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  • Narrative Vs Gameplay: A Toolbox For Harmonious Coexistence

    - Valerio De Simone

  • Specific Player Ability

    The player uses some specific mechanic to get in-game info.

    PROS yes

    • The player is not forced to get any narrative, usually obtaining it alongside gameplay knowledge
    • The player perceives agency upon discovering the narrative

    CONS no

    • No control. The skill must be cheap and useful to increase the chances the player uses it, unlocking gameplay features and upgrades

    EXAMPLES enlightened

    • Final Fantasy Saga (Scan Magic)
    • Prey

    Patrolling and Public Newsreaders

    NPCs deliver news about the world. They don't address directly the main character.

    PROS yes

    • The world looks alive and ever-changing while keeping coherence and familiarity
    • The same assets can be easily recycled through the game.

    CONS no

    • Must change as the story progress
    • Only doable in certain specific settings

    EXAMPLES enlightened

    • Fallout Saga
    • Dishonored

    Monologue / Soliloquy

    A character (could be the main one or another one) speaks to the player or to some generic "reader" of the story.

    PROS yes

    • Every moment is ok to deliver content
    • No need for feedback or response from the game or character
    • Meta-narration is a cheap way to speak about things usually hard to explain, such as feelings and thoughts

    CONS no

    • It requires a lot of dubbing
    • Higher writing skills needed

    EXAMPLES enlightened

    • Alan Wake
    • The Stanley's Parable


    The level enrichment always tells a story. This tool is strongly linked to level design prophecies. There are several ways to apply this method, from a vague atmosphere to specific writings on walls.

    PROS yes

    • Every space is an opportunity to tell a story
    • Low programming required

    CONS no

    • Often ignored in fast-paced experiences
    • Passive tool: the player could decide to ignore it

    EXAMPLES enlightened

    • Portal 2
    • What Remains of Edith Finch

    Different Perspective

    Playing different characters, the player learns the same story from different points of view.

    PROS yes

    • Wow moments, twists and turns
    • It can be cheap in terms of level design: the same spaces traversed by different characters means new emotions with old levels

    CONS no

    • Requires deeper narrative design: the same story seen from different perspectives could result incoherent
    • If the new character, and his story, doesn't differ enough from the original, the player could feel mocked

    EXAMPLES enlightened

    • Prince of Persia: Warrior Within
    • Nier: Automata


    Here we are at the end of this study. I draw on this list as a tool, with two basic functions:

    1. Remember ways to deliver narrative I tend to forget.
    2. Remember risks and opportunities that lie in every way.

    I wish it will help you as well, and inspire more discussions: in fact, this list is far from over. I can't wait to perfect it, make it deeper, as complete as possible. Hopefully, I will soon be able to release a 2.0, with more ways and some more specific examples.


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