Flammable Penguins

Claire Blackshaw's Forest of Fun

Eternal Struggle

Game Design Narrative Roleplaying Games
Eternal Struggle

I have been struggling with this concept ever since I was eight. Narrative vs Ludology. By Narrative I mean story-telling and Ludology I mean pure game play.


You see when I was around six my brother took me through my first roleplaying games and shortly afterwards I tried to run my own game of Dungeons & Dragons box-set. My epic story never left the village and bells were rung, chickens chased and silliness ensued. I played endless choose your own adventure books but non of those tales stick in my mind like other stories I read.

You see from a very young age I always had two ambitions, to perform and play. I've always wanted to make games since typing in code into C64 out of magazines. I've always been a story teller, directing my first public play when I was eight (it never went ahead but we rehearsed filthy rhymes, "She whipped her pistol from her knickers."). I started programming for the first time (for real, not copying) when I was eight in C.

So this struggle between playing and telling has always been present. Now I should say meta-narrative or player narrative is fully compatible. The conflict comes in delivering a story with that game. So back to the key point role-playing.

It's been my passion always as it seems to combine both my loves and be social. South African role-playing at cons is much more story based than the conventions I have seen in the UK.

Role-playing Solution

Now excluding the dungeon crawl and roll-playing, those are without real depth. There are two major forms in South Africa. Campaigns and Convention Modules. Unlike US & UK cons the South African modules have pretty strict conventions. Between 4-7 players, almost always 6. All rules and required elements must be included in the module. The player characters are pre-written. The GM only see's the module an hour before the game. The module is run simultaneously in one slot.

The campaign however is much looser but much more complex. Over the years I've learned the secret to a good campaign is to play with the players. Don't write over-arching plots instead make everything character base and weave it around the players actions.

This means you can deal with themes and even setup scenarios but you must ultimately cater to the players and adapt.

Now in a module you have a story and script which you need to stick to. A bit of variation is required. The great modules are spoken about for years, like good films. Also because of the simultaneous play throughs story, plot twist and grand tales have more impact. Some flexibility and deviation but ultimately you tell the story. This is mainly achieved by having pre-written characters which have motivations written. The main ingredient is good players and a gm.

So a South African module seems to be closest to my solution.

Digital Divide

Okay we have two main problems in the digital world. Most game players are uncooperative bastards and we don't have the social backbone to remove their awfulness. Put a few people in a room to discuss a thing and they will be civilised. Put those people in a chat room with pure anonymity and they are awful.

The next problem is a good GM has a very useful toolbox.

  1. Advanced decision making with social context
  2. Content generation on the fly
  3. Multiple detailed player input channels
  4. Library of social knowledge, experience, dictionaries and research

Okay the first item means we need an AI or system which emulates it which is still years out of our reach. Though not more than twenty.

Content generation, we have some good work in this area but the main problem is method. When using the written and spoken word a sentence can make a vast landscape and a thing does not exists till mentioned. This is used more times than you would think. Unfortunately on an AV display all things must be defined before it can be display. We cannot materialise a door into a wall if the player has already seen that wall.

A digital player only inputs conscious input through a controller. Conscious input is meaningless when measured against the VAST amounts of information you can read in their unconscious signals. The best moments come from exploiting this input. In a digital world we would need a microphone and camera to watch the player (Natal I'm looking at you) but also read and interpret extremely advanced tiny motions. The main advantage here is if we get more advanced we can measure heart-rate, biometrics and brain signals. So for the moment we are behind the curve but in the future??

Finally the library of knowledge. Well that problem is easily solved. We could plug all games into a vaster database than any human could learn in a lifetime. The trick is to get a computer to comprehend the vast amount of data. See the first point.


I do plan to write more on this based more firmly in what is achievable today. For the moment however you see where my eyes are looking and what my motivations are.