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Games are a storytelling medium and people are primarily consumers of stories.

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by Master-Frog, Dec 4, 2015.

  1. Master-Frog

    Master-Frog

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    I feel I don't need to make a big argument. Because, it is self evident once you look at the facts.

    People are interested in stories. Our lives are stories. People aren't shopping for games. They are shopping for interesting stories. The game is the medium. Some people get their stories from novels, some from television, some from newspapers, others from gossip... but we all consume stories.

    Why would someone want to get their story from a game? It's a chance to experience a story in a different way. To become part of that story.

    If you want to stand out from the competition, and start getting the attention you feel your games deserve, start telling stories.
     
    BrUnO-XaVIeR likes this.
  2. Ryiah

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    What's your definition of a story?
     
  3. TonyLi

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    Does Minecraft tell a story? Does SimCity?

    Often, developers just provide a framework for players to tell stories.
     
    Dennis_eA, Batman_831, Ryiah and 3 others like this.
  4. GarBenjamin

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    Yeah I actually agree with the idea in the sense that I see the experience of playing a game as writing a story. Whether it is pac-man or a grand RPG the player is basically writing their own story as they play. Their experiences in the game. These stories are often shared with their friends "oh man I finally beat that level last night! It was so awesome. I was running along and there was crap everywhere and I just made it barely to the end. Almost died so many times." or it takes the form of "I was exploring so-and-so area last night and behind that big rock I found there was a smaller rock. I actually was able to push it and there was a friggan hole in the ground. So I went in and..."

    As far as the game itself needing to actually tell a story literally. I don't think that is needed. The game just needs to provide a great gameplay experience and that allows the player to experience/live great moments sort of going on a magical adventure and writing their own stories as a result of playing.
     
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  5. Master-Frog

    Master-Frog

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    A series of events, involving one or more characters, with a beginning, a middle and an end.
     
  6. Master-Frog

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    Yes. There is no way you can play that doesn't create a series of events. There are characters. It ends.

    Notch set the mood and feel of the story you play with music and artwork.

    Rather than being snarky, ask how did he do that and why.
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2015
  7. ironbellystudios

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    Just a quick note: People are the *only* consumers of stories. What is this primary consumer business :) We're it. My dog refuses to pay for any story and I think it only listens because it likes my voice and thinks there may be food at the end! :D
     
  8. Master-Frog

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    Not "the primary consumers of". Primarily, as in first and foremost... people consume stories.
     
  9. ironbellystudios

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    More than food, water, shelter, heat, minerals? :) I'm just messing with ya, I apologize for the minor thread hijack.
     
  10. Master-Frog

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    At least you acknowledge it.
     
  11. TonyLi

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    I was too indirect before.

    Some series of events are written by the game maker. These are scripted stories, like Final Fantasy. They're closer to movies.

    Other series of events are directed by the player. These are emergent stories, like what players experience in Minecraft. They're closer to Legos.

    I point this out because the approach to one is completely different from the other. If you're making a scripted game, the player expects everything that's in a good book or movie: interesting characters and plot. They can be complex because they're scripted; the designer has control over them. If you're making a sandbox game, on the other hand, the player wants better Legos. Rigid, mandatory events prevent them from playing with their Legos.

    Depending on the type of game, you may not want to tell a story; instead, you may want to empower the players to create their own stories. (Every game sits on the continuum between scripted and emergent, so there will always be some amount of crossover.)

    I'm not pointing out the distinction to be argumentative. The distinction is important. Every design decision impacts how much of a scripted story the player gets to experience and how much the player gets to build their own unique story.
     
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  12. RockoDyne

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    What about pylons?

    I can shrink that a bit: a series of related events. Now you don't have to deal with what a character is or cases of in media res that forget about the beginning part.

    That's the illusion at least. In theory the real value is in being able to explore a story from multiple angles or with different permutations of events, and people then narcissisticly presume it's their story.
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2015
  13. Master-Frog

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    It is their story, in a sense. The more you help them experience that it is their story, the more they'll love it.
     
