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Author Topic: The contradition of the narrative avatar  (Read 41473 times)
Jeroen D. Stout

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« Reply #15 on: March 07, 2010, 03:23:57 AM »

Because the character would never literary say such a thing to himself - the comment 'I do not like steak' is a thought that you would not find in a well-written book, even. You may have a narrator telling you you do not like steak, but that establishes a relationship with the narrator.

Actually you will see a lot of this sort of character-acting-as-narrator-while-thinking-out-loud in animation. I noticed it particularly in the Miyazaki adaptation of Howl's Moving Castle where it seemed kind of weird, but I think it's a pretty common technique. No reason that it couldn't work with interactive characters...

When I see the character in Howl's Moving Castle I never assume the character 'is me'; I have sympathy with the character rather than seeing the character as my embodiment. I think my point is more that this type of writing emphasises a relation between player and character that is more 'solo' on the side of the character.

So if the player controls locomotion and is at the brink of entering a dark room and the character pipes up: "I am afraid of the dark;" the character is more asking for sympathy as-if external to the player. If the vision becomes blurred and the breathing heavier the player is afraid as-if he himself (his embodiment) is afraid, affecting his agency in the world.

I realize what you said about the character in Howl's Moving Castle and I should not have been so negative about it, although I rarely like it as a cinematic form. It may cover up for the lack of delicate motions of real actors (like in the excellent Deadwood) but it can also be cheap exposition relying on me being told what goes on whilst watching a medium (film) that to me is more about interpretation. In the same sense that a game is to me more about embodiment than about interpretation, let alone being told what is going on.

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« Reply #16 on: May 13, 2012, 01:31:17 AM »

Hi everybody, I'm new here. I have a deep respect for all of you pioneers in the new medium. Hopefully my thoughts make sense. I've been comparing and contrasting 'The Graveyard' and Jordan Magnuson's 'Grandmother' in terms of interaction and the degree to which characterization is used for the avatar. 'Grandmother' gives the player a shell-avatar and makes the action very interactive - after walking to your grandmother's grave, you clean it with a sponge in an intuitive fashion. In 'The Graveyard' the avatar is the core of the experience, particularly her slowness, and the end action is non-interactive. 'Grandmother' was more affecting for me, and I think this is because the interaction method was more direct and I wasn't being forced into a character. I felt more present, because the shell-avatar allowed me to exist in that space as myself. On the other hand, the way 'The Graveyard' uses the avatar is quite interesting, conveying a certain feeling of being that person. It was frustrating, because all I could do was walk her to the place, but it made me think about the character, whereas in 'Grandmother' the avatar-character isn't very important. These two different motives: action/character, doing/being, are interesting. The first two Ice Pick Lodge games, Pathologic and The Void, are different in this respect, with Pathologic's avatar more concrete and characterized (of course, not to the degree of 'The Graveyard') and The Void's avatar nameless and faceless. I like Pathologic better, maybe because there's more for me to relate to - it isn't set in a world of existential metaphors like the latter. I think that having a shell-avatar with more direct player interaction (in The Void there is much more direct manipulation of the world via mathematical rules and relations that have to do with a physics engine; in Pathologic it is mostly about pre-written dialogue trees) means that the world has to be more easily represented by a computer - it has to be abstract, mathematical. I couldn't relate to a world too much like that, but I also couldn't relate to a game with a very highly-characterized avatar that doesn't represent me at all. I think a balance needs to be maintained between the two. 

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« Reply #17 on: May 13, 2012, 05:05:53 PM »

I wrote a recent blog post:

It is tempting to force a player to follow a strict, linear path. I know. It's something I've caught myself doing on the game I'm curently working on. Even with more or less freedom movement, I've found myself attempting to direct the player. This is not the way to do things in an open environment. How can one expect players to be intelligent if one treats them like an idiot? Developers have to trust the player. Otherwise, we are simply pandering to the lowest common denominator.

I think this goes for the matter being discussed here. It's time to trust the player. Tell the narrative you want. The player will either be carried along or they won't. It's not a player problem, it's a writing/presentation problem. If you're not confident in your narrative, how can you expect the player to be?

That is the problem with the mainstream game developers and even indie games. They treat the players like idiots. Of course, there will always be those who don't "get it". So what; you can't please everyone.

It's all stylization of one sort or another. We rarely think about the structure of prose, 1st person, 3rd person, etc. As readers, we are exposed to it from a very early age. But like any art, it's an artificial structure that evolved to help make it easier to follow writing. The (not)games form needs developed more when it comes to narrative and character. Prose isn't obvious. Neither is WASD or d-pad and buttons A, B. Or unusual amnesia. These are conventions to make things easier, not just on the author but the player/reader as well.

These "problems" are the same faced in any artform. Especially in scifi and fantasy. Because the settings and situations are unusual, you have two options as a writer: amnesia or extensive exposition early on. There is a third option but it is much more difficult but is much more elegant; ease the reader into the world as you tell the story.

I don't have any concrete answers but I don't think this matter is as problematic as you think. Don't be afraid to lean on cliched conventions if necessary. Trust yourself and the player.

Irony is for cowards.
Michaël Samyn

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« Reply #18 on: May 15, 2012, 02:29:11 PM »

I don't have any problem with narrative in my own work because I'm not interested in telling a story. I am not a writer. I have no stories in me. I want to create an atmosphere, a situation. All interaction follows logically from that situation. I don't need to guide the player. There is nowhere to go. There is only the situation. I try to convey it as well as I can, but I have no concrete expectations of how players will feel or what they will think. In fact, I am curious as to their reactions.

The fact that there is a third person avatar in The Graveyard is a logical outcome of the desire to create a situation of "old woman in cemetery". The old woman was not optional. She was part of the basic idea. She is not a tool. The lack of actions that you can do with her is also a logical result of the idea: she is old. I wasn't trying to "make you feel like you are old" per se. It was just logical that she wouldn't be able to do much.
Michaël Samyn

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« Reply #19 on: May 15, 2012, 02:36:56 PM »

"Grandmother" is equally logical: it presumes that the player is somebody like the author (a young man) -the footsteps do not sound like those of an old person. I assume that you, vorvox, are a young man too. That in and of itself would make it easier for you to feel like it is you in the game.

It's an interesting option: to create narratives that feature controllable lead characters of the same age, gender and background as the player. That is definitely a good way to strike a chord with the player. You do exclude everyody else from as deep an experience. But maybe that's acceptable.

It's not something we have done ourselves. Our work is much more about the imagination, and about empathy (that may well be our only real "message"). But it's something to think about.
Mick P.

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« Reply #20 on: July 19, 2015, 09:05:15 PM »

Controlling an avatar with preexisting knowledge is no different from characters in a book or a film (you don't know anything about them other than the events that transpire within.) Basically you just get to control the main protagonist unless the game moves you around or is party based. They are the audience surrogate.

Framing devices are fine. Exposition dumps and characters talking to themselves are unforgivable. Talking to yourself is less offensive if its internalized and can possibly be a useful tool, but will probably come off as unrealistically prescriptive if so. Asking the player to answer questions I find highly problematic and antithetical to storytelling. Missing foreknowledge is only really a problem if asked a question that doesn't seem to be breaking the fourth wall (eg. is this boring you? Shall we do something else?)

Knowing/communicating where to go/what to do is the only real problem with no simple answer.
« Last Edit: July 19, 2015, 09:53:51 PM by Mick P. » Logged

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