On Writing: Some lessons from The Mandolorian

I’m going to have to be honest and say I was pretty late to The Mandalorian party, but I am pretty glad that I used my TV time to binge the 2 seasons this Christmas!

The Mandalorian Poster

Rather than do a review per se, I thought I might try to steal some writely tips from the series which I think exemplify why this is a good series:

A Failable Character

Something which I think was inspirsed by Netflix’s Daredevil (I have to admit I expected DD to have some out further ago, but then 5 years is a long time I suppose) is the the titular MC of this series, while still being a total badass is plenty failable. Many of the action and fight sequences include doses of Mando failing at things, having plans go arwy and generally actually being exhausted by some of the trails he faces. That’s not to say that Mando doesn’t pull anything off with ease, has plot armour (well literally has cool armour) and had moments of completel mastery but often he finds himself outmatched and needs to rely on allies or different choices to win.

Side-cast

While I find the ensemble method of many Sci-Fi stories a bit cliche (e.g. having a cadre of allies to call on for significant episodes – but then how else can such a setting have minor characters) the enjoyable thing about Mandolorian is that the other characters were fleshed out enough to create some tension. Some side-characters were completely loyal, while others were dubious at best, but all had parts to play which made for good storytelling.

Knowing when to Close

I read somewhere that TV series have natural life-spans. Shows like Lost and GoT kind of wore out their welcome but having unresolved issues for such long spans, and what the creators of Mandalorian seem to realize is that no amount of popularity means that the same plot arc will keep people focussed over the long term, ergo don’t worry about watching this show that plot threads are going to be left untangled.

In summary The Mandalorian is a good show!

What are your guys thougthts on it?

On Writing: Thoughts on the “Hero’s Journey” or Monomyth

I’m currently watching Netflix’s Myths and Monsters, and quite enjoying the first episode which dives into Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

Monomyth

For those of you who’ve managed to avoid mention of this theory, its a hugely influential and popular literary theory that most myths and stories follow a particular pattern of character and plot – shown above.

It’s an intensely controversial theory, that on the one hand provides structure and insight into story telling, but on the other hand can be seen as a sort of Barnum Statement or Zodiac type structure (e.g. the reason that the monomyth applies is because its vague or flexible enough to apply to any story rather than genuinely being the basis of stories).

Personally my thoughts are somewhere in the middle. There are certain tautologies when it comes to storytelling that would be pretty ridiculous to oppose, for example its rarely works in a story to not have an MC learning and changing throughout and simply returning to the status quo (I believe there are some such stories out there but not many). But I’m not sure if this gives credence to the Monomyth or is just as useful as stating that time moves forward.

On the other hand the elements and stages of the Myth do capture something about human nature or psychology, and change and adventure. For example the role and position of mentors doesn’t seem rudimentary, the theory captures ideas and the position of mentor archetypes more specially than just generalities.

So in my humble opinion these are some of the strengths of the stages of the Monomyth:

Status Quo

It seems really obvious but I think something that often goes amiss in writing is failing to create a status quo. The status quo or normal setting is vital in a strong story because it creates context for everything that happens throughout AND the ultimate effects of the climax of the story. Lord of the Rings is a prime example, the Status Quo is the lazy peace of the Shire and the whole story is made all the more powerful to be contrasted with that. Harry Potter’s status quo is a little odd, as Privet Drive holds almost no direct relevance to the wizarding world, but is incredibly important for the character throughout.

Known/Unknown

This is a tricky and powerful element of the Hero’s Journey, as it can refer directly to a character literally travelling somewhere unknown, but equally to unknown territory emotionally, or figuratively. It may be a character doing something different, or interacting with someone new. This is the flipside of the status quo and by establishing the latter you create and enhance the former. Often when the tension of stories fall flat its because there was never any normality to begin with so its not interesting to dive into anything abnormal.

