Narrative Design 101 | The Narrative Design Explorer™

Narrative Design 101

    Designed narrative should drive all acts of creative communication. Mind I didn’t say story.

    Narrative is structure, experience the vehicle and story its interpretation. Design, functional art, is a fundamentally expressive communication with the external world though which an author relays a message. Intent is not a question. Great designers always call function and purpose into question when defining form. When structuring engaging user-experiences for the actual or virtual it’s no different.

    For various reasons the stage has been set for an unnecessary battle between play and story. Storytelling has been cast as a subservient player to design in all but a few cases, and yes it’s developed an inferiority complex.

    The thing is, it’s a dichotomy that just doesn’t exist. Story and play are built out of the same units.

    What the interactive narrative design paradigm I preach so vehemently about proposes is that either you put down your shield and get to collaborating, or fall victim to the next generation of talent whom fuses both these skills into one pungently wonderful craft of entertainment wizardry (I’m scared of them myself). This crew of inspired story makers grew up on “Assassin’s Creed”, GTA and “Halo”. They aspire to make games a dance of meaning, form, action and symbol. Suppose that’s one of the reasons why I do to, I’ve taught them, they rock. Really though, Disney Imagineers have done this and done this well for years. If you need a lesson promptly make your way to a theme park. Take those lessons alone to the context of game/experience design and think about the possibilities.


    In the end that’s what it’s about. Reaching out to people and enriching their world with play, intrigue, fun and ultimately joy. Using a combination of game design, UX, traditional story development techniques, writing, visual theory, production design – and everything in between (couldn’t hurt!). Whatever included needs to be aligned with the intended user-experience, in order to further agency and suspension of disbelief. The design must be managed as a whole, driven by the precepts of the core creative vision and its subsequent iterations.

    This isn’t writing nirvana – I’m not here to blow hot air. We are talking about designing games -next-generation entertainment experiences a different way – a narrative-centric approach. Driven by the idea that mechanics – actions – are the fundamentals units of both story and game play.

    What do you want your audience to walk away and say about your experience?

    It’s going to be a story – the viewer/user/players story – not the one you paid top-dollar for some Hollywood talent to write. “I did X and then Y before all of F happened. It was awesome.” That story is driven by the narrative architecture, the navigable interactive sequence that is experience.

    What we have here is a medium with the power to command the world, quite literally, to enable the protagonist in us all. We, us, here see it – there veiled in the distance like the flowering of some alien moon. What we, as game developers, as experience designers, are called to do is make and make again. Until its picture is so clear – it drops like radiant fire from the sun, piecing the beholders eye and saying “YES! THIS IS YOUR WORLD! MAKE IT YOUR OWN!