Restricted Interactivity.

A core property of games as is that of interactivity, digital games especially so. Computers are interactive, therefore computer games are interactive, but does interactivity operate on a binary scale? Is something either interactive or not? If it’s not a binary scale does a game require a certain degree of interactivity?

One title that has been criticised for not being enough of a game, (not interactive enough?) is Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. The sequel to the critically acclaimed point-and-click adventure game The Longest Journey, Dreamfall has been criticised for including too few elements of actual interactivity. In essence the game involves an extensive use of non-interactive cut-scenes, linked by periods of environmental exploration and brief tactically unsophisticated combat. By a number of metrics there is very little “game” in Dreamfall and what does exist is not particularly well implemented. However I contend that none of that matters, Dreamfall is a form of electronic entertainment that provides an experience that could not be implemented in another medium and remain as engaging or affecting. The worlds of Stark and Arcadia and the people that inhabit them, could be described in a novel or represented in a film but neither form could make them feel like an actual place in the way that they can in a digital game.

dreamfall-the-longest-journey-01
Cinematic… But not a film.

Dreamfall it is too interactive to be a film, therefore gaming has as much right to claim it as anything else.

All games afford a some degree of interactivity, it make no sense to put a threshold on the degree of interactivity a game is required to offer. The level of interactivity provided by a game like Grand Theft Auto III is something unique to the field of games and something that should be encouraged. But the specific style of highly scripted experience provided by Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is just as vital to the evolution of games; they are simply at different ends of a wide spectrum of interactivity. Though potentially less interactive than Grand Theft Auto III, Modern Warfare is still too interactive to be a film. It must be a game because it can’t be anything else.

Similar arguments occur when it comes to the role of story and narrative within a game, such as during the GDC panel on “The Future Of Story In Game Design”. As interesting as such discussions can be, I believe that they are fundamentally counter-productive. I personally see a role for narrative in games, and am interested in the potential new techniques for storytelling made available by games. However I would never claim that all titles must aspire to developing a narrative, any more than I would demand that all films should be in black and white, or that all literature should be written in iambic pentameter.

Discussions about the role of story in game design should be limited to the specifics of whether it is something a particular title should be concerned with or not. Of course there is a role for author created narratives in the vast continuum that is games but not necessarily in every title, and not to the same extent in those titles that do choose to include such narratives.

Gaming should be an inclusive form, there’s as much room for the simulated as the imaginary, for the narrative as the ludic.

The worst fate that can befall any medium, at such a relatively early stage in it’s development, is to have arbitrary restrictions imposed upon its growth.

2 thoughts on “Restricted Interactivity.

  1. For a long time I would have said A without hesitation, but recently I’ve started to realise that B is probably the only way that will lead to Story and Gameplay actually reinforcing one another.

    As described by Marc LaBlanc in his work on the MDA Framework, particular mechanics lead to particular Aesthetics. With a set of mechanics in place you have a strong idea of the range and type of potential emotional responses your game can evoke; ala you have your themes. If you then develop a narrative around those themes with characters and story beats that highlight them I think you end up with a much more coherent whole that you do if you come up with a storyline then try and work backwards to develop mechanics that reinforce it.

    I don’t think A is impossible (As I used to hold to it), but I think B produces the better results.

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