Death/Rebirth and Attonement

In my opinion this is where things get a little hazy and perhaps too metaphoric. In some respects change always contains some element of death in the sense of leaving behind old selves for new, but I think part of the magic of stories is the potential for more variability in the journey. In some respects the decision of an author/story telling with what the ultimate test is in the story defines the journey. For example many tales are more affirmations rather than changes – take a wide variety of superhero stories (maybe more traditional ones as modern stories perhaps have more pressure to show their characters change!).

My point is that the Monomyth is wrong just that I’m not sure exactly how the step fits with stories, does death/rebirth only really count for mythological hero stories or is their room for modification?

Unfortunately I don’t really have a grand overarching conclusion, just some rambling to get back into the blogging!

What are your thoughts on the Hero’s Journey?

Are you keeping well in the final few weeks of 2020?

A Rather Late and Random Review of X-men: Dark Phoenix

The only thing more embarrassing about how long its taken to see this movie, is that I haven’t posted anything since July!

I hope its not too hurtful to consider X-men Dark Phoenix to be a bad movie, it seems if anything to be one of the more derogated superhero films and I confess I do hold a certain fascination for what it is exactly that makes a film “bad.”

DP has the added enjoyment of being quite strangely bad. It’s like an uncanny valley situation where almost all parts of it are a near-miss in terms of being almost good, even great, but somehow nothing quite fits right.

The first issue is that DP doesn’t really have a main character. This is actually kind of an X-men thing where due to the emphasis on an ensemble team character development gets very diluted – usually this is solved by focusing on Wolverine or in the case of First Class on Xavier and Magneto. DP doesn’t know who it wants you to focus on – is it Jean herself? Or is she the villain/damsel/mcguffin. Xavier kind of has a hubris/downfall character arc but doesn’t really do anything throughout.

Thing is – the story actually starts pretty well, with a tension between an overly giddy Xavier who thanks to his hard work is buddies with the president, and the older member of the team who feel he is losing touch. This isn’t too bad a setup for the X-men disagreeing on how to deal with Phoenix, but its kind of ruined by shoehorning magneto back in to the mix as the ‘kill her’ faction. Oddly The plot would be a lot more effective if either faction even had a chance – as mentioned the flaws of DP are strange, by making Jean all powerful it saps tension from the conflict between how to deal her because she can’t be defeated by Magneto or reached by Xavier.

I don’t really want to get into the aliens because they are just so utterly senseless and poorly handled – not that I wanted this exactly but at no point to the movie did anyone actually address that their were friggin aliens, and their shallow and 2D presentation was almost pointless. It would have been far more interesting to see Jean attempt to navigate her power without alien influence.

There are many more odd flaws, the action had some cool moments but was almost all stilted and directionless, less detailed than the 90s cartoon which I’m working through on Disney+ right now!

Review: SNOWPIERCER

“Piercer”, despite sounding like the coolest word ever, looks abominable and is hurting my spellchecker

Sunday Final Ratings: 'Snowpiercer' Delivers Largest TNT ...

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR MOVIE AND SERIES OF SNOWPIERCER

For those unaware Snowpiercer is a series adaptation originally from a comic book and also a recent movie (luckily not in a confusing way, the tale is pretty original with reasonable nods to both).

The basic premise is that the World is in a mega ice-age and the only (known) human survivors live on an endlessly running train, a train which most interesting is divided into a rigid class structure (somewhat like a potential actual train ride except forever).

The original comic (AFAIK I’ve only read the first installment) and movie focus largely on MCs from the “tail” (essentially the lowest class) making their way to the “engine” where the head huncho lives. Whereas the series as depicted in the picture focuses on all the train and characters throughout.

Setting and plotwise, the show feels pretty well suited to 2020, dark and intense, but with glimmers of hope and humanity. Obviously the technical side of an infinity train seems pretty far fetched, but the political side of class warfare in the apocalypse seems almost a little too relevant.

Which brings me to the best thing about this series – of any show I’ve never quite seen one pull off character driven political commentary quite so well. Most fiction with a political bent, tends to ruin character or story by having to insert politics into it. Snowpiercer captures the various politic elements while still having genuine characters that don’t feel forced into their roles. I think Melanie Cavil the ‘ruler’ of the train is a particularly good example, I’ve never seen the challenges of leadership portrayed so well, in a way that doesn’t create a 1-D bad guy, nor a ridiculously perfect hero leader.

The plot of the first series is quite sneaky, with a perfect blend of twists and more straightforward dramas, I liked how the storyline started with a murder mystery intertwined with the class warfare before going full blown rebellion.

The ending of the series was perhaps my favourite series ending for a long while. In some respects utterly ridiculous and yet incredibly fitting for what we’d been building to all series.

Can’t wait for season 2 (apparently yonks away 😦 )

On Writing: Utopia / Dystopia

I’ve recently finished In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood, and while its ostensibly about Sci-Fi, its the author’s insights into Dys and U topias I found more interesting than any treatise on the topic before.

Topias or Ustopias as Atwood calls them, have alrights struck a strange chord with me. It was only in high school, when it was deemed time to start studying novels that I was properly exposed to them, reading the classics like 1984, Brave New World and so forth. Little did I know I’d already absorbed some without fully realizing.

Brave New World hit me particularly hard. 1984 is usually spoken about as a chilling and horrifying premise, and of course I found the tome scary and memorable, however it was Brave New World that I found myself in the far more shocking position of not knowing how to critique Huxley’s world. I knew I didn’t like it, but I also couldn’t find a way to refute it.

Utopias are much stranger in fiction, in the sense that you can pen a complete horror show of a world but in many respects a ‘perfect’ world is always just kind of a dystopia for some, a reveal of the authors bias or just a dystopia in disguise. Gulliver’s Travels is kind of an exploration of different Utopias and I don’t think anyone reads it as a series of perfect worlds!

The challenge for me now though is I find Ustopias incredibly challenging to write, something about setting them up makes me balk. I’m find with apocalyptic fiction, and nasty settings and sci-fi, yet I think designing a world which is either meant to be ‘perfect’ or where people themselves have turned upon themselves and/or embraced something horrid in society (horribly this may be something about it all being too close to home looking at the world?). I think that’s the key specific element of dystopia, is that the misery is not caused by external factors that allow human beings to still be ‘good’, its not aliens, a specific group, a natural disaster its people as a whole that setup the hellscape.

Nonetheless, flicking through Atwoods book made me reflect on a few elements that make a good Ustopia:

The World Needs a Key

Almost all dystopias are thorough and radical, however most of them have some key element underlying the situation. Fahrenheit 451 has its book burning ‘firemen’, 1984 has the omnipresent Big Brother, Handmaids tale has – well it’s in the title-, Brave New World is quite broad but its core concept is manufactured happiness. So I think in writing one its useful to capture some specific element of society and twist that into the created world. Funnily enough, this element is rarely about the story and/or overcoming the world, its more a starting point to hold the fiction together.

Space for individuals

Despite the horror show dystopias usually revolve around individuals who don’t quite fit, or extremely don’t fit. This can be achieved a number of ways in world but its useful to give characters a wee bit of space to play in order to show this. I think one of the reasons I found Brave New World so horrifying, is that society didn’t exactly persecute the main characters the way the world does in 1984, or Handmaid’s tale, rather they were treated with respect and offered residency in places they’d fit in, however its the natural shallow responses of the community to the Savage’s ways lead him to ultimate despair not any attack from authority.

Regardless of the challenges facing the characters there needs to be some space for them to grow against the world and more importantly question it, which leads to…

Some sort of Explainer

In dystopias the traditional ‘sage’ or wise old man trope is turned on its head. Rather than training and helping the hero become strong, the wise old man in dystopias explains to the hero how the dystopia works in usually a climatic speech that sees the hero fail and a return to normality. Its interesting that in many ways the dystopian speech wouldn’t typically be considered good writing, being a combination of info-dump and villain monologue, yet the way that dysoptian novels are written usually leaves us desperate to hear the speech (and hope for a rebuttal)

The Sense of an Ending

Most dystopias do not have happy endings (touching on YA dystopia in a second), death conformity and usually absent any sort of societal change, it feels that dystopias need a gloomy character arc in order to properly communicate the world to the reader. Not all stories are completely bad. Handmaid’s tale (as far as I can tell) ends with an escape for the MC and a future rebuttal of that society. However one has to handle their dystopia carefully, as I think victory against such a world takes away from the suggestion that this world could indeed be real, which takes me onto some recent trends.

In the past few years (Decades??) YA has seen a rise in dystopian fiction, Hunger Games and Divergent standing out as examples. Both of which deal with the premise of nasty future worlds, and of course heroic youths who deal with them. We’ve also got a recent boost in general with NetFlix series like Snowpiercer (Class warfare on a train). I don’t want to sound critical of such series as Hunger Games, because overall as stories are actually pretty good. I’m just reluctant to describe them as dystopian, at least in the same vein as other pieces. Maybe I’m just being pretentious, but I think its about the crux of the story. In Both Hunger Games and Divergent, the crux of the stories is the characters and their Hero’s Journey’s to overcome the adversity of their situations. While I respect that their settings are Dystopian its not really the point of the books. Hunger Games isn’t really exploring the what if’s of a world divided into districts and Hunger Games used to control people, its more the what ifs of Katniss in a challenging situation. Yes there are hints of exploring why the world is like that – but its not really about that, we automatically assume that Hunger Games and the Capital are bad, there’s no real exploration or explanation of how humanity got there exactly.

What I’m trying to say is there is a difference between the specific dystopian story and stories ‘set’ in dysoptias (wow maybe I am pretentious). It’s hard to draw a strong dividing line but I think it has more to do with the challenges and nature of the lesson in the story, so to go back to Hunger Games, yes there is a dystopian horror show which is largely created by people, and Katniss does work to overcome said regime, but the story isn’t really about that setting in itself. Unless I’m foolishly mistaken the lesson isn’t that the hunger games could really happen and/or a cautionary tale. There are of course elements of that, the class aspects, the potential to use blood sports to subdue the masses, but ultimately the climax of the story isn’t an explanation of the world.

Now an astute reader would have noticed that I kind of side stepped half the conversation at this point. Utopias in my opinion are much more confusing in fiction, I mean I get the idea but the execution is that much more strange. Atwood points out a couple of ideas worth stealing, first of all that hidden with utopias are shadows of the opposite, or even more often one persons utopia is another’s dystopia. Utopia is tough in fiction because its typically easier to agree that something is incredibly horrible, but hard to argue that something is perfectly great. That is why I think most utopia fiction is more about critique (e.g. Gulliver traveling the world observing several flawed utopias) or often about the loss or decay of a supposedly perfect world.

Of course stories are about tension and challenge and it can be hard to present a Utopian vision that includes such difficult things. Ironically a Utopian story is much more a theory on what should/could/might be good and thusly isn’t really the opposite of dystopia but a different beast entirely.

I guess all of this is leading up to my own experience where I find such fiction super hard to write. My dystopia ideas just seem too dark and paralyzing to generate stories, and my thoughts on utopia are too enmeshed in my genuine confusion as to what a utopia would even be! Ah well.

Interested to see what others think:

What are your favourite Dystopian/Utopian fiction

What are some of your ideas for said fiction?

What do you think are the key points of said fiction?

On Writing: Flawed Characters

One topic that I find particularly interesting, but happen to be particularly crap at is Character Flaws.

Good or Bad Diet Choices |

The reason I say this about myself is I do what I suspect many writers do, and kind of just generate characters in a sort of pantser fashion – not necessary lacking in flaws but perhaps lacking in well planned or designed flaws.

As many of you will know, most experts in fiction theorize that the best characters have one specific fatal flaw, something that isn’t just pertinent to the plot, but in fact the plot revolves around the character resolving. Whether that is a happy story about a character learning and growing beyond their flaw, a tragedy about said flaw finally getting the better of them and/or solidifying and becoming worse, or very rarely an exploration of how the character manages to go through their story without changing one bit.

