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  • Examining Causes Of Conflict In Narrative

    - Gregory Pellechi
  • Stories, drama, change - all are about conflict. Either causing it or remedying it. Either way conflict is an integral part of a game's creation. Even language carries conflict as its an imperfect rendering of our ideas in another form. So no matter what we create it's at odds with either the world we bring it in to or its purpose in that world.

    "Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love." - Martin Luther King Jr.

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    Games, especially video games are never without conflict. This doesn't mean they're all about the shooty shooty and the boom boom. Rather that conflict can be inherent in the rules putting the player at odds with the computer, or in the story where a character is at odds with the world or another character.

    Video games because of their ability to handle tasks and calculations unseen and unchecked by others are perfect for rebalancing conflicts to weight them in the favor of the player or players or towards itself. Whereas board and card games because they're calculated by the players typically are not due to fairness. Fairness is never an aspect of conflict though. It can be used as a justification for it, but is not a cause. Which brings us to the focus of this episode - the causes of conflicts, and how they relate to writing, storytelling and video games.

    By conflict I don't mean documented times when nation states, groups or people are actively fighting and killing one another, though I am basing my arguments off the concepts of Peace & Conflict Studies and not narrative studies. So conflict is when two or more things are at odds with one another. It's a very nebulous phrase in part because I'm talking about people, but I'm also talking about rules, logic, computers, and games. For now though, bare with me, as I go through the three types of conflicts and how they appear in video games and stories.

    Conflict Cause 1 - Resources

    Nature provides us with countless examples of conflict. From plants growing to be the tallest to get the most sunlight or their roots spreading out to collect all the water. To wolves hunting elk or fighting over territory. Resources are things both real and ethereal. The latter being something like a job. Games have characters compete for a variety of resources. They can be people, places, things and that includes something as nominal as points.

    Formula 1 has you competing for money, sponsors, and poll position. Halo 5 has you competing for weapons, ammo, points, locations, kills, and to be the last one standing. No Man's Sky has you competing for resources in a more direct fashion. The harvest cycle you're perpetually stuck in has you at odds with both the Sentinels and a universe that wants to limit your ability to find and collect those resources.

    Competition for resources really is the most basic of drives. It's the easiest means of conflict. There are plenty of TV shows, movies and other media where that conflict has been the main driver. The characters are all after some McGuffin like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction or are competing for something be it a job, a trophy or even the affection of another. Conflicts of these types don't have to be with anyone or anything in particular. Existence itself creates a drive as we see in survival games with the need to find shelter, food, warmth and weapons as we do in games like The Long Dark.

    Writing conflicts about resources tends to mean pitting one or more characters against each other, with no option for compromise. Either one party gets the McGuffin or no one. There's no ability to share it. As we saw at the end of The Hunger Games when Katniss and Peeta plan to take nightlock together. More on resource conflicts in a bit.


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