Games as Stories

This Thursday for Morning Table Talk is a brief departure from the What Makes a Good Game? series so I can talk review my notes as we go into the last few entries for the series. So with that in mind I would like to talk about games making stories both in the game and with the players.
There are some games that revolve around creating characters and telling stories such as RPGs and Pen and Paper games like DnD, Fate Core, or Burning Wheel (as well as their video game counterparts) but stories can also be told in a wide variety of other games. Eventually I will talk about RPG games and more linear based story games (for digital media) but today I want to look and talk about how *almost* any game can make a story.

Now this does involve a bit of roleplaying (though I prefer the term of improv acting) but personally I like to think that the various games I play tell a story. This typically starts with the theme of the game. Some of these themes include ruling empires, building nations, surviving wars, stealing priceless treasures, and more but all of them help set the framework for a story that players are free to engage in on any level. From the theme then during the course of a game I have found that with a bit of imagination every turn is an event in an unfolding story line. In some video games (such as Crusader Kings 2) you can see the player’s actions as helping unfold history and the struggles that have occurred. Now this is just one kind of story that games can tell and as we mentioned before players can be as involved in these stories as much as they want. Personally, I love imagining that I am in the world of the game and the events unfolding but that is me and I know several people who just like the game for what it is and the theme is irrelevant. Both approaches are perfectly fine in that form of story, it is up to the players.

The second kind of story telling with a game comes from the experiences with a group and playing a game repeatedly (or even one offs) where events unfold that are amazing and help define the group as a whole. This can range from a poker game where a player has straight after straight to playing the role of a betrayer in a social deduction game flawlessly to the various sessions of Pandemic. Each of these experiences affect the group and how they play the game as a whole and help tell the social story of the group: who is the one that always wins, has a crazy strategy, is surprisingly lucky, etc.?

Some of this second form story telling has been experimented with mechanically in the ‘Legacy’ format of games (such as Pandemic Legacy) where the board and game is permanently changed by the previous sessions of the game which is a cool idea I’d like to work with at some point. Regardless of a game being ‘Legacy’ or not or how much players engage in the story of the game, it is a component I have seen there and I personally love it.

I hope this little bit has given you some though for the next time you play a game and I hope you have a great morning.