Crafting Interactive Narratives

Jesse Schell writes that “it is this feeling of freedom, not freedom itself, which must be preserved to tell a compelling interactive story.” The art of game design is around creating a new world that doesn’t actually exist for the player to explore. The player needs to feel like they are in that world for the game to be meaningful. They need care about the people and what happens to them for them to engage in an interactive story about them. If that doesn’t happen your game is going to fall flat. If the player doesn’t feel free then they won’t want to make any decision. They might still care about the story and the characters if they’re interesting, but without that feeling of freedom, they won’t be compelled to participate.

Taking an existing, linear story and making it interactive opens up a whole new world for exploration and discovery. As we saw with To Be or Not To Be even a story as old and tired as Hamlet can be reengineered to provide interesting new perspectives through an interactive story. With that in mind, I would want to explore giving the player choice in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. In this story, we all know Luke is beaten by Darth Vader in a lightsaber battle. Clutching the railing on a walkway dangling over an immense drop Luke is told that Darth Vader is actually his father, and presented with the choice to join him or die. It’s a cinematic moment so often parodied and imitated that it’s lost a lot of the punch that made it so meaningful the first time people experienced it. But what if Luke chose to join his father? What if in that moment the viewer was holding a controller and could decide whether to extend his other hand and join his father or reject him and tumble down into the abyss.

This moment would allow for two very different endings to the Star Wars story we all know. If Luke did choose to join Vader then we would see a completely different end to the trilogy. The Rebels would lose their greatest asset and the Empire would seemingly rule forever. This ending would be so bleak and dark, it would be a whole new take on the Star Wars story. The drastic differences between the two narratives would make for two almost entirely different experiences. And the player would feel like they made it happen, they would feel like they were free to doom the galaxy or to save it. That’s what would make the story meaningful and that’s what would make Star Wars into a compelling interactive narrative.

Published by Stephan N. Reilly

Freelance writer and designer.

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