Life & Games: Player Narratives Jose San Mateo February 7, 2014 Opinion 1 It’s difficult explaining to people who don’t play games why they should care about them because I have trouble answering that question myself. I can only say it’s those little moments that keep me coming back. Those moments take on different forms depending on the game, but every title has them. The player is a character that has to be accounted for, which is a byproduct of being an active participant in a work of art. I think of my overarching experience with a game as the player narrative and it’s the stories generated through the act of playing that makes it meaningful. The appeal of games like Rust and DayZ are in the potential for player narratives. Given the set of circumstances and rules laid down, it’s possible to take ownership of the tale and make your own story. It matters little that everybody in Rust looks like a shirtless Vin Diesel, the game produces some amazing stories. The beauty of these narratives is that they are spontaneous and lacks any meddling from the heavy handed author or a screenwriter obsessed with five-act structure. My Rust moment happened shortly after booting up the game. Armed with nothing but a rock, I bumped into another player that gave me the customary greeting: “Are you friendly?” I decided to follow this man who told me his story as we walked down the road. @cubed2D lol that definitely counts. I think often its things like that keep people coming back to a game — Jose San Mateo (@JAsanmateo) January 30, 2014 He told me someone evicted him from his man-made home by gunpoint and wanted my help for some Quentin Tarentino style vengeance (I didn’t have the heart to tell him my only armaments were a rock and spent torch.) No sooner had he finished the tale when the vandals suddenly appeared and held us up by gunpoint. An argument broke out and they shot him dead right then and there. I didn’t say another word and simply fled the scene only to get shot in the back. Stories like these aren’t so much a reflection of who we are as people, but the way we seek to make every game our own. I once saw a YouTube video of somebody rendering millions of cheeseblocks in Skyrim as he slid down down a mountainside. It ended with him buried so deep in cheese that not even the fabled Fus-Roh-Dah could not free him. Gone Home is a good example of a game that can create a player narrative that is personal and quite intimate. Thinking of myself as a character, the game hits on cultural touchstones and themes that resonated deeply with me. I wrote a column about my own experience not long after it came out. I could say the same about games like Spelunky and OlliOlli. Both games have little story, but the simple game play and unforgiving nature made them hard to put down. Lord knows how many times I died in the mines or broke my face trying to land a 360 kickflip off a bluntside grind, but it was pretty damn satisfying to find success. In a way, both those instances are a personal story about perseverance and overcoming the odds. When it comes to the question of why anybody should care about games, no one answer will suffice because every game is different and every player experiences a game differently. What’s universal though is that gaming is a process of discovery and the simple act of playing something is an act of storytelling in itself. Stormbringer I believe there are two distinct categories of games: Story and Sport, or hobby. I think kids play both freely but adults will tend to stop playing sports games and if they continue playing games late into life they will be playing primarily for story. Of course there are exceptions, just as adults play actual sports, but everyone generally watches movies/reads books, most people don’t play sports late into life, it’s looked at as child’s play. When people express that they don’t understand the appeal of games, it’s most likely an adult who thinks of games primarily as sport (hand/eye/bean counting sport) a sport that doesn’t even offer physical health benefits (most adults will probably say they engage in physical sports as a form of exercise and might not otherwise) although there are lots of studies that say there are mental benefits to playing games, almost universally attributed to sports like games.