One issue I think is that there can be a bit on confusion between ‘flawed’ characters and the characters fatal flaw or ‘wound.’ I actually want to focus on the former for this post…

The difference may seem like splitting hairs, but hear me out here. [:)] A flawed character is essentially someone that doesn’t risk being a Mary Sue, or turning a reader off for being unrelatably or annoying perfect. But the exact nature of a flawed character is kind of hard to pin down, like, do they just need to have some faults sprinkled about them to be interesting? Or just need to be as bad as the book’s readers to stay in touch?

In thinking about I came up with a weird realization. The issue isn’t exactly about how a character should be, but the nature of the author/story/reader relationship. Generally the goal of a writer is to be invisible, or at least mostly hidden until rare moments of impressing the reader. One of the most common ways that writers unintentionally reveal themselves is excessive or obvious moralizing or preaching.

Characterization is one way this happens.

You see, there really isn’t such a thing as a perfect character, not really. What there is, is a character that the writer obviously thinks is perfect. When as readers we get annoyed at an apparently perfect specimen, what I think really gets under our skin isn’t so much a character without a flaw, its that they are being portrayed as not having flaw when really there is no such thing.

For example, the classic boy-scout Superman. Superman is often a painfully dull character, not only for his seemingly endless invincible powers, but his even more endless boy scout morals. Some writers however, manage to pen great stories about Supe’s by finding moral or situational conundrums that challenge the hero and thereby test his character. It’s not so much whether Superman is great or not, its how a writer shows their skill at setting up a challenge for the character or not.

If writers don’t setup a challenge, if they send invincible warriors into easily won battles, or pit Sherlockian detectives against simpleton criminals the issue isn’t actually that the characters are too perfect, its that the writers have shown their hand in gushing over their prowess in what are effectively Straw Man situations. It is in part either an issue with the character or the situation not being challenging, but the problem, I believe, is that it feels like listening to the author’s ideas about perfection.

If my thesis holds true the issue isn’t trying to slap some flaws on your characters, but rather to make sure you are exploring THE flaws of your character, e.g. don’t make your heroic and handsome superhero a secret Pokemon Go addict to try and round them out, challenge the idea of heroic handsome superheroes.

Hope this one made sense – getting a little bit circular and winding reasoning on this one!

What are your thoughts on character flaws?

and… How are you holding up during the global pandemic?

On Writing: Tales of the Afterlife

So over the past Lockdown period I’ve played a number of (yes gloomy) games set in some version of the afterlife including Limbo, Pinstripe and in the past I’ve found myself heavily invested in the grimey Binding of Isaac

All of which are set in an afterlife, and/or deal with the mortality of the protagonist, the games often steeped in symbolism or overt mortality stories.

Spooky Ghost Joke - YouTube

Now maybe its just me, and maybe its just these times, but I do think many films and stories spring to mind with the “dead all along” trope. While not always about the afterlife, oftentimes will make some comment about it – very often implying that once plots are resolved the dead go onto heaven, or some variant of positive afterlife.

Why do these stories appeal to us?

Well there is the obvious, that many believe that all stories are about sex or death, so that in some regards asking why stories like the above appeal is somewhat redundant. Death and mortality is the flipside to life (while also being a terrifying topic) which makes for obvious story fodder, but I think there are some strange reasons ‘they were dead all along’ and afterlife tales appeal.

Guilt beyond death presents the ultimate wound

We’re told in writing advice to give our characters ‘wounds’ or burdens from their past that require resolution. Having guilty characters as dead not only presents the most extreme unresolved guilt, it also presents the ultimate crucible (the crucible is the binding agent that prevents characters from walking away) how can a character leave the afterlife?

By creating the ultimate wound stories in the afterlife also create the ultimate resolution – forget “lived happily ever after” imagine leaving a character fully resolved and settled post-life?

(of course not all stories have happy endings)

Cheeky way to get away with ‘it was all a dream’

It seems odd to me that two such tropes with so much in common can be so polar opposite in acceptance. Although it makes sense. Both dreams and afterlives may create perfect fantasy settings to really mess with readers/watchers/players realities but each are very different in implication. One of the reasons dreams are such a big no-nos is that it presents a sequence where the stakes were less in almost all ways, whereas ‘dead all along’ type resolutions does the opposite, it raises the implications (although can also change them in ways that aren’t so great. When people misunderstood the ending to Lost as they were dead all along it was not well received [if anyone wants to argue about this I’m pretty sure the final scene was intended to be where all the characters ended up after their individual deaths whenever that would have been NOT that all the characters were dead all along]).

