Monday, September 15

What's in a name?

I chose the name nobody for a reason. Firstly, it's not really a name but more an adjective. I am a nobody, nobody relevant to the grand scheme of things. That doesn't mean I am insignificant, just not "important" as much as such concepts can be defined. Somebody therefore is likely to be a well known figure with some, maybe much, influence. They are "named" (rather than described) and they often have plot relevance or perhaps many nobodies that congregate around them. In a JRPG (Japanese role-playing game - typically developed for a gaming console) I'm one of the filler avatars in town that might wander from one location to another and back. In most JRPG's I'd be lucky to have a name and get a line or two (written only, not spoken) of largely useless fluff. I suppose this sort of thing exists in all computerised RPGs.

Some cultures see this as a negative, my culture knows that many nobodies are needed to make somebody Somebody. Culturally we also take great delight in reminding a Somebody how tenuous that adjective can be.

A friend or two tell me that non-linear stories are really hard to code. I dispute this, but do so largely from a stance of complete ignorance. My intent is to offer a means to provide a non-linear story generation mechanic that is both simple to implement and simple to play. How does a nobody (the starting character) become a Somebody? In the real world it's usually when Somebody pays attention to them, mentors them, and/or assists them in reaching others. It could be just the same in the fictional worlds of games too. Take a largely irrelevant nobody farming their parents peasant farm in nowhere-ville and consider how they become a hero. Campbell's Hero's Journey is something of a cliché these days, surely the process can be more organic?

A player would make choices about their character's mechanical qualities based on preferences centred around that player's personal interests in the game. Those choices could then trigger a predefined Somebody or two or more throughout the game world that become interested in the character. Those virtual Somebodies would then respond in a pre-defined manner to that player's character's choices. The same Somebodies could respond differently, or different Somebodies could respond, or a combination of both. How much variation could be included in a game would be a function of time.

Corvus at Man Bytes Blog suggests that verbs could be a means to enhanced storytelling. And while I agree The Sims uses such techniques in its structure without defining character relationships (boyfriend, mother, rival, lover) and they do weird things that while briefly amusing typically result in dissatisfaction in many of the games detractors. In The Sims, a microwave is defined by its "cook" [food] attribute, so a Sim can use it to cook food making it edible and fulfilling the hunger directive. It's hardly compelling from a storytelling perspective. Still, mechanics that define the core features of storytelling could redefine narrative games as more than aping linear media into creation of a whole new understanding of narration.

Sometimes though, that old nobody sitting there by the fountain turns out to be the ancient kung fu master keeping it low key. Perhaps not this time, but sometimes.

3 comments:

Corvus said...

It should be clarified that I use the term "verb" to describe any action that can be taken by the player.

I believe that truly good storytelling in video games will come about by focusing on relationships--relationships between the player and their avatar, relationships between the avatar and the NPCs, relationships between the avatar and the environment--rather than on "cool" characters and linear story arcs.

That particular post was part of a conversation and suggests that implementing verbs in a specific manner (which I then learned is a technique also used by the Sims franchise) could help shift the emphasis towards relationships and lead the way to developing more compelling storyworlds. It wasn't meant to be a solution in and of itself, but merely a single component of a larger solution.

nobody said...

Corvus,

Thanks for dropping by and clearing things up. I agree with all you write, of course, and thought that was what you were driving at originally.

My insecurities flared up a little when I read your comments because I felt that maybe I hadn't represented you properly in my post. I'm still not sure of the answer to that question, however, if I have in any way misrepresented you or your discussions I apologise. I also apologise if I haven't properly referenced your material or the material of your contributers, I'm still acclimatising to this whole blogging thing. Your existence is still relatively new to me, ironic I know, when one considers you've been at this for quite a while now.

Corvus said...

I didn't feel misrepresented at all. I just wanted to add a bit more perspective!

It's all a part of building community and keeping the conversation moving. Even if I had been arguing with you, or felt you misinterpreted my stance, I would only comment in the interest of working towards better expressing myself. In fact, I got to know some of my now-favorite bloggers by getting into polite cross-blog arguments. ;)