  14. hippocoder

    hippocoder

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    Nah, story is very much individual taste. At least half of all gamers don't give a damn, and that includes older gamers too - we didn't have much story on the vast majority of 8 bit games ;)
     
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  15. Master-Frog

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    A lot has changed since then.
     
  16. hippocoder

    hippocoder

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    Yep but games often have only a passing token story. One of the most popular games on earth doesn't really have one - LoL

    Or just about any puzzle game.

    Or half the indie games out there...

    I love story. I prefer games with story. But I know a lot of my friends don't care for it and it's not in their purchasing decisions.

    I'm pretty sure by story, you mean one that unfolds as you play, and not some text at the start.
     
  17. Master-Frog

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    No, I mean any kind of story.

    Even "the princess has been captured"... gameplay ... "you have saved the princess."

    I am not sure if people here notice that even puzzle games have little characters these days.

    Even if the game just has interesting artwork and music that invokes your imagination, that is not unlike the way that classical music tells a story through different movements and compositions.

    The confusing part is how to tell a story within the parameters of a game. The answer is, there are many ways. We are still learning new ones. From Journey to The Binding of Isaac, Ico and Don't Look Back... we see stories being told in new ways. And we will continue to see new ways. Because games are young as a storytelling medium.
     
  18. RockoDyne

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    Not really. They want a conflict (or rather need it), and the tools to address that conflict. Once all the conflicts are resolved, be they explicit or player imagined conflicts, then the game is over. The very nature of the three act structure is driven by the rise and fall of a conflict, and it applies to conflicts in play just as much as it does to those on paper.

    I don't see why the distinction is important in the slightest. Games aren't a timeshare between a movie and a toy set. Even if the game was created with a completely random assortment of mechanics, players would still face the same conflicts, draw solutions from the same limited pool of options, and ultimately end up with similar experiences. You can look a Nethack, the king of creating unique stories, but almost all of these stories follow the same themes of overcoming (or falling to) adversity.

    The role of the designer is to understand the experiences being created, and how every aspect of a game effects the experiences.
     
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  19. Master-Frog

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    It is just a much harder role than I think many are prepared for. Especially since we are not taught to address games as a storytelling medium, to begin with, but rather we are taught feedback and goals.

    Again, this is like learning only grammar and then trying to write a novel.

    It is becoming apparent to me that gameplay alone is not sufficient for meeting the demands of todays players. They want more.

    I have seen interactive movies be praised as great games.
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2015
  20. FeedorFeed

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    I understand the idea's your bringing forward that all action create a story.

    But I can guarantee you I don't play DOTA2 for the story, I play DOTA2 because I love how deep and complex the gameplay systems are, I love how even after 4000 hours into the game, I can still learn something new.

    Minecraft works on a similar feeling of discovery ** and atleast for me, and I'm sure a whole bunch of other people, the moment minecraft stopped being fun, was the moment you realized, you've discovered it all, there's nothing new.

    **I'm sure there's a huge percentage of minecraft players who do play for that story they can generate on their own
     
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  21. RockoDyne

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    It's their story the same way the PC is them, because they spent hours with the character creator. It's your model because you spent the time putting it together. That sort of thing.
     
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  22. Master-Frog

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    Can you?

    Because I would be willing to bet that while you're playing, you are experiencing some level of fantasy. You are using a willful suspension of disbelief to enjoy a fictitious experience. The setting has been established, the conflict was built for you and you are enjoying the climactic battle that decides the outcome of the epic story. You may not be aware of it, which goes to illustrate how good of a job the designers did.

    But I have been around a while, and I can guarantee that there are lots of games with deeper and more complex systems than DOTA. You aren't talking about them, though. You're playing the shiny game with the vivid fantasy characters and the fully realized alternate universe.
     