So what afterlife settings give us is the same illogical and unrealistic potential as dreams without the literary drawbacks.

So why do you guys think that his trope exists? OR do you think I’m exaggerating the interest??

Any good or terrible examples of this trope from the Screen or Page?

 

Review of WestWorld Season 3

If anything I have to give quite a lot of props to Westworld Season 3 – during the global pandemic I’ve found my ability to focus on any lengthy shows greatly hijacked and WW3 is one of the few shows that I was able to settle down and watch. So even though I had some negs about it, still doing good 🙂

nerds of a feather, flock together: Pianos, Players & Murder

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR SEASONS 1-3 WESTWORLD

First it might be useful for a bit of a recap, after 2 seasons set ‘within park’ the finale of Season 2 saw Delores and Bernard rebuilt and unleashed on the ‘real wold.’ It was quite an exciting prospect as up until that point the outside world had been somewhat of a mystery in Westworld, obviously we were aware there were some very rich very violent A-holes who liked to visit hyper-real parks and/or own said parks. There were a few snippets and shots of real world stuff in the first two seasons, but they didn’t really reveal much about what the world was actually like in the story.

So how did it pan out?

Well overall I feel that WestWorld struggled a bit to land its RealWorld (I confess I was hoping for a twist to be that everything was in fact another level of virtual world but no such luck (yet)). From a sci-fi perspective the world kind kinda followed that trope of ‘essentially just modern technology except in the areas we want to be sci-fi’. By which I mean there were robots, holograms, self-driving cars and a world dominating AI, sometimes mercenaries have all the high-tech and sometimes they are still plodding around with pistols, there are giant robots and tiny drones but also typical hotels and planes. Maybe its not so much this disconnect that was a problem but more that it felt a little rush or lazy, where I felt a lot of effort went into the setting of the Parks around behind the scenes and so forth, the S3 world felt like it just ‘was’

The whole premise is that a massive AI essentially controls humanity, resulting in stability and peace, however also requiring manipulation and the elimination of ‘outliers’ people that don’t fit well in the system no matter what. It is quite a crafty plot in many respects, there is a deep irony in a storyline about manipulated robots gaining AI and escaping the Park to find that the human race is in face similarly  enslaved.

Well sort of.

I think part of the problem is that the themes just don’t quite fit together, in the earlier season a huge amount, perhaps even too much, effort is put towards exploring the situation with the hosts. In Season 3 we are fairly quickly introduced to our themes and pretty much told how to feel about them. Unlike season 1 where I found myself questioning my responses to the show, wondering about the various grays and dark’s of the characters actions. Season 3 felt largely spelled out for me.

While I felt that the timey wimey methods of the first two seasons were at times a bit much, it was a shame to have a relative absence from Season 3, sure there were flashbacks, and some sort of jump in the post credits scene, but mostly the sequence was straightforward. Who would have thought I’d miss try-hard over-the-top time jumps!?!

 

Overall Season 3 was pretty interesting, but lacked the originality of the first two seasons, I liked the clever irony of the world but feel it missed some of its potential.

 

Anyone else seen WestWorld Season 3? Am I being too harsh? Thoughts?

Storytelling in Video Games

Going to break out of my global pandemic slump with a topic that has been fascinating me for a wee while: story telling in video games.

Stories and Video games have long occupied the same space – given that some of the earliest games were essentially text based stories where you needed to input the actions! And yet their relationship is often overlooked. I find that its only in the past while (well maybe longer than a while in my head 2010 was just the other day) that people have really started talking about the stories within games, how the story has perhaps impacted them more than the actual gameplay etc. Not to mention the rise of alternate endings, forced and open world choice type games and so forth.

