Choose Your Own Adventure

I look up at my screen, down at my mouse.  I count the enemies, and my men.  There’s no two ways about it, someone isn’t making it out alive.

I look at my Rookie, one kill for the mission, his first time in the real world, and I look at my Captain, battle hardened, scarred, and ready. If this were a movie, the Captain would do it. If this were a movie, my men wouldn’t have died while hiding behind cars. If this were a movie, everything would be heroics. But this wasn’t. So my Rookie runs out, he takes a glancing blow while running over. He fires on one enemy, killing it. My captain advances safely, and guns down another. Two more advance, surrounding the rookie. The Captain sighs, reaches down to his belt, and pulls out a grenade. Live bait is always the best.

There’s something special about watching a story unfold before you. One where you’re more of a puppetmaster than a bystander. You pull the strings, constantly fighting against gravity, the wind, and children-in-the-audience-who-throw-sticks-at-you. It’s still a play though, a plot written by someone else, though with details of your own devising. And it’s this sort of story that shows the strength of games.

When you go to a movie, you’re not seeing your own story. What you see, and what the guy next to you sees, are both exactly the same. This promotes discussion. You stand by the water-cooler, talk about how great this scene was, or how hot that chick looked. You talk about the same things, and you compare what you thought of them. Your standard, blockbuster game is the same. You go through the set-piece, you slip on the hill, and Soap grabs your hand, saving you from death. This too, can be discussed. There’s a small amount of storytelling, in the way you got from point A to B, but there won’t really be much variance.

With XCOM or FTL, it’s interesting to see the return of player driven storytelling. In a procedural world, A and B are still created by someone, somewhere, but the path between them can be winding, or direct. The equipment you have, the people there with you, all will be different. These aren’t games where you discuss what happened. These are games where you tell. You share your story with others, and they share theirs. These games appeal to the tellers, not the listeners.

And there’s something wonderful about that.

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3 comments

  1. Well said – this is a bigger seller for me. Single-player games, or campaigns, are nearly the only aspect of a game I look at when I’m browsing the market. Think I better head out to grab hold of XCOM now.

  2. BUT WHAT HAPPENED TO THE ROOKIE?!

  3. I finally picked up Xcom:EU on the Xbox and have only sunk a few hours into it – sadly, in those few hours, I’ve gotten way too attached to my squad members and multiple times stopped playing the game in mourning. It’s very well done. Trick seems to be not to give them custom names.

    Great game, great genre.

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