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  • Exploring Different Methods Of Interactive Storytelling

    [02.20.20]
    - Randen Banuelos
  • NOTE: This article will contain certain spoilers for games being analyzed.

    in terms of storytelling, games set themselves apart from other media by not only creating an interactive relationship with the audience, but also experimenting with how a story is conveyed in the first place, as opposed to a story being front and center in media like novels and movies. Games are not restricted to linear progressions and the average "plot triangle" system; rather, they can use open world exploration, item lore, environmental storytelling, and countless other tools to relay the history of their worlds. The main question this article serves to explore, then, is this:

    How can a game tell a story?

    To answer this, let's explore five different games and see how they take a spin on interactive storytelling.

    Following the Classic Plot Triangle Structure, With a Twist (Firewatch)

    Example

    Campo Santo's Firewatch tells its story in a linear fashion like traditional media, preventing the player from ever straying too far away from the plot at any given time. The story itself mirrors this straightforward nature in a normal plot triangle structure: exposition (protagonist Henry's background and NPC Delilah's introduction), rising action (the missing girls incident and lookout tower break-in), climax (the cave search amidst the wildfire), and falling action. It is not truly an experimental approach to storytelling by any means, but the narrative plays on its strengths to create an overall enthralling experience. Add on impressive voice acting and a beautiful art style, and Firewatch cements itself as a great indie game that shows the power of a traditional story structure.

    What makes Firewatch's narrative unique, however, is the juxtaposition of its rising action and eventual climax. Prior to the final days of the game's events, Henry and Delilah are convinced that a government conspiracy, hidden under the guise of biologists studying in the field, is brewing in the mountainous forest they watch over, and that they are being monitored by these enigmatic scientists. In the background of these developments is the story of Ned and Brian Goodwin, a father and son that formerly held the position of Two Forks Tower fire lookout until they left without notice; Delilah occasionally mentions them off-handedly throughout the game, with the events of the government team normally taking precedence over the Goodwins' story.

    It is not until the climax that the true story of Firewatch is revealed: there was never any government conspiracy. All monitoring, strange silhouettes, and raids were done by an emotionally hollow Ned Goodwin, who has been living in the forest for several years after the sudden death of Brian in a rock climbing accident. Firewatch throws its players, and its own characters, for a loop with this red herring, and demonstrates how even a common story structure can be rejuvenated by usurping the player's expectations of the plot.

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