What are characters? What is the point of telling a story? These questions are timely indictments of the struggle many videogames have had reconciling storytelling with interactive mechanism. Yet, these struggles are not new nor are they unique to videogames. What is the worth of a character in an exploded anti-narrative like Ulysses or Gravity’s Rainbow? Can a story work without logic and linearity?
Novelist and videogame fan Dennis Cooper is a master of exploiting the intrinsic human need to see linear, connected stories where, in reality, there isn’t one. His novels are kaleidoscopic nothing spaces, where storytelling is only one among many different possible tools to create a meaningful experience for the reader. In an interview with The Gameological Society he enumerated hist stance on character and storytelling.
I don’t really care about characters and plot very much, either in games or in fiction, including my own. I think of the characters in my work as just configurations of the prose that have more power over the reader than the fiction’s other components. I just try to make them charismatic and twisty and secretive in a compelling way. The only characters in video games that ever involve me are the tragic ones. Even the lowest zombies who get slaughtered in Resident Evilgames create more emotional attachment and confusion than any protagonist in any game I can think of. In Epic Mickey, for instance, you occasionally come across these dismembered, barely alive Donald Ducks and Goofys and so on, who plead with you to find their missing body parts, and they’re kind of haunting. I think maybe game designers would be wiser to concentrate on creating blackly comedic, arch characters who only flirt with players’ sympathies rather than continue trying to finesse the gaming equivalent of Academy Award winners. And as far as plot goes, I would love to see more fucked-up experimental through-lines like you used to find in the weirder CD-ROM games back in the early ’90s, but, otherwise, I can live with dumb plots as long they’re circuitous enough.
What matters most in storytelling is not believability but creating something credibly inscrutable, just vaporous enough to let the audience insert themselves into the nothing space and start to cause trouble.