerous cultures around the globe. Swings evoke distant recollections from a kids playground and may stand for innocence. Possibly it was a primary harmless love? However the strongest sense lies within the story the spectator makes within the thoughts: Why are there two swings above an abyss? Why are they empty? What got here first, did the abyss open from under and took the lives of these two lovers, or was it there from the start and represents belief, in different phrases, holding one another above the abyss? In a extra summary sense, did they fall victims of their very own naivety, an harmless old flame dragged down by the claws of time?

Determine 2: Lover’s Fall. GoodGame Empire. GoodGame Studios.

Few years later, introduce two new variations of the identical asset for singles day 2020: on the left the “properly of solitude” and on the proper the “properly of treachery” – however once more, the names are the least telling side (and particular names are often outlined after the asset is made anyway). In each belongings, and much more contemplating they’re often provided collectively, we are able to discover a powerful use of symbolism in each form and coloration. The primary distinction that the attention catches is in fact the colour. The primary theme might be discovered within the coloration of the properly: deep purple for loneliness and desperation, darkish purple for rage and revenge. The accompanying foliage coloration is just as a result of visible ease (purple and inexperienced are a part of a triage, purple and turquois are complementary). Moreover, there are at the very least two coronary heart shapes (one forming the leaves of the twisted tree and one other within the trunks form), reinforcing the notion of an emotional matter. Above of the properly, we transfer from the principal theme to an precise story, informed by the artist solely by the visuals of the reworked asset. On the left, a single massive swing over the darkish abyss. On the proper, two swings, certainly one of which hangs from a damaged string… the interior string, the one that might be accessible from the opposite, unbroken swing. Is it the identical properly that we discovered years in the past? Previous the years, recollections of innocence have remodeled into silent melancholy and even rage in opposition to the ever fraying exterior world within the strategy of rising up. Possibly even a metaphor for the gradual decay of naively absentminded relationships into lonesomeness then anger? The similarity and opposition of affection and hate as two sides of the identical coin?

I’ve in all probability missed additional narrative, like ultimately the colour distinction of the trunks, the weather of the tree rising from the highest of a rock and leaves of grass encircled by stones, the roses that also climb the trunk, or the weathered path. Ultimately, each particular person will attribute their very own unconscious interpretation and sentiments to the identical piece of artwork, and that is exactly what makes world narrative so highly effective.

Determine 3: Effectively of Solitude and Effectively of Treachery. GoodGame Empire. GoodGame Studios.

On the finish of the day, the artist (wether or not it’s graphics, sound, author, and so forth) will all the time know finest the right way to transmit the given narrative.

Citing one artist at GoodGameStudios, the crew “would get requests from totally different departments. Principally simply saying we want a ornament, pores and skin(for a particular constructing) or a personality in halloween theme. Since we already created a styleguide for the visible look of this theme we all know precisely the way it ought to appear like stylewise (some themes are primarily based on a brief background story supplied by sport design). For decorations it’s largely as much as the artwork crew to discover a attention-grabbing narrative. There’s all the time a dialogue with the division who requested the asset to make sure it fulfills its function. However there are additionally just a few different circumstances through which the requests are very particular. For instance that the character has to visually look stealthily or sneaky as a result of it has a particular perform inside the story.

Relating to the association there are other ways to create focal factors. The dimensions of the weather/image is a method. But in addition crucial is the usage of distinction (values, coloration, saturation, and so forth.). In our particular case of empire silhouette is a crucial issue. If a form appears attention-grabbing it instantly catches consideration.”

Emergent Story

The third and final of Sylvester’s(2013) instruments is emergent story. Emergent story is the one generated throughout play, by the interplay of sport mechanics and gamers.

