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I just had a thought about storytelling and video games. I've been prepping a lot for NaNoWriMo in recent weeks and as I try to sort out a plan for one idea, I've gone on to read a lot about character arcs.

Then, TellTale Games' Tales from the Borderlands released its final episode on 10/20. Loved it. I've already played it twice on the two runs I did. I also watched Cryaotic's playthrough (he made a few different major choices). As I have the youtube video on in the background, I was thinking about the characters of TftB and the ending. I thought, "I love these characters! The ending could be considered kind of cheesy, but it works awesome. These characters had good arcs."

And it made me reflect on the fact that while Until Dawn is a very intriguing game... it, uh, actually is lacking a lot in the storytelling department. (Let me note, I have not played the game personally, but I have seen... 4? 5? different playthroughs.) One of my biggest complaints regarding characters in Until Dawn is that there is all of about 5% chance of opportunity to play Emily as vaguely likable. Mike and Jessica, who are top of my list of characters I hate in that game along with Emily, have opportunities to make you feel differently. Actually, I continue to hold my dislike for Mike mostly out of stubbornness - he actually has something of a positive character arc. Jessica you just kind of feel awful for, even if you do recall that she was the head bitch of the #$(@* "prank" from the beginning of the game. (Why do all the players I watch forget that fucking fact?!)

Anyway, I don't want to get into those rants. What I found intriguing tonight is that I think I figured out the second thing that really stands out as the difference of these choose-your-path games. I'm ignoring the technical side of things (visual quality, length of play, type of gameplay like fighting or mini-games).

1) First up, from the first LP I watched of Until Dawn I felt a little disappointed and frustrated that you only ever got two choices - if they even ended up being "real" choices. What drives this one home for me is early on in the game and Chris' first conversation with Josh. As Chris, you either get to say something that puts you in the category of disgusting douchebag on Josh's level when talking about Ashley, or you end up sounding like a "wimp" and that you're trying to deny your feelings for Ashley. To me, this is an important place to have a third option that goes somewhere like "Dude, I like her and don't say shit like that about her." I love the variety of choices you get with TellTale Games. I'm aware it's a nightmare to code these sorts of things, but at the same time I'd be okay with the occasional additional choice in Until Dawn being more "flavor text" than an impact to major plot.

2) Then tonight as I reflected on character arcs... Until Dawn doesn't give you strong character arcs. Hell, I think Mike is the only one who has one! I don't feel like anyone else actually changed. The UD characters are pretty static. I'm inclined to be harsh on the game about characters in reaction to the BS spouted about characters in the unlockable dev video. They claimed that they took horror character stereotypes and defied them. Um, what? No, not at all. Even Mike fits in the stereotypical pattern with his arc. Anyway, over to TellTale Games: the character(s) genuinely change! Positive or negative arc, the character(s) you play develop. The characters around you also tend to develop.

So those are my thoughts. I'm super in love with Tales from the Borderlands and recommend the game with a zillion thumbs-ups. (Wolf Among Us is amazing, too. I have not played, but did watch S1, of The Walking Dead, which absolutely ripped my heart out and drew me into the characters. So those I also recommend. Not impressed with the Minecraft story so far, disappointing. I haven't watched more than a half hour of Game of Thrones, but I feel pretty lost with it given my unfamiliarity with ASoIaF universe.)


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 29th, 2015 04:37 am (UTC)
Character arcs are a fascination of mine as well - in all media, not just games, but games have got my interest right now. If I may ramble just a tad. You mentioned GoT, and you're right you need the background, but I've been playing it myself so if I could add something?

In that game there are a number of playable characters. So far I have found two particularly interesting: Mira and Ethan. I have only completed one of their character arcs, but.

Mira is handmaiden to the woman who is to become queen and I find her arc interesting solely because it is a conflict of loyalties. The player must decide if they are to put loyalty to their mistress or to their family first, and the game makes it a mighty hard choice. Ethan is a young boy who becomes lord of his house. The player can play him as bold or wise, as a more violent lord or as a diplomat. These choices have impact on the story, but in the end are unsatisfying because Ethan meets the same fate whatever choices the player makes.

I studied writing for games for a little while and spoke with a man who writes background lore for games, though he himself rarely writes the character dialogue. He was saying that game writing is tricky because, while player decisions can influence a number of things, more things now than ever, however it is reached a game must always reach certain plot elements that cannot be changed whatever you do. I think to me that is why these games can be frustrating a lot of the time. Certainly while playing Game of Thrones I thought I had a perfectly good explanation for a perceived act of "betrayal," but the game did not give me the option to explain it. This was to cause the necessary conflict for the story of course but it was SO frustrating nonetheless because it made the characters' arcs seem hollow and forced, like really, what different was I making?

Even so, I agree that Until Dawn (which I too have only seen in LP form, and only one LP in fact: Markiplier's) seems to have pretty poor arcs. (Plus the high five of death, which don't get me started. It was covered by the Game Theorists anyway.) But despite what I said above a game should still provide character arcs that can allow for different player decisions, right? The Walking Dead did it, Game of Thrones has done and continues to (episode 6 has yet to be released, so I'll see how things are resolved) and my beloved Dragon Age games for the most part did a good job of it too.

I won't get into another choices game series. I think if I try and discuss Mass Effect I will have ending rage I can never return to.

Edited at 2015-10-29 04:39 am (UTC)
Oct. 30th, 2015 09:46 pm (UTC)
Dragon Age! I need to finish DA2 some day, but it just isn't all that compelling for me. I think I'm 2/3 of the way done, though... I need to finish the DLCs and Awakening for DA:O... and probably my third playthrough of DA:O, which I love to pieces!

And regarding game writing and the programming therein, I'm in full agreement that games can (and should) still provide solid character arcs. Even if certain plot points need to be hit, there's no reason for a character to remain static.

And I... am typing this while tired and distracted by a YouTube video soooo I'm gonna apologize for any typoes and move along now.
Oct. 30th, 2015 10:22 pm (UTC)
My medication legit gives me symptoms of dyslexia and makes me just type the wrong word altogether. You got nothing to apologise for when it comes to typos with me, I can't even read sometimes XD

And yeah, DA2 is worth finishing in my opinion. It's actually the game in the series I've played the most, despite it not being my favourite (that would be Inquisition). Also? Varric Tethras is the love of my life. *swoons* XDXD

And honestly I don't get why it's so hard to write a character arc in a game. Even with the designated plot points that make me feel like I only have the illusion of choice, character arcs are actually pretty formulaic and not all that hard to pull off. Even if they suck, provide one. I know games that don't at all. (Glares at Until Dawn.)

On an unrelated note, as a Nat fanboy I am happy with the amount of Nat in this comment thread XD

Edited at 2015-10-30 10:23 pm (UTC)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )