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Directed Project 2020 – Entry #1

I’ve had this crazy idea of working as a game writer on a multiplayer AAA game while starting a Humanities PhD at the same time. It’s been going rather well — I’ve attended classes for the past year, flexing my academic skills that were mostly… dormant for the past ten years or so.

The following entries will be mostly about my student life. My PhD is ‘Research-Creation’ meaning that I get to write and make creative things to support my research (in my case, game prototypes! yay) at the same time. I’m only at the very beginning of all things, since I’m doing things part-time.

Things that I’m planning to explore the next [insert vast number] years: Games, Narrative and Ethics. Sub-themes: Challenge how we think about players, agency, non-playable characters, protagonists, narrative from a Western POV (based around conflict), power dynamics, responsibility, empathy

I’m trying this new format of ‘journals’. I’m expecting these notes to have lots of typos, not very well-structured, but still a good way to keep track of things for me. At least it’ll be fun for me to read these notes again once the whole experiment will be over. Maybe it’ll be fun to read for someone else? Who knows.

For the next months — from May 2020 to the end of August 2020 — I’m going to work solo (I think, even if I expect to poke friends and colleagues around for playtesting and occasional technical help) on a narrative game that I’m currently calling ‘eBuddy‘. It’s planned to be a mobile game using push notifications à la Lifeline, Bury Me My Love etc. It’s also gonna be text-based.

My main ideas at the moment for that project:

  • A lighthearted game with 3 characters: A virtual counselor (eBuddy), a teenager (who’s getting advices about their life) and an advisor (who acts as a mentor to the virtual counselor)
  • What playable / non-playable truly means: As far as I know we usually say ‘this character is playable’ VS ‘this character is non-playable’ = playability as a set of principles, attributes, and parameters that we tie to a character (agent?) or not. It’s almost a moral pact? If you break such pact then people are not happy (and it often happens because of narrative like the infamous Aeris’s death). I plan to challenge that… mindset on a narrative design level, questioning if playability (at least the way we usually think of it) can be seen more like… a way of accessing information that’s not tied to a specific character but maybe something on a different level (currently investigating about Foucault’s subjectivity and see if I can get some inspiration from him, we never know) OR if playability as a parameter can be better balanced with other parameters for the characters who do not have such parameter.
  • Protagonists in games have too much agency: In narrative games choices are always ‘points of tension’ between players and the game’s system. My current argument is that instead of giving more agency to the players, maybe it’s more that non-playable character not having enough agency makes things dull (limited memory of the events, limited ways they can actually change the story)

TL;DR the way characters in a story access information is so critical in other media (movies, books). I’d like to find more ways in games for all characters (playable or not, or whatever you see them) to access information and challenge some of the preconceptions we have.

TL;DR playability especially in Western games is often too OP, hence boring stories with OP protagonists who are too emotionally static. Let’s try to do something different.

Published in Narrative Design