Designers not directly creator a sport’s emergent story once they design sport mechanics. In accordance with Sylvester(2013), “gamers of Murderer’s Creed: Brotherhood have skilled thousands and thousands of distinctive emergent tales about medieval battles, daring assassinations, and harrowing rooftop escapes. However none of those gamers has ever skilled the story of a medieval murderer brushing his enamel within the morning. Tooth brushing isn’t a sport mechanic in Brotherhood, so tales about it can not emerge from that sport. By organising Murderer’s Creed: Brotherhood’s mechanics in a particular means, its designers decided which sorts of tales it’s able to producing. On this means, they not directly authored the emergent tales it generates, even when they didn’t script particular person occasions.”

Kaufman(2019) sees the connection of scripted and emergent story as a virtuous cycle, somewhat than a straight line: consumer tales are generated from authored content material, which, in flip, might be scripted for reactivity.

Determine 4: Kaufman, R. (2019). Narrative Nuances in Free-To-Play Cellular Video games. Recreation Builders Convention.



  • Narrative construction: the organizational framework by which a narrative is ordered

  • Setting: Time and place over which the story unfolds

    • Examples: period, time of the 12 months, geographic location, geological options

  • Narrative software or machine: technique by which a part of the story is transmitted

    • Mechanical narrative instruments: cutscenes, digital camera perspective, collectables, tooltips, merchandise descriptions, surroundings artwork, and so forth.

    • Literary units: metaphores, allegories, sarcasm, omission, and so forth.

  • Scripted story: Class of narrative instruments englobing instruments used to show strictly authored, unobstructable occasions

  • Comfortable scripting: Class of narrative instruments through which the participant maintains some extent of authority whereas the scripted sequence is introduced

  • World narrative: Class of narrative instruments englobing any software through which the story unfolds by the house and its content material

  • Explorative story house: digital house comprised of world narrative parts and its putting inside that house

  • Emergent story: story that emerge from the participant’s thoughts, versus being informed by the narrative crew


An iterated sport is one that’s replayed a number of instances(Shor, 2005). Reciprocity is a time period coined by Robert Cialdini(1984), describing the tendency of giving again after receiving.

Primarily based on these two phrases, Daniel Cook dinner (2014) evokes “governance”, which might be seen as a kind of emergent narrative, describing the idea because the political and social constructions that emerge past the mechanical guidelines, as seen in Realm of the Mad God and Eve.

Realm of the Mad God is a non-zero-sum sport, therein encouraging co-operative play. “Loot stealing” and “free driving” will not be a difficulty right here, and in any case the group can be more practical than the person, due to that non-zero-sum nature.(Cook dinner, 2014)

In accordance with Cook dinner, for governance to emerge, the group must be extra environment friendly than the person.

Moreover, the speaker describes relationships as an iterated sport primarily based on reciprocity loops. In accordance with Cook dinner, we are able to acknowledge 4 important elements that contribute to the constructing of reciprocity loops: proximity, similarity, repeated encounters, and the share of emotions and concepts.

Proximity might be translated because the likeliness of “bumping into one another”. Video games do that by offering social areas, the place no fight occurs and gamers collect. An instance could be in Stormwind’s Commerce District and Orgrimmar’s Valley of Power in World of Warcraft, or Nosville in Nostale, to call a purer socialite-oriented MMORPG.

Similarity describes the phenomena of friendships rising from comparable teams, which in line with the speaker has excessively been researched in kids of various social or racial teams. In accordance with the speaker, similarity is an attention-grabbing side, as we wish to power teams to “cross-pollinate”, however on the similar time, one of many strongest methods of getting individuals to kind teams within the first place is to create similarities.

Cook dinner makes use of “mafia-esque” to explain the organizations of energy that are inclined to emerge in MMOs. He provides the instance of World of Tanks, the place gamers created an enormous Skype “Counsel” to kind out points between clans. In accordance with Cook dinner, we are able to seed the physics for gamers to create their societies, however we are able to repeatedly tweak this actuality to information society. As Richard Bartle(2006) places it, designers create the bodily actuality for gamers to function in; “designers must be thought of gods, not governments”. Cook dinner concludes his speak recalling his assertion from the start: “the utopia of the empowered particular person is a unfavourable one if we wish to create this type of [autonomous] system.”

