While not all games have a story narrative behind them, storytelling is an essential part of the gamificaiton of learning and instruction. Simple games like tic-tac-toe are not guided by a story. Neither are games like hide and seek, freeze tag or word searches. But a surprising number of simple games have more story behind them than you may think. Chess uses terms like knight, king and bishop to evoke a backstory of two warring factions, the kid’s game Capture the Flag has a similar underlying story and you can become a king in Checkers. Simple video games like Bejeweled even have a loose story associated with them. The underlying story becomes more evident when you hear the original name of the game, “Diamond Mine” which evokes the story of someone mining away looking for jewels.
Early video games added a thin story layer to make them more interesting and engaging than merely shooting or dodging pixels. Often just the name of the game and some crude graphics were enough to create a compelling story in the player’s mind. “Space Invaders” conjured up an entire story involving saving the Earth from relentless aliens and “Missile Command” made you the commander of a base trying to save cities and your own soldiers from enviable destruction.
Today video games have huge back stories complete with complex storylines, plot twists and surprises. Can you say “World of Warcraft” or “Halo”. Even player driven games like Eve Online have hundreds of underlying stories which have been created by the players themselves. Humans are great at adding story narrative to a variety of situations because stories add meaning, provide context and guide action.
Stories have been used for centuries to pass information from one person to another and to guide behavior and thinking. The combination of a video game and storytelling provides an interactive story which engages and moves the player forward. Well designed educational games blend a task-related story with interactive game elements to help the player learn the desired behaviors, actions and thinking patterns that support the desired outcome within a particular context.
Games can provide a visual and narrative context for player performance. A game provides a place for the player to practice activities as they directly relate to the narrative of his or her job or academic learning goals.
But remember, good story design in a game requires good writing. Here is an interesting take on video games and bad writing.