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Redefining Interactivity, pt 4: Well, How Did I Get Here?

May 14, 2011

Okay, we need to get the last bit of this discussion about gameplay out of the way. Not that there isn’t a LOT more to say on the topic, but really, there’s only so much I can say in a vacuum. This isn’t exactly a Q&A session; more like a TED Talk (Hey, THAT’s an idea! Anyone wanna start a funding drive to organize a TED Talk on Interactive Storytelling? Anybody? Anybody at all? *chirp… chirp… chirp*).

Right, so the last bit (for now) on gamplay is going to be…


tl;dr Version: Take this pebble from my hand.

*swipe… miss*

You missed. Do you know why?

‘Splain, Lucy Version: Well, whether or not you figure out what you did wrong, I’ll bet you can guess what just happened.

1) I gave you an instruction.

2) You followed it. That you failed (on your first try) is a moot point.

The instruction was framed as a command, so you may have felt compelled to do so, but only you could decide whether to follow the instruction or not. And of course, because you hoped to receive enlightenment, you silently agreed to do as instructed. That’s the whole of the contract, right there. Pretty easy, huh?

Boring Version: Well, of course, it’s not quite that simple, but all the basics are there. There’s the problem, there’s the incentive, the act, and the result. And if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Gameplay in a nutshell.

Whether you choose to continue with the exercise until you get the ‘right’ result is usually based on a combination of mitigating factors: your prior success rate, your determination, your comfort with the exercise, and whether the instructor looks hawt. Okay, I made that last one up. Although sex is a proven motivator, under the right circumstances. But since we’ve already got Incentive in the first list, let’s call it Aesthetic Value.

Okay, so, let’s break this down (for science… you monster):

Pt 1 – The Set-Up

a) The Problem – The dilemma. The challenge. At very least the Macguffin. Even the most mundane act has a problem that needs solving, no matter how meaningless.

b) The Incentive – Your price. The thing that drew you to accept the challenge, even if your acceptance is merely implicit and the reward was never formally stated.

c) The Act – What you have to do to achieve your goal. The means by which you went about it. In other words, just exactly what it says on the tin.

d) The Result – Win or lose, this is how it came out. If all of your objectives were met, you can move on to bigger and better challenges. If not, you come back as a sparrow or something.

Pt 2 – The Formula

a) Prior Success Rate – Learning from success breeds more success. Learning from failure does, too, but there are more steps. The point is, once you’ve learned how to succeed, it gets easier. Once you’ve been in the neighbourhood of success, you can usually find your way back. Unless you weren’t looking at the signs the first time.

b) Determination – If you’re going to succeed at anything, you have to be prepared to do a lot of failing. Walkthroughs can’t show you everything. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to corpse run through Stranglethorn Vale. Unless you’re Horde. Rawr.

c) Comfort – If you don’t like the controls after the first ten minutes, believe that it will get harder when your hands start to cramp up from that awkward keyboard control configuration. The same can be said for virtually any feature of a game that irritates or makes you sore/dizzy/nauseous/headachey just from being in the same room as it. How long before you realize the reward’s not high enough?

d) Aesthetics – Sometimes, you will stick with a task simply because there are features of the process that you really like, even if the process itself irritates or depresses you. You like the game, even though you suck at it, because the graphics are sick. Or the graphics are painfully outdated, but the story is so good, you hardly notice them. Or the graphics are circa 1990 and the story could be summed up on a cocktail napkin, but the gameplay itself is so addictive, you go through with it anyway, even after numerous expansion packs and patches that become more convoluted and class-destroying the longer you play. There’s just no accounting for taste.

Okay, so, what do we take from this? Well, it’s like this pebble. *swipe* Missed again. Good try, though. I felt it move that time.

So, gameplay works best when you know what you’re doing it for, but it is possible to get caught up in a game even though you’re not sure why you keep playing it. Sometimes, the point is to figure that out. In fact, most games are like that. Once you know the reason you’re doing it, you either put it all together and get the result you were looking for, or you give it up for a bad job and go to the pub.

And storytelling?

Some of us use it to make keeping score more interesting. Others use it to make sense of the whole learning arc. You know, organize the data and evaluate the performance. And some of us play the game simply because we want to know how the story goes. If you left out the gameplay and just told us the story, some would complain, but there are those of us who would be just fine.

Some of us… just some of us… suspect that telling the story can be the game itself.

Next article, I’ll try to explain the reason for that last statement. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading. Your comments and critiques are more than welcome. Meanwhile, here, have a pebble.



The pebble is a metaphor, of course. It’s just a nice, simple image to keep in your mind while you’re sorting through my gibberish. Think about it. I’m asking you to grasp an ill-defined concept called Interactive Storytelling, and we’re doing it in the context of discussing what gameplay is in relation to it. I could have given you a chess metaphor, but this was much more zen. Think of how relaxed you feel now that you have the pebble in your hand. Games and Stories, helping us to grasp alien concepts since mankind started banging the rocks together

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2011 2:05 am

    Not much to say in response to this, but I’m really looking forward to the next one. 🙂

    • Lee Edward McIlmoyle permalink*
      May 15, 2011 2:16 am

      Thank you. 🙂

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