game story rule play

The readings on Game Theories this past week dealt a lot with the role of story within games. The theories that the authors present are similar in their exploration of the relationship between rules/prestructured narratives and play/unstructured narratives.

Janet Murray argued that the story came before the game, but I feel that not all games need a story. I disagree with her example of Tetris as a story because the game lacks a narrative that progresses as time passes. It has one objective. Tetris games can become stories if game creators weave in one for variety's sake. Many games have similar goals and strategies, but their stories distinguish them. It is common to use a template to create a game. Although formulaic, people still play these games because they are bound to like them. We have formulas for a reason. Formulaic films may be bland but witty dialogue and excellent acting can distinguish them. Pop songs hit the top of the charts because they are popular albeit at times formulaic.

I think it's interesting that our current generation's desire to personalize everything has influenced the game industry. We learned about customizing both profile pages on online social networking sites and the entertainment we discover on the Internet. Online companies recommend a selection of songs, movies, books, or products we would like based on our past choices. Similarly, The Sims has a "Family Album" feature that enables players to upload their games onto the site, where other players can create multiple versions of the family. This custom-built feature, along with skinning, is meant to satisfy players. Our generation is obsessed with personalizing everything. The idea of securing control over our lives or any aspect of it has always affected human beings. Games, particularly ones that have open narratives, give players control. Game designers create space for players to develop their own narrative. Each player's game story differs from the other depending on the choices made. What's intriguing is the definition of game itself. According to Zimmerman, a game "is a voluntary interactive activity, in which one or more players follow rules that constrain their behavior, enacting an artificial conflict that ends in a quantifiable outcome" (First Person). A game restricts one's control, limiting actions through rules. Thus, "game play" is a paradox because "play" is uncertain, creative. In a game, we "play" but still follow set rules. Even though we enjoy not following fixed rules, we also need structure. Games exemplify this because all games have rules yet we still "play" them. I think that most of the appeal of games comes from the rules created. A game would be boring if it was not challenging; likewise, it would be boring if it had too many rules. That leads me to wonder, "What is the perfect balance between play and rules?" If game designers create a "game space" for players to explore, how much of the game should they build around a set story and how much of it should they let the player construct? It is difficult to gauge the extent to which we need each one. I think the answer changes with society as people's needs and wants shift.