 

So without any particular order, I’m just going to through out a few thoughts, and summarize some super interesting bits and pieces that I’ve picked up from others.

 

Game play versus Story

Games have had a long tradition of story cutscenes between levels or chunks of gameplay with varying levels of interest and success. Often players complain of the interruption of their play for boring dialogue.

Often in games story is little more than an excuse for action or a contrived series of events to perpetuate a plot rather than a riveting story. Here’s the thing though – games don’t necessarily need a “good” story in the same sense that say a novel does, what I think a video game needs is a story that gels well with the gameplay. I don’t think players mind too much if their shoot-em-up has a fairly basic plot, as long as it sits well with the shooting. I haven’t played it but apparently the ‘character-development’ of Metroid other M is horribly disappointing, because the cut scenes depict the MC is a fearful insecure character freaking out about the various enemies she has to fight – but then you promptly being playing again and execute said enemies forthwith…

Other good examples of gameplay fitting with story are Portal – where you solve strange physics puzzles devised by a maniac AI, Amnesia where you sneak scared through a dungeon discovering horrors that you purposefully purged from your memory in order to remain sane, and even Grand Theft Auto where you play out fantastical crime dramas in an equally semi-unrealistic world.

Futhermore on themes

Another gameplay point is one that is hard to explain, but something that I absolutely love about games is when the gameplay fits thematically with the story or even adds story elements to it. One game I’ve finished recently is Darkest Dungeons (SPOILERS AHEAD SORTOF) which has strong Lovecraftian themes, for those familiar one element of ‘cosmic horror’ is the overall sense of meaninglessness to the human race, there are no chosen saviours we’re essentially bacterium on the bum of the Old Gods. One way that Darkest Dungeon fits this theme is that your most expendable resource is people. Everything else costs money or resources, but you have an endless and free supply of adventurers available to you – the game intentionally plays on our natural sense of wanting to care about and for our little people’s but forces you to be ruthless with your fleshy rubble.

Story within game

Probably the strongest element I’ve found in ‘researching’ (I use scare-quotes because I mean searching Youtube) is that people like their stories played within the game so much more than cutscenes or separate material. Examples include within game dialogue (although no info dump please) hints and clues within the visuals of the game, implications from how characters behave a so on. Half-Life has to be the prime example of this, as if I have my facts right none of the games have any cut-scenes whatsoever, at best short sequences during gameplay, but otherwise the story is played out literally, through observed events, dialogue, visuals and so forth.

Tension

Probably the most insightful thing I picked up from brains bigger than mine, is the interesting point that video game stories don’t need the same tensions as a typical piece of fiction, because the gameplay creates the sense of the protagonist ever stretching and growing to reach the ultimate goal. This probably varies between genres but I found this super interesting, sort of suggesting that the story of the game needs or to setup the payoffs for the player overcoming their challenges rather than following the usual rules of fiction, this includes pacing as well. Circling back to an earlier point its almost a given that a game increases in difficulty as you progress I’ve never heard of a game that does the opposite but I’m assuming it doesn’t work – but it mirrors the idea of matching plot to gameplay. I’ve always found puzzles in shoot-em-up games annoying and I’ve noticed that this can be a story matching problem too, often a challenge in a game is to have to find something, a key or item for a character that has little to do with the story (e.g. why is the cyber demon just sitting behind a locked door waiting for me) whereas when you have a sense of a plot point you may find it more satisfying to complete the task.

Some example of bad story-telling

Already mentioned, but character doesn’t match with game-play behaviour , or doesn’t fit with how game played, e.g. very specific character development, but game is open world so you behave how you want between cutscenes.

Plot is just contrived stuff to perpetuate the game (just let the fun gameplay do that!) especially ‘twists’ that don’t influence how we feel about the gameplay (e.g. still just shooting baddies)

24 Video Game Plot Twists That Would Have Blown Your Mind | Cracked.com

uh not really sure how to round this one off – just glad to back doing some sort of writing after an extended period nestling on the couch with chocolate and reading the news.

What video games have great plots?

Terrible ones?

What makes a video game story good?