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Games as Storying


Disciplines > Game Design > Games as Storying

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Games not only tell stories, they create them. The process of play generates a narrative that becomes a story, with a beginning, middle and end.

Just a people enjoy stories, so both players and observers can find pleasure in the unfolding stories within games.

Where games are related, the stories can combine into an overall story arc, just as TV dramas have both episode stories and seasonal openers, developments and finales. There can even be wider stories across the whole series of seasons. Similarly, stories can emerge within and across games, seasons and lives.


A football player has a game narrative where they make heroic efforts within each game and sometimes score. There is also the story of the season, complete with individual tragedies and glories. And again, there is an even wider story across the active life of the player.

A role-player takes the part of a timid magician in an adventure game. Across the game, their character makes friends, learns about courage and gains experience to go up levels and achieve greater power.


Stories have plots, often of an archetypal nature, which employ various devices that create excitement and interest. They have good, bad and ambiguous characters with whom audiences identify or who are detested. There are multiple tensions and closures, culminating in a grand climax. These elements can often be found in games, too.

Games can be understood from the evolutionary perspective as preparation for life. Stories are frames by which we make sense of life's episodes. It is hence understandable why games and stories should be so well connected and why we understand one in terms of the other.

It is a good question for game designers as to what stories can be formed within the game. There are two forces here that must be balanced: structure and openness.

At one end of the spectrum is a game that is a simple, one-track story that the player dumbly followed. This has total structure but no openness. At the other end is an open-ended game with no rules, in which the player creates the story out of their own imagination and experience.

Most games sit somewhere in between, with a degree of designed structure that shapes the stories that may emerge from the game, plus many aspects of choice where the player's decisions and successes form the body of the story. In this way designers effectively give the players 'story kits', which include the tools and structures by which the players create their own individual and collective stories.

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