Game Design Game Design Workshop Wednesdays

Game Design Workshop Wednesday Exercise 2.8: Gripping Stories #GDWW

Each week, I’ll go through an exercise from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Third Edition. Fullerton suggests treating the book less like a piece of text and more like a tool to guide you through the game design process, which is why the book is filled with so many exercises.

You can see the #GDWW introduction for a list of previous exercises.

This week’s exercise asks me to explain why any specific games might have moved me emotionally.


I’ve written about the importance of stories years ago, arguing that games don’t need to dictate the story the way a book or a movie would. Games are interactive and allow for a variety of responses and developments, so I’m sometimes disappointed by games that can be reduced down to “Press the button to advance to the next page” because they don’t live up to the potential of the medium.

That said, story can be quite engaging. Like premise, it can give you context for what you do in a game, and discovering what happens next can be a motivating factor. I want to know how the Prince of Persia managed to stop the Sands of Time from spreading everywhere and consuming everything. I want to know if the Terran or the Protoss dominate. I want to know if this is finally the castle that Bowser has locked away the princess of the Mushroom Kingdom.

The exercise this week asks me if any stories within a game ever gripped me, moved me emotionally, or sparked my imagination.

In the past, I’ve written about great gaming moments, such as the Illusion of Gaia raft scene and the time I sent 30 pilots to their horrific deaths in Homeworld: Cataclysm. The second one is one of my favorite stories, which is a mixture of the story the game was telling and the story I created by playing it.

Throughout the war with The Beast, I never forgot those 30 ships. Technically, they weren’t more than digital bits running through memory on my computer, but the screams were terrible. The drama was real. The details of the names or types of ships involved in the above story might be remembered incorrectly, but the feeling of dread when I realized that I had just caused the deaths of 30 good people will stay with me. It wasn’t a cut-scene or a FMV movie to watch passively. I participated in it. Logically, it wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t have known what was going to happen without cheating. Technically I could have restarted the mission and tried again. I normally prefer the challenge in similar situations, but the reason for not restarting this time was different. I didn’t want to dishonor the memory of the loss. Oddly, those 30 fighters were identical clones of each other. It wasn’t like you normally would have a tie to any one of them.

Still, I had made a bad decision, and the consequences were very real to me. My fight wasn’t just to play a game anymore. It was for honor. It was for redemption. Neither of these ideals were communicated directly by the game. There was no “Honor Meter”, for instance. I simply had a strong desire to make things right again.

Ok, Past Self, you’re a little dramatic, but the point remains that the story in the game was a very engaging aspect of it. I internalized the story so that it was my own, and playing the game had new meaning for me.

Exercise Complete

Now I want to go back and play through all of the Homeworld games. I never did finish them. How does the fight with the Beast end in Cataclysm? And how do the original game and the sequel work out?

And how did I just find out that Gearbox Software has had the rights to the franchise and is working on Homeworld Remastered? I hope it is ported to Linux-based systems.

If you participated in this exercise on your own, please comment below to let me know, and if you wrote your own blog post or discuss it online, make sure to use the hashtag #GDWW.

Next week, I’ll wrap up chapter 2 by playing a simple game, then analyzing its formal and dramatic elements.

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