  23. Master-Frog

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    Even if they don't create the character.

    Take Link from Legend of Zelda. We know what Link is, he's an elf thing. But we don't know who Link is. This is because Link is just a blank canvas. When we play, we are Link.

    This was not an accident.
     
  24. RockoDyne

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    The rabbit hole goes deeper than that. Zelda fan fic/art almost always has projection in it. How people perceive Link is always with a little of themselves in it. Then just add the whole child/adult Link issue, and you've got a powder keg. Part of the reason I despise TP is because they gave him character (and I'm not touching SS with a ten foot pole).
     
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  25. Kiwasi

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    You want to be careful with these grand pronouncements. Very little in game design is absolute.

    Games as story is one valid lense to examine and design games. It can be a very valuable one. And it's not the only one. Limiting yourself to one approach to game design is kind of silly. As pointed out there are several cases where looking or designing for a story has no practical use.

    It's on the same level as the statement by Sid Myres that games are a series of interesting decisions. He himself was keen to point out that this was a mantra for developing civ, rather then a formal definition of what a game was. There are entire genres where the idea of a series of decisions idea is of no practical use, even if you can force it onto any game.

    So go, make your story focused game and be successful. Story is far from the only thing people are buying.
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2015
  26. Master-Frog

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    It has nothing to do with the design of the game itself. It has to do with using the game to tell a story.

    I know your kneejerk reaction is to disagree and start a dialogue, but even "a series of interesting decisions" is a story. He was close to saying "all games are stories" but he didn't realize that some games are just games. What is true is that any game can be used to tell a story. And that games are a valid and relevant medium for telling stories, and people these days know it and are already consuming them.

    We just don't seem to see it.

    Note, I never said that people are only consumers of stories. There will always be a place for crossword puzzles and Sudoku.

    But while some people may enjoy those types of games, everybody consumes stories in some form. Even monks in monasteries have parables.

    If you really think about it, games have been telling stories for decades now. And what's fascinating is that we're still debating it.

    I liked playing Columns on my Sega Genesis, but I was obsessed with Sonic the Hedgehog, even though his game was sometimes annoying to play and a bit hard to pass.

    And Sonic got the cartoons and the sequels and the pop cultural signifigance.
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2015
  27. MightySheep

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    If you define story as anything that happens in a game, every game has a story of course.
    I played League and the fun here was being better than others, using your champions power to defeat some other person. it wasn't "For the glory of Demacia, my team will banish you", it was "I play this champ, because he has passive lifesteal, a jump and a good stun."
    It can have nice fantasy graphics, but people don't care, people play action chess there, not "Black king starts his battle against cruel white army, thus writing history by sending his troops to E5"
     
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  28. Master-Frog

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    First of all, you're not better than anyone at anything that is real. You are playing a game. In that game, your "champion" has "power" to "defeat" other player's forces.

    Chess is also filled with pieces such as "King" and "Knight" and is a game about using military resources to protect a central target. You can argue that chess has no story, but it's futile. Just look at the usage of the term "chess match" in culture to refer to any sort of battle of wills or wits.

    You cannot divorce the lore and the character from the game while still maintaining the integrity of the experience. Well, you can... but then nobody will play it.

    After all, that is the point. Getting people to play.
     
  29. MightySheep

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    First of all, you can play same heroes against eachother, and that's when player skill matters, if there was none, competetive play wouldn't be so popular nowadays. Also for me King or Knight are just pieces with different uses, but I'm not going to argue with you, because everybody sees this differently.
     
  30. FeedorFeed

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    You're entirely wrong to assume that I'm getting lost in disbelief. As someone above stated, it's the mechanics that are important. I'm sure there's a group of people that do pick based on what they feel like playing, but for myself, dota is treat a lot more like chess than any other game. It's all about the mechanics, the heroes you play are just the different pieces.

