How does a videogame introduce story to the player? Better yet, how does a game invoke emotion in the constrained physical world space of a game? We’ve seen it done in ham-fisted fashion: see the much maligned “Press F to Pay Your Respects” from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, or consider the traditional “fight the baddies now pause for some story” route that many other big-budget games go.
In a video from the Future of Storytelling series, Dear Esther (2012) director Dan Pinchbeck talks about how games often take for granted one of the most important spaces in narrative design: the player’s imagination. In the games created by the Chinese Room—games like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (2015) or Dear Esther—the player is given space to roam and walk around, experiencing the story and connecting with it as a part of the holistic flow of the game, rather than having it tacked on as a separate additional mechanic.
“We’re not just telling a story, we’re creating an architecture for a story to exist in,” he says. What game makers need to do, he opines, is make space not just for the player physically, but emotionally and creatively as well. Allow the player to create their own stories and fll in the gaps, even in games as directly linear as the ones created by the Chinese Room.