Games and stories

At the Game Developer Conference this month, a study was released about the immersive quality of games. Researchers at the University of Helsinki found that "Role Engagement" had far more influence than seven other factors in game immersion. They define role engagement as:

captivated and enclosed into the role provided by the storyline or narrative

Role Engagement scored 19.65, compared to 6.69 for the next biggest factor: Attention. These findings say Brent Schlenker is right to advocate David Shaffer's approach to epistemic games. It also validates what I wrote about Shaffer's conceptual framework:

Rather than use the concept of "epistemic games", his message would come
across more clearly if he used concepts like: assuming a complete identity,
facing the interpersonal challenges of professional conduct, deploying a new
skillset within a politicized context or playing the part of a street smart

None of this comes as any surprise to Clark Quinn, Mark Oehlert, Karl Kapp or anyone adding to the thinking about Serious Games. It reinforces the use of the power of storytelling in informal learning that Ray Sims is exploring.

In A Theory of Fun, Raph Koster argues very insightfully that games are NOT stories (p.88):

  • Games tend to be experiential teaching. Stories teach vicariously
  • Games are good at objectification. Stories are good at empathy
  • Games tend to quantize, reduce and classify. Stories tend to blur, deepen and make subtle distinctions
  • Games are external - they are about people's actions. Stories (good ones anyway) are internal - they are about people's emotions and thoughts.
One way I've resolved this in my mind is to put the emphasis on role identification. Becoming the protagonist in a scenario, identifying with the avatar's role, playing the part -- finds the middle ground between story and game. Perhaps it even becomes a synthesis or convergence - the best of both vehicles.

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