    However, as someone else said, if you're defining story as anything that happens in a game, of course every game has a story. You're wrong to assume that it creates a story for everyone however. You could create a story out of the events, but that does not mean that the person playing experienced those events as a story, or even view those events as a story.
     
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  31. Deleted User

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    I'm not sure it's that cut and dry and I believe terminology is tripping things up slighting, a game requires context and there are various ways to define "context". Chess as a game doesn't require anything more than a tutorial to explain the rules and terms of completion / end goal.

    You can have games that require plot as context, many RPG's are example of that. Then we have hybrids which is where I believe things are getting hazy, discovery is a journey. It is a story within itself, it doesn't necessarily have to have a plot or an end goal. Some actual factual stories are nothing more than a collection of events discovered through life and they do actually class them as stories, in games it's no different.

    But the key there is it's still classed as a story, but doesn't necessarily contain a plot.
     
  32. Master-Frog

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    Thanks for the input.

    I am not sure why you're bothering me with this, I never said that. There is quite literally a record of everything said in this thread, go back and check. When you see that I never said that, I expect you'll do the honorable thing and edit your posts accordingly. I'll start holding my breath now.
     
  33. Master-Frog

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    One thing you can do is inside of the game, allow the character or player to accumulate items and property over time and to gain abilities. This is metaphorical for personal growth and gain. It also shows that things change over time which is something we see in stories. So we can clearly see how mechanics of a game can be used to enforce typical plot structure. Anothee example, simply by putting the hardest battle at the very end is like the climax of a plot. In real life the hardest battle might be the first battle and every other battle after that might be easy. But that's not how it is when we tell stories. We have certain expectations, tropes, themes that come up time and time again.

    Mind, this shouldn't be a discussion of any one game.

    But I want to bring up indie games with average graphics. I never paid much attention to it, but a lot of the ones I have heard of (meaning they became pretty famous, because I don't go looking for them) have interesting stories as a part of the game.

    And we all know AAA games come with full length movies as a part of the experience, now.
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2015
  34. Ryiah

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    I sincerely doubt it. I know with League of Legends you're often having to focus on so many things at once you simply do not have time to stop and smell the roses.

    What does that have to do with a story though? I may be suspending my disbelief when my character uses magic, but that doesn't mean I'm experiencing part of a story every time I throw a fireball.

    At best they are merely token stories. I've limited myself primarily to League of Legends so it may be different elsewhere but I don't know anyone who actually pays any real attention to the lore and backstories.
     
  35. Master-Frog

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    But is that alone evidence that I am wrong, here?
     
  36. Ryiah

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    Wrong in your personal view of games? Or wrong in thinking games represent the same thing to everyone? ;)
     
  37. Master-Frog

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    Wrong that "games are a storytelling medium" or that "people are primarily consumers of stories".

    Both are true, in my current understanding.
     
  38. Ryiah

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    Games can be a storytelling medium. That doesn't mean everyone plays them for the story though.
     
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  39. Master-Frog

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    No, it absolutely does not. People's choices in which games to play are influenced by a large number of factors. But here's the thing, they have a lot of choices. And all other things being equal, the game that tells a story is more appealing than the same game that doesn't. That's why Knights fight Goblins. It costs a lot of money to come up with character designs and artwork, and to give the game personality and character. But it pays for itself when more people choose to play the shiny game with the cool toons over the generic-looking game. Gameplay matters, but what is a fun game (something we have talked about here) is even more subjective than what makes an interesting world and an interesting character.
     
  40. RockoDyne

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    Play a game for thirty minutes, then come back and tell us what happened. If you come back telling a good story, I'm willing to bet you actually enjoyed your time (and not just being mildly amused as time passed, but emotionally involved with what happened).
     
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  41. BrUnO-XaVIeR

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    Proly this is why I don't buy modern games anymore then.
    Even RPGs from this mellenium have weak stories and most titles from other genres are focusing at not presenting a story at all.
    With this eSport bs hyped today, all ppl talk about is gameplay mechanics and skill; Skill this, skill that... I just miss legit heart touching stories and gameplay not bottlenecked by internet lag.
     
