Monday, April 25, 2005

Action Expanded

Earlier, I made a post about action. Today, I'm going to post about DRAMA IN GAMES.

Really, action is simply a type of drama.

Now, there's a lot of kinds of drama in modern (and not-so-modern) media. Non-interactive media has done a million different codifications of 'DRAMA'. You can MAJOR in it. They have a million explanations and approaches. Hell, the games industry has STOLEN these basics and the idea of a 'cut scene' and imported both the styles and complexities of this other genre.

But there is a type of drama which is directly part of games.

Ask any sports fan. As anyone who plays poker, or chess. Games have a drama all their own.

Most people aknowledge that while simultaneously not grokking it. The drama of a game isn't that someone wins and someone loses. It's that something IMPORTANT to you ACTS.

It is rare for someone to cheer for a team from some place they've never been. It's uncommon for people to care who wins or who loses in a poker game where nothing is at stake.

Drama is one big ACTION SCENE.

Like an action scene, we only CARE about drama when we CARE about the people involved. When we have a vested interest. And, the other half of the equation: the THREAT which pushes the people we care about to their limits.

Gameplay-based-drama is a sideways look at this.

Sure, a player will probably 'like' or 'dislike' a character somewhat based on their appearance and personality. I have a fondness for cute female characters and a hatred of idiotic 'mascot' characters. But most of the time, a player is thinking about the characters (and weapons, and places, and monsters) as bundles of play modifiers.

And play modifiers are relative.

During a game, you have a healer named 'Luna'. Both of the following phrases are the sort you could realistically expect to think: "Oh, this fight's gonna be tough. I'll need my healer, call in Luna." Or, alternately, "Nobody ever really dies, so it's better to have another warrior, rather than a weak healer."

Same function, same bundle of play modifiers, but in the first situation, Luna is a favorite character. In the second situation, she isn't. Why? THREAT. In the first situation, Luna is a THREAT. For your side, against the enemy. In the second situation, Luna is not only not a threat, she's a weakness because she takes up a slot that a more powerful character could have filled.

You have to establish POSITIVE THREAT in gameplay drama, rather than 'empathy'. You can certainly use both, but only the positive threat is native to gameplay.

This is very different from 'cinema' drama. In another media, you build your characters through association and empathy. Once you care about them, threats against them matter to you, and drama is born. In a game, you SHOULD use the same methods... but the game has that more native form of 'empathy' which you should use.

In short, gameplay is nothing more or less than tokens with certain powers acting in certain ways. If a token is MORE useful to the player, he will PRIZE it more. It will be valuable. And threatening it or changing will be dramatic. IF the threat is PROVEN, of course, as mentioned.

Sound rather... inhumane? Maybe. Think of high-stakes gamblers. Plenty of them don't give a damn about people having a hard time... but the game matters. Their drama is in their game, even though they'd yawn and fall asleep when confronted with the life story of a beggar.

You don't have to make a game about saving the world.

Using the correct dramatic tenets, you COULD make a game about washing your pants.

So long as your pants have POSITIVE THREAT.

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