Following this line of thought, “We will additionally contemplate emergent narrative as a expertise for producing tales as a result of it creates unique content material. The designer authors the boundaries and tendencies of the sport mechanics, but it surely’s the interaction amongst mechanics, participant selections, and probability that determines the precise plot of every emergent story.” (Sylvester, 2013)

Determine 5: Cook dinner, D. (2014). Governance in F2P Multiplayer Video games. [Screenshot from Knights Online]. Recreation Builders Convention.


is the human tendency to see imaginary patterns in advanced knowledge. We see patterns all over the place, even when there are none. (Sylvester, 2013)

The time period Apophenia was coined in 1958 by Klaus Conrad within the guide Starting schizophrenia because the tendency to understand significant connections between unrelated issues, referencing Skinner’s(1947) time period of unintended affiliation.

Matt Brown(2018) talks about projection strategies in The Sims. Sims talk by speechbubbles with largely random icons and the fictional language “simlish”, each of that are summary sufficient for gamers to challenge any which means onto it. One other (experimental, not shipped) technique he discusses is the position of censor grids. All these methods boil right down to ambiguity as a capacitor for projected narrative within the spectators thoughts.

Determine 6:Mullen, L. (12 months unknown). Simlish: When language and music transcend translation [Screenshot from Stephanie Rose, Youtube]. The California Aggie.

Suspension of Disbelief

In accordance with Tynan Sylvester(2013), designers can strengthen emergent tales by labeling current sport mechanics with fiction.

In Medieval: Whole Struggle, Each playable character is known as and endowed with a novel characterization. As an alternative of monitoring numerical stats, Medieval assigns character traits to nobles and generals. After occasions akin to getting married or profitable a battle, nobles can get labels like “Drunkard,” “Fearless,” or “Coward,” which give particular bonuses and weaknesses. In one other sport, a participant would possibly lose a battle as a result of his normal has a low Management stat. In Medieval, he loses as a result of his normal had a daughter and determined that he loves his household an excessive amount of to die in battle. Labeling works due to apophenia. In every instance, the emergent story within the participant’s thoughts didn’t really occur within the sport methods. (Sylvester, 2013)

Abstraction is a better order kind of considering through which frequent options are recognized (or abstracted) (, retrieved 2022). Phrases in a novel can create photographs within the thoughts extra highly effective than any {photograph} as a result of they solely recommend a picture, leaving the thoughts to fill within the particulars. (Sylvester, 2013)

Abstraction moreover helps cut back improvement price, as within the instance of Civilization: Revolution‘s dancing bears: The participant does not have to see the bear dancing, the label alone is sufficient to think about it, and doubtless the imagined dance is by much better than something animated as it’s the participant’s personal illustration. This manner, sources might be higher allotted into content material that the participant is much less prepared to consider (Meier, 2010)

Jurie Hornemann(2015) borrows the musical time period of “diegesis” to explain the balancing of the fictional and mechanical aspect. In accordance with the speaker, world constructing is accountable to clarify how the fictional world works, bodily.

Recordkeeping is a means for video games to emphasise emergent tales by conserving data of sport occasions for the participant to overview afterwards. Civilization IV data borders of every nation on the finish of each flip, and when the sport ends, the participant will get to look at a time-lapsed world map of shifting political boundaries from prehistory to the top of the sport. Because the map retells world historical past, it reminds the participant of the confronted challenges and earned victories. (Sylvester, 2013)

One other outstanding instance of recordkeeping that on the similar time serves a strategical use as diegesis might be seen in lots of first-person shooter, akin to Name of Responsibility, when after being killed the final seconds replay from the opponents digital camera perspective.

It is also vital to recollect it is not concerning the setting, anyway –

it is concerning the story, and it is all the time concerning the story.

-Stephen King