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  42. hippocoder

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    Civilization series has no story, none. Yet it's one of the most popular strategy games in the world. While I do prefer games with story, it is ignorant to assume people are mostly consumers of stories. With games, often people make their own story even if they're not realising it. Stories can be damaging as obviously everyone likes different stories.
     
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  43. RockoDyne

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    It has no written story, but the time you got into a nuclear arms race with Gandhi and bombed him back into the stone age is very much a story. In that respect, Civ is great at creating drama, tension, and close calls that are the hallmarks of a compelling story employed mechanically.
     
  44. hippocoder

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    Yes, but you're missing the point. The player can and will make up the story for any game missing a story. This either renders the entire thread meaningless or it means that story isn't so important in games, depending on the game.

    Personally I think it renders the thread meaningless, since it's like trying to convince people a snack bar should be a 3 course meal.
     
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  45. Jimmy-P

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    Some people are interested in stories in games, but others aren't. Personally, I don't care about the story in place, and I care only slightly about the story I create as I explore the game world. What's important in my gaming experiences is simply becoming powerful, essentially beating the game to the point where it provides no further challenge. I see every game as a system to break and defeat. As a result, the only games that really keep me coming back are competitive multiplayer games or open world RPGs (and some other games that offer a great degree of freedom)

    We're all different, and your claims are as true for one person as they are untrue for another. In terms of making games, I'd rather enable the players to create their own stories (or not, if they so choose) than shove a story down their throat. Similarly, if a game forces a story down my throat I will probably stop playing pretty soon.

    I do think you'll potentially reach a larger audience by providing an engaging story, but I'd argue that people play games for fun, and for some people, a good story is fun, while for others, it's just fluff.
     
  46. AcidArrow

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    The argument is that a series of cool gameplay moments that the player can attach a narrative to them* is a story. And story is what all people want (and almost everything is story).

    * ("and then I dug underneath me, and there was lava! but I narrowly escaped, but a skeleton knocked me in!")

    I don't know if stretching the definition of "story" that much serves a purpose though.
     
  47. Master-Frog

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    I can assure you the thread does have a meaning, regardless of your personal opinions about stories in games.
     
  48. RockoDyne

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    The player can make up the backstory of a game. The events that actually happen during the game are the story. I'm not getting how a player can make up a story when THEY EXPERIENCE IT.
     
  49. Teila

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    Not all books are stories, not all games are stories. As a storyteller myself, I tend to prefer games with stories and will even make up stories when I play games without stories. :)

    An experience in a game can become a story.
     
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  50. Master-Frog

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    All books are not stories. But books are a storytelling medium.

    Wonderful.

    So, we can make up our own stories. And we can do this whether the game intended it or not. And we all do this, though to what degree we are immediately aware of it I am not certain. Some games make this easier than others, while some games leave a great deal more to the imagination. And this is true of books as well, where we have to visualize everything with our imagination and speculate a great deal to complete the picture. And while games are more likely to be adventures, nobody would deny that a book can take you into an epic battle or on a massive adventure. So I wonder why the bias in the other direction, where people seem intent on denying the inherent storytelling capabilities of games?

    A game doesn't need cutscenes and dialogue boxes to tell a story. Look at this latest generation of games without words. This is just my realization, that's why I made this thread. I was sitting here, trying to piece together my next little game, and it just hit me. I googled this subject the day after making this thread, and turns out I am behind others who have already realized this. And based on what I have seen with mainstream hits, industry pros have known this since forever.

    I think we have trouble grasping this because we grew up with games, and even though most gamers favorite stories come from games, we don't think of game stories as stories. And we don't think of games as telling us a story, or letting us tell ourselves a story, we think of it as a game. We're too close to it to see it.