Bioshock, Database Narrative and Storytelling
Revealing information is key to any linear progression, yes all human experiences that consist of more than one moment are rationalized to be linear at least perceptually. A story reveals itself over time utilizing a rhythm of contrast and affinity (see The Visual Story), which demands the viewer/user/players (VUP) own natural cognitive ability to connect the dots. Traditional genres of mystery, and suspense do this rather well. Writers and filmmakers which stray from those traditional linear progressions have been addressing these issues since the Futurist movement, if not before. French filmmaker Luis Buñuel’s database narratives, like Fantôme de la liberté, Le (1974) or Cet obscur objet du désir (1977), are a great way of naturally asking your cognitive narrative perceptions to “put things together” His techniques have been adopted by some of the greatest auteurs of today [think Lynch and Tarantino]. In his endless remixing of the narrative elements of time, place, and thing, the VUP inevitably creates their own version of the story. This is a database narrative, an architecture in which the VUP can be author.
Games still tend to be treasure hunts, the player accumulates experience, coins, points, etc, a certain threshold is crossed and additional information is revealed to them. While I dream of a day where play mechanics and story mechanics are one and the same. Most games are structured via gameplay, not story, and perhaps rightly so. As such revealing information to players utilizing the age old technique of rhythm proves rather difficult even with the use of simple engine side mechanisms like timers or gauges.
I would never expect any experience to satisfy all VUPs, and it seems that are great wealth of people are satisfied with Bioshock and it’s reveals, however that rhythm is accomplished, it’s nonetheless there and working well! It’s a lesson in craft. May we all receive such lofty praise and criticism!
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