If you can't go a day without using a computer, a smartphone, or a car, you are inescapably a cyborg. But how would you tell if you were a good cyborg? Find out with The Virtuous Cyborg, out now as both a paperback and a new ebook edition.
Remember that dissonance will manifest whenever any part of the game fails to align with the player's experience and expectations; this means the game systems themselves need to avoid clashing with each other, and also with the story materials. For instance, if you have a fantasy game in which an ancient sword of great power is a key plot device in the story, players will experience dissonance (or at least grumpiness) when acquiring the sword does not give them a new weapon! Avoid this, where necessary, either by making the plot device something the player can carry but not use (e.g. an orb only a sorcerer can use, but the player character is a warrior), or by adding a limitation to the weapon such that despite its power, the player can use it only sparingly (for instance, because it drains their life force while they are wielding it).
We generally fail to recognise that our engagement with most game systems is in itself a story-generating activity, because all game systems are representative i.e. they ask that we imagine some specific arrangement. It is precisely because games are inherently representative that we make the mistake of thinking there is an unavoidable clash between stories and games - but we mean by 'story' here 'a story in the style of a movie or TV show' i.e. a screenplay. The problem is not and never has been an insuperable gap between games and stories, it is that the stories created by screenplays diverge dramatically from the stories that game systems produce on their own. Sometimes this tension is felt as rupture (the imagined experience collapses), sometimes as inelegance (Hocking's complaint about Bioshock is more of this kind), but in all cases it is game dissonance.
Over on ihobo today, the start of a brand new three-part serial about cognitive dissonance, narrative design, and the aesthetic flaws of videogames. Here's an extract from the first part:
In suggesting that an aspect of what went wrong in Bioshock was that the player lacked a choice, Hocking reveals a likely cause of his dissonance: the assumption that player choice is an essential missing link in bridging the gap between a game story and the game systems. This, I would suggest, is what might be called the scriptwriter's fallacy - that the power of a videogame story lies in the choices that are not available to a screenwriter in other media. I would counter this claim the same way I did in my blog-letter to Caroline Marchal and John Yorke, Beyond Choice in Game Narrative: that screenwriters perpetually overestimate the importance of choices, and as a consequence all too frequently offer meaningless choices that the writer has effectively pre-empted, instead of engaging with the turbulent depth of game's capacity for narrative where the player can take the story where the developer cannot hope to anticipate.
Just a short post to say that new material is coming, but I have some fraught weeks working on the page proofs for the second edition of Game Writing and wrangling tasks for clients. I am still puttering around with blog material in the gaps of my time - there are just fewer gaps! First out of the gate is looking likely to be an ihobo serial called Game Dissonance, but a philosophical interrupt here is always a possibility too, assuming I can get my head out of the nonsense (there's a lot around at the moment). Should be posting before the end of the month, chaos willing.
Also worth saying that with #100Cyborgs completed I am open for blog-letters of all kinds, to which I always reply, one way or another! (Of course, I was never closed for these, but I am specifically inviting them over the next year.) Never written a blog-letter? It's a great time to start! No blog of your own? It's never too late to start one!
To everyone who has supported my blogging over the years, my infinite and unlimited gratitude, love and support.
The epic two year adventure that was A Hundred Cyborgs is now concluded, with just the final block of revisits concluding last week. What a great time to return to the Green Room and have a chat about our adventures together!
It's been over a decade since we last ended up in the Green Room, at the end of the Ethics Campaign that would lead more than five years later to Chaos Ethics. By long standing tradition, I talk about Only a Game as a 'non-fiction role-playing game', and so when we pursue a long-term project it's a 'campaign' (the name given to a continuous string of adventures in a tabletop RPG). #100Cyborgs feels very different from the original two campaigns (Metaphysics and Ethics), not least of all because blogs no longer maintain the regular conversations they used to. Yet on Twitter, if not here, there has been a lot of discussion around various pieces, although certainly less than half of them. Also, the 500 word structure is rather unique, and led to a very different pacing... I learned a lot from working in this form; you can fit much more into 500 words than it first seems!
I would be very grateful, if you enjoyed or were challenged by even one of these one hundred pieces, if you would leave a comment here 'in the Green Room' to let me know. I write because I have to, but it is being read that makes writing worthwhile.
The game begins anew soon.