The act of telling stories within the game.
Many games tell stories as gameplay progresses. This might be through pre-produced material, through actions of those running the game, through the players themselves, or a combination. Regardless, this provides Storytelling to the gameplay experience.
Note: this pattern does not discuss the quality of Storytelling in a game, only how it relates to gameplay and game elements.
Note: this pattern does not discuss the retelling on gameplay events after it has occurred, for that see Game Instance Stories.
- 1 Examples
- 2 Using the pattern
- 3 Consequences
- 4 Relations
- 5 History
- 6 References
- 7 Acknowledgements
Roleplaying Games do all have Storytelling as a part of them. However, while early Tabletop Roleplaying Games such as Dungeons & Dragons and Call of Cthulhu supported this later games such as Vampire: The Masquerade and Universalis focused upon it (the former of these describes itself as a storytelling game rather than a roleplaying game). Once Upon a Time is a card game sharing many characteristics of Storytelling with Tabletop Roleplaying Games but by having removed the presence of player characters no longer is one. Live Action Roleplaying Games such as 1942 – Noen å stole på and Monitor Celestra have certain parts of the Storytelling pre-planned by game masters but rely heavily on players to bring the Storytelling to its full potential. Some Computer-based Roleplaying Games, e.g. the Dragon Age and the Witcher series, makes use of cutscenes to do part of their Storytelling while others, e.g. The Elder Scrolls and the Fallout series, tell their stories as part of gameplay only (with the exception of cutscenes that function as epilogues).
Using the pattern
On the most fundamental level, Storytelling in games requires Agents that perform actions as well as places and objects that they can interact with. Characters, and especially Player Characters, is a natural starting point for Agents since they allow players a focus for Emotional Engrossment. Conflicts between Agents is a classic way of motivating them as well as inviting for Emotional Engrossment. Scenes can be used to place the Agents in interesting situations, and may themselves provide stories through Environmental Storytelling. Construction can be used to create Environmental Storytelling as part of gameplay, and may then include Game Element Insertion as part of the Storytelling. Voiceovers is an approach to Storytelling games have adopted from movies, but this may work against Diegetic Consistency. Cutscenes is more or less short movies inside a game and can effectively do Storytelling but removes agency from players and needs to fit seamlessly with what has happened just before them to not break Diegetic Consistency.
A main option regarding Storytelling is if the actual story to be told should be created before gameplay begins, i.e. providing the game with Predetermined Story Structures and Ultra-Powerful Events, or letting the Storytelling adapt to the gameplay or even drive it. Storytelling in games can be done both by Dedicated Game Facilitators and by Entitled Players. The stories told do not have to be part of the Narration Structure of a Game World but can be in several different ways. First, they can be explanations of the history and current state of the Alternative Reality of the Game World and this is the typical way Storytelling is done by Dedicated Game Facilitators to advance the Narration Structures. Second, the stories can be part of Roleplaying, either providing backstories for Characters or the retelling of previous gameplay within a Thematic Consistency. Providing back stories for Characters is an area where players usually are allowed Creative Control regarding Storytelling, even in games with tightly restricted Narration Structures. Third, the stories can be part of creating and expanding the Narration Structures rather than unfolding an existing structure, although this requires Game Masters or Self-Facilitated Games.
As Storytelling is often used to describe series of gameplay events using diegetic terms, it is a Diegetic Pattern. Storytelling can be used to make Agents in games show Emotional Attachment, but conversely the display of Emotional Attachment can be part of Storytelling.
Storytelling can also be used to explain Game Element Insertion (e.g. Player Created Game Elements) so that Diegetic Consistency is maintained. It can however also use game system concepts, e.g. "the orc took 3 hit points in damage" when describing the effect of an attack in Dungeons & Dragons, and in this case tends to breaks Diegetic Consistency.
Another diegetic use of Storytelling is to give diegetic motivations for Fudged Results.
Storytelling gives both players and Dedicated Game Facilitators the possibility to explain Extra-Game Information in a context which avoids disturbing Thematic Consistency. Storytelling by players or Game Masters may be controlled through Turn Taking or be Interruptible Actions. In contrast, the Storytelling done in computer games, for example by Cutscenes, is a form of Ultra-Powerful Events that cannot be interrupted although they may be skipped.
Storytelling either provides or creates Narration Structures in a game. When Storytelling is performed by humans, it is a form of Social Interaction that often gives Emotional Engrossment, and being able to tell stories well can give Game-Based Social Statuses and can even be considered part of Gameplay Mastery in games such as Once Upon a Time and Roleplaying Games. Storytelling can give players Creative Control and Freedom of Choice, and in games with Game Masters, these stories can become part of Player Constructed Worlds by being Player Decided Results. In Persistent Game Worlds, the stories can have further influence by being part of the development of Never Ending Stories. This being said, Storytelling can be viewed as Extra-Game Actions when they do not directly influence gameplay, or when only parts of them include making decisions about issues that affect the game state.
Besides being able to present and thereby create Game Worlds, Storytelling can be used to frame all actions and events in these Game Worlds within the Thematic Consistency of an Alternative Reality, and can visualize Game Worlds and their histories. This often includes Game Element Insertion of some types, and when players or human Game Masters do this it often a form of Player Created Game Elements. Of course, when the storytellers have Creative Control they may also ruin the Thematic Consistency by introducing unfitting objects or events or by making Characters do actions that does not fit their personality or competences. While Cutscenes in themselves tell stories, Storytelling done by Game Masters or players in Self-Facilitated Games where one cannot interrupt each other creates Cutscenes. Being a storyteller can be a role players have, and successfully performing this can provide a sense of Role Fulfillment. It can also to a lesser degree be used to fulfill the role of a Character one has adopted (this form of Role Fulfillment is more easily done through Enactment or Roleplaying).
Storytelling can be used to focus players' interests on specific aspects of gameplay and the Game World. This can be used to create an Illusion of Open Space in a game even when the gameplay area in limited.
Storytelling and Roleplaying can instantiate each other. Roleplaying through Enactment gives rise to Storytelling since here players create a story by what their Characters do. In contrast, describing what their Characters do is Storytelling but since this also describes their actions, and sometimes intentions, it create Roleplaying as a consequence. Playing to Lose is a way of encouraging players to influence both Roleplaying and Storytelling so their Characters have a bad but interesting story arc.
Alternative Realities, Creative Control, Emotional Engrossment, Extra-Game Actions, Extra-Game Information, Freedom of Choice, Game Element Insertion, Game Worlds, Game-Based Social Statuses, Gameplay Mastery, Narration Structures, Never Ending Stories, Player Created Game Elements, Player Constructed Worlds, Role Fulfillment, Social Interaction, Strategic Knowledge, Thematic Consistency
with Game Masters or Self-Facilitated Games
with Game Worlds
Can Be Instantiated By
Agents, Characters, Construction, Cutscenes, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Entitled Players, Emotional Attachment, Environmental Storytelling, Game Masters, Non-Player Help, Player Characters, Predetermined Story Structures, Self-Facilitated Games, Voiceovers
Can Be Modulated By
Possible Closure Effects
Potentially Conflicting With
An updated version of the pattern Storytelling that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design.
- Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.