Archive for January, 2010

Part 1: Linear Games, Linear Stories

4 January, 2010

Linear games are like books and movies. You are told what happens to a character (or characters) through a series of events. Books and movies show the same material through multiple viewings, yet the way a reader or viewer witnesses the material is different each reading or viewing. Simple actions that the character did in the beginning of a book might be explained later in the story, and in a second reading of the book the reader will know why the character did these actions. It may be very subtle, and these little nuances make a book or movie interesting after many readings or viewings. This is also why people have created book clubs, or why movie critics have differing opinions of a movie. In a group discussion, each person brings their own experiences, which can add new meaning to the material. Sharing the experience with others might open up your eyes to things you may have missed, something that can completely change your perspective on the material. For example, a viewer may have sympathy for a character with Alzheimer’s and the family struggle that occurs with such a disease. If the viewer has a relative who actually has Alzheimer’s and has to deal with these problems, then the meaning is completely different based on their experiences. Maybe the character allows the viewer to speak up with friends and family about the disease. Those people who are told about the disease will in turn have a new perspective on the character.

Linear stories are never static. Even though a story is written down on a medium people will view it differently over time.

Its not the shape of these stories that make them linear, but the direction in which the story takes a reader, viewer, or player. Linear stories guide people through a series of events in which the person has no control over. When referring to games this seems like a paradox because the player is always in control of the character. In linear games though, the player can not control the direction of the story. A player can carry out actions within a linear story, but they can never change the events which occur. Super Mario Bros, for example, is linear because the player either makes it to the next level or doesn’t. Each level is a progression of Mario trying to save the Princess. The levels are events that occur in the story, and although the player controls Mario through each action (jumping over pits), the player does not directly control the course of the story. A player can not find another princess to fall in love with, or find a princess who does not need rescuing.

However, linear story telling is not limiting for either the player or the writer.

Often linear story telling can be more engaging than other forms. (will be continued…)