Games as Stories? Are Games a Form of Interactive Fiction?

Writing in the Technology Guardian supplement (mirrored on the Guardian games blog), Keith Stuart writes: “Is the neverending story of gameplay v narrative over?“. The debate is this:

There is an ongoing battle between two videogame factions: the ludologists, who believe that game mechanics are everything [that is, playing the game creates the story], and the narratologists, who argue for the importance of story [to provide a context for the game]. Narrative games usually drive the plot forward through non-interactive animated sequences [known as cut-scenes]. The ludologists see this technique as anathematic to the gameplay experience; narratologists say it adds depth and direction.

The article goes on to discuss a Third Way (“dynamically assembled narrative”), but… we’re not ready to go there yet… and we’re probably not quite ready to look too closely at the narratologist vs. ludologist argument either… (maybe over the weekend…?;-)

Instead, let’s continue the theme of getting to grips with some of the bases of “Game Studies” by exploring the notion of story in computer games (and perhaps by extension, the use of metaphor in many interactive media applications).

Following the launch of the We Tell Stories interactive fiction site that I plugged in the second (?!) of last week’s Friday Fun posts (Friday Fun #4 Digital Storytelling)), I picked up on the following embedded, interactive presentation (“Stories and Games“) by Adrian Hon, from another Guardian gamesblog post (“Games and stories (six ways to tell a story via games)“), though this time from Aleks Krotoski (who I hope will do a guest post or two for Digital Worlds in the near future :-):

What are the six ways of telling a story in a game that Adrian Hon identifies? To pick up on his last slide, “what do you think?”. In particular, do you have any ideas for other story types that don’t fit the six point classification?

A slightly more detailed take on “interactive storytelling”, and in particular, on the structure of interactive stories, is described in an article on the igda (International Game Developers Association Game Writers’ SIG (Special Interest Group) website: Foundations of Interactive Storytelling.

Read through the first few sections of the article, trying to answer these questions as you do so:

  • Defining Interactivity how is interactivity defined? What are good examples of “reactive” and “interactive” media, and how do they differ?
  • Interactive Stories what three aspects of a story (narrative) does the author claim can be made interactive? How do these aspects correspond to any of the ways we have attempted to classify games so far?
  • The Value of Interactive Storytelling why bother? No, really – why bother? ;-)

When you have read the first part of the article, and maybe posted your own thoughts about the claims it made on you own blog, or in a comment here, think back to the games we started to build using Game Maker, or any other games that you are familiar with: to what extent, if any, could those games be described as interactive stories? Is there anything that could be done to make them work as interactive stories? How would they or the player (reader?!) benefit from any such modifications?

In the next post, I’ll pop up a couple more questions to help guide your reading of the remainder of the Foundations of Interactive Storytelling article…

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3 Responses to “Games as Stories? Are Games a Form of Interactive Fiction?”


  1. 1 Bex November 18, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Yes games can indeed be a form of interactive fiction. Playing the campaign mode for example in any of the Call of Duty games you are playing a / several fictional characters, where you are playing the story. However in these types of games there is predominantly only 1 ending. However if you look at something like Heavy Rain which came out for the PS3 you can change the storyline depending on how you play the game. This game also had several different possible endings depending on what actions you took during gameplay. This truly was interactive fiction.

  2. 2 Zain October 19, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    Most games such as Bad Company 2 and Black Ops do tell a story, but it’s a linear story. There are other games out there however that are interactive, take old classics such as Baldur’s Gate, Planescape Torment or Knights of the Old Republic. These games are interactive and the story changes depending on what choices you make. Making a game interactive, means making it a more personal experience because you chose to play it the way you wanted to play it, instead of having to be force to play the story mode only in one way. It also add a lot of replay value. I for example always wonder, “what would have happened if I chose a different path?”.


  1. 1 Mapping plotlines…and coping with interactivity… « Digital Worlds - Interactive Media and Game Design Trackback on March 29, 2008 at 4:39 pm

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