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Does a game's world always have to be focused on the player?

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I hope I can make it as clear as it is in my head. Basically, what I mean is in typical games, the player Is the focus of the world, or events presently taking place. For example, a game may have the player in the role of a Super Hero, saving the city, or as some 'Chosen One' required to undertake a quest. So I wonder if it's 'supposed' to be this way. Could there be a game, where instead of playing the Hero, you're in a secondary role (in regards to the world's view.)? Like you're a Knight in the Kingdom's army, as opposed to being their Captain. I mean, there would still be a story, and the player would be a part of it, but it wouldn't be the main focus of the world. I guess I could sum it up as saying the player would be in the supporting role. Can a game work this way, or would the player be put off due to them not being in the spotlight? [Edited by - Slateboard on March 29, 2010 12:59:34 PM]

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Quote:
Original post by Slateboard
Could there be a game, where instead of playing the Hero, you're in a secondary role (in regards to the world's view.)? Like you're a Knight in the Kingdom's army, as opposed to being their Captain.

I mean, there would still be a story, and the player would be a part of it, but it wouldn't be the main focus of the world.

I guess I could sum it up as saying the player would be in the supporting role.

Can a game work this way, or would the player be put off due to them not being in the spotlight?


Most multiplayer games will put the player in a supporting role. You have to group with others to move forward, and so on.

I'm not sure it's interesting enough to play as "number two" all the way through a single-player game. The further you get from being "unique" in a game, the closer you get to real life. Don't want that. ;)

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You might want to take a look at Heavy Rain, where the player does control the actors in the story, but where none of the actors is the lead actor and can all really be thought of as supporting actors.

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It's kind of a matter of perspective. The focus is up to the author, but remember that everyone is the hero of their own story. You could easily have a game about the main human bad guy of Half Life 2, and directing your alien minors to eliminate rebels, climaxing in the elimination of the most pesky one of all, Gordon Freeman.

I think game stories tend to lean toward "the world is at stake" more than other media, but outside of that context there are an infinite number of stories told from just as many perspectives. Is the story about a politician winning an election, or is it about his wife who finds her true self following him? Is Troy about Achilles or Agamemnon? Who knows, that's up to you.

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As far as the character's actions not having a major impact on the world, that's easy to accomplish. Does it really matter if you save a princess from a dragon, for example? If you avenge your father's murder? There's plenty to work with in the realm of personal or local conflict that still fits a traditional game narrative.

A higher hurdle is if your character's actions are not only not the driving force behind a global storyline, but not the driving force behind the story at all. You could shift the focus to another character the player is helping: George wants to save and marry the princess, you're just helping fight the dragon. Here the traditional one-two punch of game-play rewarded with narrative advancement remains applicable. Players can certainly form emotional bonds with the supporting cast, so even though they just helped, the player can be rooting for George to get the girl.

One step further is to make the driving forces of the story hidden from the player, along the lines of your example of being a soldier in an army you have no power in. Again, you can resort to minor narratives the player experiences: friends dying in battle, saving a small town from invaders, etc. The player is still being a hero, just in a diminished scope. I think the player will be fine with this, most of us don't need a constant sense of epic power: well produced quests and narrative on a small scale are fulfilling too. If you want to avoid the player having any real impact or interaction with the storyline at all things get a bit more existential, with the character proceeding through a series of battles they have no emotional connection with: it either becomes a very abstract game or a game with some deeper philosophical message. The former is fine, I think the latter would be well received in some quarters but not a popular title by any means.

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Quote:
Original post by Slateboard
Could there be a game, where instead of playing the Hero, you're in a secondary role (in regards to the world's view.)? Like you're a Knight in the Kingdom's army, as opposed to being their Captain...

I guess I could sum it up as saying the player would be in the supporting role.

[1] Can a game work this way, [2] or would the player be put off due to them not being in the spotlight?

1. Sure.
2. If you don't design it right, sure.

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Quote:
Original post by Polama
As far as the character's actions not having a major impact on the world, that's easy to accomplish. Does it really matter if you save a princess from a dragon, for example? If you avenge your father's murder? There's plenty to work with in the realm of personal or local conflict that still fits a traditional game narrative.

A higher hurdle is if your character's actions are not only not the driving force behind a global storyline, but not the driving force behind the story at all. You could shift the focus to another character the player is helping: George wants to save and marry the princess, you're just helping fight the dragon. Here the traditional one-two punch of game-play rewarded with narrative advancement remains applicable. Players can certainly form emotional bonds with the supporting cast, so even though they just helped, the player can be rooting for George to get the girl.

One step further is to make the driving forces of the story hidden from the player, along the lines of your example of being a soldier in an army you have no power in. Again, you can resort to minor narratives the player experiences: friends dying in battle, saving a small town from invaders, etc. The player is still being a hero, just in a diminished scope. I think the player will be fine with this, most of us don't need a constant sense of epic power: well produced quests and narrative on a small scale are fulfilling too. If you want to avoid the player having any real impact or interaction with the storyline at all things get a bit more existential, with the character proceeding through a series of battles they have no emotional connection with: it either becomes a very abstract game or a game with some deeper philosophical message. The former is fine, I think the latter would be well received in some quarters but not a popular title by any means.


This explains it better. I can see a game still having the emotional attachment to the story and characters, but without being in the spotlight.

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Well, seeing as to how being in power/control/the hero and/or the recipient of others' attention (whether consciously realizing it or not) are such common underpinning of people's psyches, by omitting the character being the center of the story, you would be deliberately limiting one of games' most compelling features. Most people don't get to be the center of the universe in real life, whereas in the escapism that games provide, the focus being on the player's avatar is a quintessential motivational feature.

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If I remember correctly, the first Halo game has this. You're just a marine fighting the Covenant, doing what is your duty. A big part of the game is played in a squad and the player is not an especially important member of it. Ofcourse you play a very good marine who does some badass things, but I can't think of a moment where you are addressed personally or are rewarded for doing anything out of the ordinary. Then again, I've played this game when it was new, so it's been a while.

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