I was asked earlier this week on which games have influenced me as a writer and designer, so I thought I’d draw attention to the granddaddy of it all, Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition. In fact, maybe D&D can still influence the game industry for the better. How do you approach the tone and feel of your game? What can you do above and beyond creating fun gameplay? The DM Guide asks the DM to take into account the DM or game style, usually somewhere between two perceived extremes. Here are a few of them and what they could mean for video games.
Gritty or Cinematic
In this sense, gritty refers to realism and consequences, while cinematic implies an action movie. Even with these explanations, the two terms represent a false dichotomy. “Realism” is pretty darn boring — you think reality television is entertaining because it’s real? No, it’s entertaining because they take artistic license and take pains to heighten the drama. Conversely, a gritty gunshot wound is actually pretty boring if it takes you 5 hours to painstakingly operate on it. The best gritty parts are inherently cinematic. Maybe the intended dichotomy here was serious vs. entertaining, but Sande would fight you to the death if you said serious games could not or should not put entertainment or fun at the top of their to do list.
Silly or Serious
Lighthearted or Intense
I’m glad they brought up these dichotomies and noted you’d probably end up somewhere along the scale. I’ve seen a lot of video games that are just unenduringly serious. Comic relief will help wonders, no matter how important saving the world is.
General or Thematic
This dichotomy interested me especially. What exactly is a general game? One that meanders with no reason? Have you seen any examples of “general” video games? When creating a game with a story, whether emergent story or narrative, consider your theme, because you will probably end up with one or several whether you realize it or not. While what is theme could be a topic of an entire post, I’m always amused by point number 10 on this blog. Best theme of a game I’ve worked on? The Witcher: “There is no good or evil, just decisions and consequences.”
Morally ambiguous or heroic
Speaking of good and evil… Personally, I love morally ambiguous choices. I love having choices at all in video games. But by the same token, many people have insisted they like playing heroic characters, who often have a clear right and wrong. Check out the responses to my post on unlikely heroes for some opinions on the hero. Can you feel heroic if you made the right choice but you didn’t save the world, or saved the world, but made a horrible choice? Is there room for more moral ambiguity in computer games?
So now you’ve got an idea of player types, themes or approaches to your games. What can D&D tell you about telling the game story? I’m not done yet — see you next week!