Frictional: “How gameplay and narrative kill meaning”

We’re not alone! :)

Frictional Games is one of the most ambitious and at the same time under-appreciated independent developers. They are one of very few forward looking companies in the independent scene and don’t nearly get enough credit for it (this year’s IGF proved no exception with its jury ignorantly rejecting Frictional’s new project “Amnesia“).

Anyway, Frictional’s Thomas Grip has written a very clear analysis of how the “focus on narrative and gameplay is holding back interactive media’s potential”. The little essay echoes our own thoughts on the subject but Mr Grip suggests a certain terminology that is very helpful (if not entirely intuitive), opposing meaning to narrative and interaction to gameplay. With us, he is “quite convinced (…) that there is a vast new world to explore if the interaction is in focus, instead of gameplay and narrative”.

While gameplay at the core of game making, it comes with a lot of baggage and makes certain meanings harder to realize in the medium. The most striking issue is the entire failure mechanism that is used in just about any game. You try a certain task, you fail and then have to repeat it. As described in other posts, this can be especially damaging in horror games, where repeating scenes seriously lessens the experience. This mechanism also imposes limits on the player’s rate of progress and effectively tells the player: “Either you complete this or you will not proceed!”. Other baggage include the notion that gameplay must be fun and the need to constantly pose challenges. What I mean with the last point is that players assume that a game will always keep them occupied with some kind of obstacle to overcome. This leads to very little interactive content that is added for its intrinsic sake alone. Instead a game’s interactive content almost always have some connection to the goals of the gameplay.

Read the entire post here.

17 thoughts on “Frictional: “How gameplay and narrative kill meaning””

  1. I see what problems brings conventional gameplay, but I don’t understand the problems of narrative. Also, are not meaning and narration the same?

  2. I like that the writer of the article makes a distinction. The terms he uses can indeed be a bit confusing but he does explain quite well what he means by them. The problem with narrative (as used in his definition), basically, is that it is linear and thus forces an alien structure onto videogames.

  3. Hm, so, do you mean linear narrative then?.

    As I see it narrating and expressing something are the same, a narration doesn’t have to be necessarily a linear story, but a feeling or a sensation too. I think a picture, a sculpture or a song can be narrations. I don’t know, maybe I’m using wrong the term.

  4. Yes, I think as you too, but I wanted to make that clear, as it could have led to misunderstandings.

    I have been thinking for a long time that linear narrative is pointless in the interactive medium. By the own nature of the games, they are always trying to retain you, they are constantly putting you obstacles to hold your progress, but at the same time, by the own nature of the narration through non-interactive cinematics, the story keeps forcing you to advance through it. The result are two opposite forces fighting each other, and in my opinion, that’s why rythm and tempo are so hard to mantain in conventional videogames.

  5. Would you call, then, puzzle oriented games like, for example, Tetris, Lumines or Puzzle Bobble linear games?

    I understand what you said applied to story-driven games, but about all that arcade games which focuses on gameplay and mechanic ignoring the narrative aspect (the games that deserve their name the most) I’m not pretty sure.

  6. Of those three, I have only played Tetris. And it’s most definitely linear. If only because it always ends, not by choice of the player but because the system become progressively more difficult. In a way, Tetris and games like this always end with the player losing. It’s kind of depressing.

    But you’re right that in these cases, it doesn’t make much sense to talk about linearity. They are more like continuous repetitions of the same simple interaction.

  7. alastair:
    That depend on how ones defines it really. If one defines it as “what is in a game”, well then it is pretty vague and not very useful. But more specific definition can actually be helpful.

    For example, when designing a game, one might want to balance between “gameplay” and “story” in a certain part. I think the word is very usable in a situation like this as it helps to convey a message. As for my lil blog post, I think the use of “gameplay” is quite fair, especially since I explicitly define it and hence give people an option to attack that definition. (which many have!).

  8. It’s easy to get frustrated with the inadequacy of old words when trying to describe new experiences. Until we find new appropriate words, we should all be patient and try to understand what people mean even if they can’t express it correctly.

  9. However,Tetris and games like this always end with the player losing.The little essay echoes our own thoughts on the subject is the post by viewing us how a gameplay narrates it. Thanks to share it with us.

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