Narrative in Casual Gaming: Miss Management

For some time I’ve been arguing that the way forward for interactive storytelling is to heal the long-standing breach between narrative and puzzle, and make the interactive parts of a game reinforce and enhance the story. The player’s action should in some way help him better understand the characters, explore the constraints of the circumstance in which they find themselves, or intensify his feelings towards the participants and the outcome. (There are probably other possibilities too, but those are the obvious ones that present themselves.)

The casual game Miss Management accomplishes all that surprisingly well.

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Teaching, Persuading, Lampooning

I’ve been thinking more about “Airport Security”. Maybe I’m being unfair and judging it by the wrong criteria: given the off-the-scale absurdity, maybe it would be most reasonable to regard it as a kind of interactive editorial cartoon, rather than as an interactive argument.

I might put Persuasive Games’ Disaffected into a similar category: it’s a frustrating game to play, in a way that pokes fun of the frustrations of a copy shop in real life, without actually emulating the system at work in any depth. And their Presidential Pong goes even further, with the game-play almost entirely separate from the political content, which is expressed chiefly in editorial-cartoon format. (The “special powers” of each candidate are cute, but some of them work better than others, both as political comment and as powers within the game.)

Is there a single axis here, from anti-advergames and lampoons through semi-educational pieces like Electrocity into hard-core investigative or scientific simulations?

And how much do supposedly incidental aspects of the user interface determine our experience? I’m not talking about the assumptions buried in the simulation — those are necessarily ideological — but about surface qualities, like how difficult or easy various tasks are, how well optimized the game experience is, and how it uses the frustration that Grant Tavinor identifies as one of the key emotions evoked by gaming.

I’ve now played several games whose persuasive point was mostly achieved by a) annoying the heck out of the player and b) framing that annoyance as the natural result of some kind of unreasonable system — Airport Security is only one example. This may be emotionally effective, but is it rhetorically fair?

IF in the ACM literature, Part Two

More from the ACM archives I have been looking at.

Grant Tavinor, “Video Games, Fiction, and Emotion,” ACM Conference Proceedings, Vol. 123, 2005. 201-207.

Mr. Tavinor’s work is focused on how we feel about the games we play, and how games evoke those feelings; he talks a bit about interactive fiction (though, I think, defining it a bit more broadly than as the text-based form I tend to mean on this site). But his conclusions leave out a lot of possibility. Here’s a sample of what I mean:

Emotions are involved in the affective framing of fictional worlds, making salient the goals and needs of those fictional worlds, so that our interaction in them is motivated and enhanced. The player of a video game feels angry at their inability to overcome the massive fiery lobster monster, frustrated by the difficulty of completing the platform-jumping task, fearful of possible loss, or elated at defeating the hordes of mutants or crazed chimpanzees. Consequently, the emotions seem to guide participation in the fictional world of the video game by boosting attention and concentration to deal with these challenges. The emotions we have for video games are framing devices that channel our interaction with these fictions.

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