Here, game designer and artist Nick Murray shares a narrative design prompt that you can complete without any tools or technology. With a background in poetry publishing in performance and music composition, the London-based creative also serves as a producer for Now Play This, an experimental games festival.
A BRIEF INTRO TO NARRATIVE DESIGN
I use games and play in my work when interaction is an integral part of the storytelling process. Game is a medium, like film or prose or painting. And like in any other medium, there are genres within it that dictate how the reader interacts; a story told through a tabletop role-playing game will have a drastically different feel than that same story told through a digital top-down simulator game.
For me, narrative design is not storytelling. Storytelling is a part of it, but so is interaction design, set design,UX, and pacing, among others (This might just be a symptom of making games outside of the games industry, where there are separate jobs for different things, and inside the arts where ‘producer’ means pretty anything and everything).
Whether you’re a game designer or an artist of another form, I think narrative design is a useful part of any creative practice. It is a tool that can help reframe an existing piece of work to dig deeper into what it means and what or who it’s for. These are illustrations of how I see the scope of narrative design, and invitations to just play around with ways of creating. You don’t need to be at a computer or have any additional tools to complete this prompt. Game design— especially narrative-focused game design—rarely needs intricate tools or systems.
You might be reading this on the sofa, or want to try the tasks while taking a walk. This exercise can be completed in full with a pen and paper, or even just in your head if your hands are busy. This prompt is accessible to those without previous experience or training in any particular discipline.
Chrome Dino: a narrative adventure (six minute exercise)
- Pen and paper
- Internet-disconnected device (optional)
If you’re not familiar with the Chrome Dino game, turn off your internet connection and type anything into the address bar (or go to https://chromedino.com/). If you use another browser, but I highly recommend turning off the internet. It becomes one of the actions in making your game, and that is definitely something to consider.
In the Chrome browser game, you control a T-rex who is running endlessly through a desert. You don’t get any more about this agile protagonist.
Consider the dinosaur as a fleshed-out character in a fleshed-out world.
Why are they running, where to, what from?
The dino now has a voice (internal or audible). Consider what triggers exposition/dialogue.
Is there a particular interaction that triggers dialogue?
How does the original mechanic of the game (jumping & avoiding obstacles) factor into the dialogue being revealed?
Give yourself five minutes to write a list of lines that the dino says/thinks.
Don’t worry how many you get, the idea is just to write until time runs out.
The idea behind this is just to play around in the head of a silent character. Their actions start to define the world around them.