Borderlands Zed
Basic Introduction to Game Design

Dramatic Elements of Games and Narrative Design

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Welcome to the third week of class in the course: Basic Introduction to Game Design. Make sure to read the syl­labus and course infor­ma­tion before you con­tin­ue. Today, we are going to dis­cuss the dra­mat­ic ele­ments of games and the nar­ra­tive design behind games. This text fol­lows close­ly from our text­books (Game Design Workshop, Chapters 4 and Challenges for Game Designers, Chapter 13); it also takes inspi­ra­tion from the Salen and Zimmerman book Rules of Play (Chapter 26).

Otis in Monkey Island

The Secret of Monkey Island (Lucasfilm Games, 1990) cre­at­ed a wealth of mem­o­rable char­ac­ters (here the pris­on­er Otis) often with great humour.

Narrative Design

While there has been some debate on the sig­nif­i­cance of nar­ra­tive in games (the ludol­o­gy vs. nar­ra­tol­ogy debate), sto­ry can be high­ly rel­e­vant for cre­at­ing your game­play and will help give your for­mal game ele­ments nec­es­sary mean­ing. Narrative in gen­er­al helps us to process infor­ma­tion and make sense of things in our lives. Narratives are every­where and they are used for every­thing. It is obvi­ous that they can be found in the medi­um of games, whether it is a sto­ry that helps us makes sense of the game or a sto­ry told by the game. Literary the­o­rist J. Hillis Miller defines com­po­nents of a nar­ra­tive in the fol­low­ing:

  • Situation. Stories revolve around chang­ing states (going from an ini­tial state towards a sequence of chang­ing states), which are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the events that dri­ve a sto­ry.
  • Form. Stories pro­vide com­mon anchors in them, which allow us to process them using pat­terns and rep­e­ti­tions. Every aspect of a sto­ry and a theme can have pat­terns and rep­e­ti­tions to it.
  • Character. In sto­ries, we like to per­son­i­fy events to make them rel­e­vant to us. The char­ac­ter of a sto­ry (and this can be dif­fer­ent from per­sonas in sto­ries) is cre­at­ed out of signs.

Continue read­ing

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Pac-Man Things
Basic Introduction to Game Design

The formal systems of games and game design atoms

[cite]
Welcome to the sec­ond week of class in the course: Basic Introduction to Game Design. Make sure to read the syl­labus and course infor­ma­tion before you con­tin­ue. Today, we are going to dis­cuss the for­mal sys­tem struc­tures of games (an intro­duc­tion to its for­mal and dra­mat­ic ele­ments) and game design atoms. This text fol­lows close­ly from our text­books (Game Design Workshop, Chapters 2 & 3 and Challenges for Game Designers, Chapter 2); it also takes inspi­ra­tion from the Salen and Zimmerman book Rules of Play (Chapters 5,6,7). Keep in mind that game design is a field of prac­tice and even when you are read­ing all the infor­ma­tion from this course, there is no sub­sti­tute for work­ing on some games at home for prac­tice.

The Definition of Games

Rather than pon­der­ing on the exact def­i­n­i­tions of game here (many of which can be found in Rules of Play, Chapter 7), we want to look at what’s most use­ful to us as game design­ers.

Design is the process by which a design­er cre­ates a con­text to be encoun­tered by a par­tic­i­pant, from which mean­ing emerges.” (Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman)

This quote from the Rules of Play book encap­su­lates the main items that we should focus on as game design­ers: (1) Context, which can be the spaces, objects, sto­ry and behav­iours that you encounter in games. (2) Participants are your play­ers that act upon your game con­text for exam­ple via manip­u­la­tion or explo­ration. They inhab­it your game world to play. (3) Meaning is a con­cept that we have already men­tioned last week when we talked about mean­ing­ful choice. When play­ers take actions in your game, mean­ing­ful play should emerge from the agency that play­ers feel. Meaning here is tied to the val­ue of sig­nif­i­cance of some­thing encoun­tered in a game for the indi­vid­ual play­er. Even in real life, mean­ing is impor­tant to us because it helps us nav­i­gate through our world and inter­pret the peo­ple and the world around us. Our every­day inter­ac­tions are essen­tial­ly guid­ed by mean­ing-mak­ing. Continue read­ing

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