So often, the emphasis in video games marketing is on violence system at the core of the product; narrative designers, then, are viewed as the people who sew an emotional stitch through the levels to hold the thing together. But time and time again, players really turn up for the moment in which a story about a character or a world comes to the fore. In the recent smash hit indie game Undertale, for example, the innovation is the twist on the old JRPG battle system: what if, for one moment, you could talk to the monsters? It’s a clever, stylish narrative innovation that masquerades as a nod and a wink.
Shooting is the easiest way to put conflict into a virtual world, but the violence of our everyday lives is (hopefully) not always physical. Sometimes it is the violence of being let down, snuffing out the story we are making for ourselves. Sometimes a bully might hit us with verbal abuse, a good friend might get sick, you might be fired from your job. In life, these are problems that can be solved by a different kind of narrative interaction than merely punching someone in the face – there is room for games to explore that.
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Much more can be done in games to give characters the ability to have you fight back – not just with shooting, but with other verbs – talking, solving, finding, making, building, creating, supporting, things that games like Minecraft are centred around. These too can be innovations in the game sphere, and many recent successes, particularly in the indie field, such as Firewatch, use those other verbs. Kindness, resilience, confidence, empathy, social acumen, tact: these can be interesting and fun to learn too.