Games have two different kinds of narratives: Explicit and Emergent. Explicit Narrative is the story that the game tells to the player, and Emergent Narrative is the story the player creates for themselves as they play the game.
Perhaps the most noticeable game featuring Emergent Play is Minecraft, which sold to Microsoft for 2.5 billion dollars. Since then, Sandbox and Survival games have taken off, generating countless titles, almost all of which are Early Access, only a few of which will ever see completion.
Any time you get your player to say: “I Did ______ in [Insert Game Name]” then you have created Emergent Play [EP].
How do you get your player to put themselves in the place of their avatar? How do you encourage them to make decisions and create their own Narrative?
A broken molar scrapes the inside of my lip. Teeth once coddled by an orthondotist are now caught in pieces between my molars and my gums. When you’re in stunning pain its hard not to grit your teeth.
Oh the pain,
What fantastic pleasure,
What life-giving fucking ecstasy.
Blood pumps past my ears to the ball of hate in between. The animal in there snarls and bites but I wipe the blood from my lips and get up. I tried to spit a tooth out, but instead I dribble out shattered fragments of my head.
I got back up.
I fucking got back up.
He was fist bumping his friends as I staggered. I tried to summon words and found only blood. I wiped again, red streaks on the back of my arm. As the blood dried it pulled the hairs from their roots, one by one. A whisper of pain against the roar of the rest.
“You want more?” He yelled. His neutered jackals laughed as their Mussolini flexed. I knew I could die today, I knew he didn’t care. He walks back over to me like his dick is scraping the floor: one half menace, the other creatine.
Me: “Yes Please”
See, he has this moment of lovely doubt. He sees something in me, he sees that whatever pain I’m in is pale and wrinkled in comparison to what’s left under my fingernails.
Blood, left long enough, passes well for dirt.
I stare him down for a beat before his sleeve-lacking lackeys egg him on. “Fuck him up” they say, like I don’t want to get fucked. “Kill the Faggot” they say, like I’ve never tried
“Come on!” I’d already swallowed or spat the blood so the only thing left in my throat was grit. I beckoned him forward, “Let’s get my dick hard”
“Oh, you like this, freak?” His veiny satellites jeer and he laughs. I was back in the schoolyard, gravel in my knees and filled with spite. Here is my revenge.
I dribble out another bloody fragment of tooth that had dislodged itself from my gums. So I told him: “Let’s turn this into a hate crime”
And boy, did we.
Three minutes or an hour went by. He only lasted a few more punches before he resorted to kicking me, curled on the pavement. I think I took the punches better than he did.
But soon they got bored.
They always do.
They walked away thinking they’d won.
The entire world soon shrunk to contain only me, my pain, and a night sky that stretched from the roof of one building to another. Stars outnumbered by blinking planes.
Pain shot up my side, blinking planes now outnumbered by swimming static. It took a second before I realized: thats what laughing feels like now.
The moment wasn’t lost on me.
This is my revenge against the world. My first and final act of retribution. This is how I get out of bed, this is how I will myself to live. Bloody and beaten, too tired beyond my years with still too little of my life lived.
I stood the fuck up.
I stood up, and I staggered the fuck away.
A few months ago I started working on the Narrative Design for a game called Eons Lost, currently in development by 3 Halves Games. Though Narrative Design was not initially an area of writing I gave much consideration, it ended up taking over my brain, and I want to share with you my methodology in approaching it.
Interactive Narrative is a consistent pattern of Objective and Reward.
The following diagrams are the first element in the methodology I am using to design the narrative of Eons Lost. I started with the basics: How do you organize Interactive Narrative?
1918, Fall, Belgium Front, Edie
The little one insisted on giving us nicknames, but I told him that if he insisted on calling me Nan one more time I’d punch his stomach right through his anus. Then the Priest came out with an eyebrow gushing like a mountain spring for getting in a bar fight with a gunner from the next outpost over. I told him a Chaplain shouldn’t fight, and he told me to go fuck myself. The big one spent this time saying nothing, looking out into the darkness with his Springfield’s scope for a German light to shoot. My husband would have loved these people, which is the only thing that kept me from hating them.
War is boring and tiring. Two months to this foxhole and Seven days in it so far. The big one has fired 23 shots so far and is unsure if any have hit. The little one cheers him on, “24 Germans!” to which the big one says, “Why 24? I’ve only fired 23 shots” and the little one says, “Yeah, but one of them got two.” “How do you know that?” “Math”.
They carry on like that while the priest drinks from a flask and I write.
I don’t know much about them yet and haven’t bothered to remember their names. I know when they look at me all they see is a small woman with a Machete on her back and a trench knife in her boot. None of them have made a move on me, but I suspect the priest will break first.
An excerpt from the journal of Ezekial
Summer, 1934, North Carolina.
“Well fuck a sheep thats a nice bit of stonework there.” She wiped her forehead with a gloved hand leaving a granite streak a mile wide, admiring her work. “You got a little something there on your forehead miss” I was trying to be helpful, something I should probably stop doing.
“You call me miss again and I’ll tear you a new anus with a steam-powered masonry drill- And what’s this I conveniently have at my side? What could that possibly be-“
“It’s a masonry drill, no need to belabor the point there.” She put her gloved hands on overalled hips and held her pointed chin high. Ah hell, its been too long and it looks like I’ve gotten rusty. “Sorry miss, I’ll leave you be-“
Every day I don’t spend Writing or developing a project feels like a waste.
Its been this way for a few years. Time that I have spent, for instance, writing out over 350 pages filling 3 notebooks, writing the better part of 2 plays a pilot and half of a novel. I used to write every single day, Now I’m lucky if I have time to sit and work on my days off.
Its been a theme of my last few months. A constant droning voice gnawing away at what I assume is my mind, telling me in some eldritch tongue that I need to write more to service the elder-gods, or some other nonsense.
Even so, I don’t like to refer to myself as a “Writer”.
The term has too much baggage. Whenever I say, “I Write”, there is an immediate look on someones face. There are always questions.
“Have you written anything I know?”
That would be code for, “Are you published?”. The answer is: Not Yet.
“What do you write?”
A question thats kind of like asking someone what neighborhood they live in when you don’t know the city. I appreciate the interest and will give you the logline, but most of the time its met with the blank look that reminds me how much of a rhetorical question “What I write” usually is.
Words. I write Words.
“But what do you do for a living?”
Starve, mostly. Or, more realistically, I have a job and write when I can.
“Oh that’s lovely”
You can often hear the condescension drip like… Well… Condensation. I hope the inadequacy of that simile illustrates how few fucks I give.
But always it comes down to one essential question that people seem to have: “Do you make a living writing?”
No. I don’t.
Not many people do.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t write professionally.
I don’t know if I have enough experience or gravitas to speak eloquently on this matter. After all, it was only 3 years ago that I even began pursuing writing as a career. But it seems if I haven’t gotten paid for writing, there is an expectation that I should say that I am an “Aspiring Writer”.
But I’m not aspiring to anything, I’m working. Its my second and my third job. I am sure that a lot of other “Aspiring Writers” feel exactly the same way.
Why would we do such a disservice to the work we are doing by referring to our writing as anything other than professional?