A counterpoint to Greg Costikyan's article that story and game are incomaptible

edited February 2014 in Story Games
On my design blog at http://www.armpitgames.com, I have posted a counterpoint to this article : http://www.costik.com/gamnstry.html
where the author states that any attempt to combine story with game is doomed to produce a crappy story and/or a crappy game.

I think hes missing the point of playing story games.

Its an old article. I wonder if he still feels the same way?

Comments

  • edited February 2014
    I'm not sure if you want answers in this thread or on your blog.

    It's hard to talk about this without slipping into "games as stories/art" or "what is a game?" where it's mostly about opinions. All I feel is that Costikyan is right if you accept that a good story can only be linear, where a game "...is non-linear. Games must provide at least the illusion of free will to the player; players must feel that they have freedom of action within the structure of the game." (Quote from his article.)

    However, to produce a good story, you got a structure to follow. Structures are nothing more than rules and techniques. I don't see why several people can't follow the same structures to build a story together. The different opinions of the people will create a freedom of action withing the structures of the game (where taking other peoples' opinions into account is part of that structure). And there we are: games as stories. And if you don't think collaborative story creating can be game, then we're back into "What is a game?".
  • Yeah, the key insight is that there are two crucial elements of stories that many RPGs are really good at replicating:

    * Character decisions are based on characters' situations, beliefs, values and priorities, not on "the needs of the story". This is why roleplaying helps.
    * Character decisions have consequences that lead to the next thing in the story. That's why having a GM helps (and railroading is anti-story since it breaks the chain of decision and consequence.)

    Most people forget these two really obvious things about actual stories when talking about them in RPGs and it leads them down a dumb path.
  • edited February 2014
    I think the original article is not correct when it says that stories are linear and therefore unlike games. He seems to be comparing the wrong things.

    Playing a story game is not like reading a story. Playing a story game is like writing a story.

    My experience is that writing a story is decidedly non-linear. It may be different for those who like to outline in advance, but for a discovery writer like me, each decision point for the characters feels just like it does in a story game.

    Create characters with real motivations and desires.
    Add a setting full of conflict.
    Move your character along, using only the idea of "what would the character do next?"
    As GM or writer, ask: "what would be most interesting to have happen now?" or "what would my NPC's do now?"

    ... I think that's the same both in playing a story game, and in writing fiction.
  • edited February 2014
    If one's definition of "good game" has to do with balance, mastery, designed feedback and rewards, winning and losing, then I think most RPGs do suck at that. Story-focused ones in particular.

    On the other hand, if one sees that many games' formal systems are just the vehicle for an entertaining experience, which is the real point of play, then story RPGs aren't much different from Apples to Apples. (Potentially, anyway.) They simply have more moving parts and are harder to assess.
  • Yeah, Costikyan lost me when he said stories are linear. They are linear in those media, but not in others.
    I think that there can be a conflict between story and game when the game does not support it. For instance, if you decided that the Queen;s Pawn was the hero of the story, that is all well and good until your opponent takes that Pawn, then what happens to the story?
    But if you take a game like Zombie Cinema, you get awesome story and a great game. They work hand-in-hand.
  • This article highlights D&D and the "the DM writes a plot riddled with cliché and the PCs hop on board and play it out" school of roleplaying. Yeah, unless your DM is an excellent writer and your characters are all nuanced and interesting, that play style is probably not going to produce a sparkling story that captivates audiences even in the retelling.

    But there are other ways to play, and games that are essentially designed to produce stories that you can recount to non-gamer buddies without them getting lost or glazing over as you explain how you battled the dragon and survived on three hitpoints to reclaim the mcguffin of mystery. I've been asked why no one's bought the movie rights to some of our gaming sessions yet - the stories are certainly no worse than some of the guff that gets churned out of Hollywood!
  • Yeah, the key insight is that there are two crucial elements of stories that many RPGs are really good at replicating:

    * Character player decisions are based on characters' player situations, beliefs, values and priorities, not on "the needs of the story game".
    * Character player decisions have consequences that lead to the next thing in the story game.
    This is also works for games in general.
  • Yeah, that parallel was what I was trying to draw. :)
  • The copyright on that article by Greg C. is 2001 -- I wonder if he feels the same way 13 years later. I doubt that he does given there have been some incredible examples of games-as-stories that have little to do with linearity but still maintain. One prime example of this would be Journey.
  • edited March 2014
    Been discussing (for some values of discussing) this over at TBP. Costikyan seems to focus on RPGs that provide gradual character development and unfettered player decisions about their character. The assumption is that in order to create a narrative structure a GM has to force their will on players through fiat in order to impose a plot.

    Of course, there are games that have no gradual character development and begin with a Situation pregnant with conflict such that the characters, in pursuing the goals that the players have established for themselves, inevitably create a "narrative of events (external or psychological) which moves through time or implies the passage of time, and which involves change" to use Ursula Le Guin's definition of a story, with the predominant mode of change in RPGs being conflict among characters or between characters and the environment. But even Costikyan admits that RPGs can create stories. He just recognizes a tension between story and game.
  • He doesn't feel the same way. He wrote this in 2003:
    costik.com/weblog/2003_09_01_blogchive.html#106427832498370748
    Later he wrote this for Hobby Games: The 100 Best:
    costik.com/mlwm.html

    Paul
  • edited March 2014
    I see something he wrote in 2007 mentioned at the bottom of that second link too.

    @noclue, what is TBP?
  • I think the article is interesting because it makes me think that part of the job of the designer is to reconcile the tension between story and game. I think the article is easily criticised, it implies that story and game are antithetical because games are not engines that manufacture fine literature, as though story is only story if it meets a demanding criteria. As mentioned here it implies that story is a tangible product and that it cannot emerge spontaneously from play. So, I don't agree with that but I still think that story vs game is a good read to help you set your own design values. There are some good responses to his argument from within the video game fraternity too. Check here if you want to read more : http://quicktimevent.blogspot.com.au/2014/03/escaping-heliosheath-story-vs-game.html
  • edited March 2014
    He doesn't feel the same way. He wrote this in 2003:
    costik.com/weblog/2003_09_01_blogchive.html#106427832498370748
    Yeah, the following quote from that article points the change in opinion pretty well:
    ... My Life with Master is a resounding and (I think) successful refutation of my argument that making a game more like a story makes it an inferior game, while making a story more like a game renders it an inferior story. In this case, we have a game that, by moving away from "game" and toward "story" has created something quite novel--and quite interesting. It has done so through one fundamental insight: That we can keep the system "a good game" by constraining the narrative arc at the expense of freeing the moment-to-moment action. Thus, what My Life With Master seems to say is that: Good story depends on constraining action through narrative consistency; good games depend on constraining action through adherence to system (within which free interaction is permitted); and both can be achieved by providing a system that enforces narrative consistency while permitting freedom in other spheres.

    This is.... almost a mind-blowing idea from my perspective...
  • I see something he wrote in 2007 mentioned at the bottom of that second link too.

    @noclue, what is TBP?
    Sorry, The Big Purple. Nickname for RPG.net

  • @PaulCzege - Awesome that you flipped his bit.
    @noclue - Thanks for the new acronym.
    @summerdown - I think you nailed it. It's more like writing than reading.
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