Shortcomings of the Emerging Plot

Will Wright
Will Wright bores an audience at the Game Developers Conference.

We have probably all heard the complaint that a game felt like a movie instead of a video game. Echoing this sentiment, a handful of successful developers (Will Wright, for example) has criticized traditional linear story telling in games. Randy Smith, in an interview in “Game Creation and Careers,” describes the difference between embedded narrative and emergent narrative. In the first Thief game, for example, Looking Glass wrote an overarching plot that was presented to the player by cut scenes. This immutable narrative is the embedded part of the story. The emergent narrative is the low level plot, the specifics of what happens throughout each individual mission. By presenting the player with game mechanics that allow him to overcome challenges in multiple ways, Smith argues he is allowing the player to, on some level, write his own story. →  The gamers have only interpreted the games, in various ways. The point, however, is to change them.