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  • Premise: The Key to Interactive Storytelling

    - Stephen Schafer

  •  Storytelling as Entertainment 

    In most respects, story telling in games has the same structure as in other media genres including novels, television, and film. Observance of the unities and the rules of the storytelling craft creates better stories, but in all of these media, interactivity between the viewer and the story is primarily psychological in nature. Interactivity is not merely a matter of pressing buttons to get observable responses on a screen. Just as psychological interactivity allows for a suspension of disbelief in literature and film, psychological interactivity allows for suspension of disbelief in games. In literature and film, the viewer or reader identifies with the character and, so, becomes interested in the plot and action. The degree of audience identification determines the success of the medium, and there is no reason why such identification cannot be achieved in the electronic game medium by using traditional storytelling skills.

    In the infancy of electronic gaming, the physical aspect of interactivity has taken precedence over psychological/emotional dimensions. But the reason games are so popular is largely due to their psychosomatic influence on the player. Games are entertaining. Entertainment has an emotional component (fun in many varieties) and an intellectual component (puzzles and choices).

    Certainly, games appeal to some inner need of the player (dominance, success, catharsis, "acting out")-but the industry has assumed that only the physical dimension is important. In part, this is why the other dimensions of the interactive family have been orphaned. The industry hasn't paid attention to them, so they have not yet been allowed to develop. From the psychological perspective, games have even more narrative potential than literature or film, and that potential resides in the refinement of purpose, premise, and quandary in story-based games.

    This psychological, psychosomatic, interactivity is the reason why the emotional (sex & violence) content of games is so important. I get really bored with people who argue that such content isn't important and advocate "anything goes" when it comes to these important media issues. Such a narrow view of reality and such ignorance of existing research is reprehensible and grotesquely irresponsible. Viewed from the psychological perspective, the vaunted influence of interactivity in games becomes very serious.

    With regard to their influences on players and culture, all games must be considered serious games. If we do not feel deep emotion while playing games; if we feel no tug at the heart when AI characters meet with an unjust fate; if we feel no tension when faced with a quandary in the course of the game, it is because the characters have not been skillfully developed-they have insufficient depth or believability. It is obvious that when playing video games, young men have physical responses to naked girls. These psychosomatic responses are quite real. Games have the same capacity for psychological submersion as any other artistic genre. The question is, "Why are we not probing some of the higher responses related to honor, justice, or love?"


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