Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Story Arc

Jonathan Degann has an interesting post here from 2003 at the now defunct Games Journal about the concept of a story arc in a game.  He makes some interesting points - games that have you constantly doing the same thing over and over are harder to like, while games that have some kind of story built in have an advantage.  I don't know that I'd agree that it's always better to have a story arc, but it can help.

Some very popular games have this kind of thing - chess, for example, plays out as an extended drama, with characters leaving (and later entering) the mix.  The game always goes through this story, with progressive limitation as pieces are removed, while the ones that are left gain expanded power because the crowding goes away.  Monopoly has a structural story built in - at first, nobody has any properties, and there's a race to gather them.  Later on, the game moves to a trading phase, as players try to collect sets.  Then, there's an end game, where it becomes kind of like an extended version of Russian roulette, seeing who's going to land on the hotels first.

However, even games without this structurally demanded story arc can be really fun, and they often create their own plotlines as they go.  As a kid, I heard my relatives discuss their bridge games endlessly, and that game doesn't have a built-in plot - you bid, you play the tricks, you score; repeat.  Same thing with nearly any game with dominos.  Basketball is 40 minutes of doing the same thing over and over, but games are really exciting to watch, and the score (and the fouls) become the story as leads grow and shrink.  Many pub games - darts, pool, foosball, etc. - all are very fun but are by nature completely repetitive.  Plenty of card games don't have a plot, either - see casino, poker, cribbage, Uno.  You would be hard-pressed to find any kind of plot here other than the changes in scores, but they're still fun.

Diggity, as a card game, is less about story than most games, but I think it still has one.  The basic plays are repetitive (every turn you add a mine card to the table), but there's an overarching story there - the tools come and go from turn to turn, people have to decide to use them or not as the gold comes out, tools get stolen, the lead changes, people sometimes gang up on the leader.  Shakespeare it aint, but there's still some drama there.  I'll need to think about my other designs and see if I can add some to them, too.

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