Yesterday, Madeleine and I went to see Nausicaä at the Ghibli Collection retrospective at the Carolina Theatre. It’s an excellent movie, my favorite of the Ghibli films, and one that works whether you’re a kid or an adult. On an immediate level, the conflicts are thrilling and visceral, and the characters are appealing or engaging — you empathize with the good guys and you love to hate the bad guys even as you come to understand them. The backstory, with the world-ruining Seven Days of Fire and the struggle between Pejite and Tolmekia, the Valley of the Wind caught in the middle, gives meaning to those conflicts, defining them instead of subsuming them.
This is the stuff of great gaming and storytelling. The immediate conflicts draw you in as a player or audience, and the setting serves as an engrossing backdrop and framing device that gives you context beyond the moment-to-moment action. The exposition helps the story instead of dominating it. At no point does the player/ audience member have to endure a narrator or gamemaster monologue.
Video game narratives are too often by people who would rather be writing something else — something in which their audience is captive and hangs on their every word. Video games don’t work like that. They’re of a nature interactive, and choice is what makes the game, not the story. The story is just that: a story. Whether done via text or engine movie, canned interaction in video games can be a reward, but it’s very often wielded as a cudgel. The more the player reads text or watches cutscenes, the less she’s actually playing the game, making the choices that define the interaction of the form. Just as a player doesn’t listen to music when she wants to read a book, neither should she have to read a book or watch a movie to play a video game.