Video games have different approaches to how they introduce players to the greater story, world, or context of the game world. Often, there is some type of tutorial at the beginning that shows you the ropes. Usually these tutorials only work to show players the mechanics of the game, or how to play. Some have a cinematic intro that throws you into the story. Others just give you a cold start and have you figure it out on your own.
It seems that the standard for a lot of games is to give the player “just enough” information to provide context to their experience within the game. Obviously, there are some games that go way beyond the “just enough” threshold, and then others that fall terribly short.
A couple of weeks ago we discussed how the Elder Scrolls franchise teaches players about Tamriel through the various lore and books that are scattered throughout the world of the game. This type of “game education” is a subtle, but in depth. In games that go this route, where information for the world is out there for you to discover, players have to somewhat want to find out more about the game. To find out more about the world they have to seek out that info themselves. It is there, but they want to find it. It isn’t forced upon them. It is kind of like a leisurely trip to the local library, or a delve into a wikipedia or YouTube rabbit hole. You’re in control of how much information you digest, and what that information is (I won’t judge you for the number of times you’ve read the Lusty Argonian Maid).
This week I wanted to take a look at how some other video game franchises teach players about their worlds. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and will consist of pretty much role-playing games because … you know … it’s me.
The first example that we will look at is the Dark Souls Franchise.
I have played, but never beaten Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2. And while I was playing, I always found it pretty difficult to figure out exactly where my journey through the game fit into the world. I understood to a certain degree what was going on and what my goals were, but I never learned much about the lore of the game. Honestly, when I was playing the games, I wasn’t really looking for it. I was just trying not to die (unsuccessfully).
After looking into it more, I learned that If the Elder Scrolls lore is a trip to the library, then Dark Souls is your trip to library but written by Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code). The Dark Souls lore is much more cryptic than that of the Elder Scrolls. The lore and history of the world is taught more through vague dialogue references and item descriptions. I learned however, that the process of piecing and weaving all of these cryptic bits of information together to find out more about the world is actually quite fun, and the games have a whole community devoted to doing just that.
Another game that takes this approach in an arguably more extreme way is No Man’s Sky. While the game has gone through a number of updates since it’s release, when it first started, the player was quite literally thrust into an unfathomably large game with little direction and context given. In this game I found myself wandering around forever until I found something that even gave me a shred of lore. No Man’s Sky also uses plaques, dialogue, and discovery to teach you about the universe that you are in. The problem is the sheer size of the place that this all occurs in. Finding out more info about the universe equated to finding a needle in a planet sized haystack, and then piecing that information together with another needle in another haystack. In more recent updates to the game though, there have been questlines added to help players learn more about the universe, and provide a more linear experience to help give you a little direction through the quintillion planets in the game. There is still the discovery aspect, but you can choose to do the storyline to help guide you through it.
These games are just examples of how the world is taught and discovered through fantasy and sci-fi games. Next week, we’ll try to get a little more “non-fiction” with our subject and examine games that actually teach players about the real world.
Until next time, my friend.