Game Designer as Storyteller: Another designation that at first seems too broad to stand alone, I have a definition specific enough to differentiate it from other design roles. I am referring here to game designers whose primary role is to place the player in a world filled with loose threads, the seeds for individual stories, that are then picked up and played out according to the player's individual approach, telling a story through the assemblage of these bits and pieces. This designer's game isn't a singular work, one discrete storyline that every player will experience equally (i.e., the work of a designer as entertainer;) this is a world with any number of stories hidden below the surface, for the player to discover and unravel of his own will.

Most of these games are RPGs. I'm thinking of Fallout, and Planescape: Torment, and Oblivion, and other less-exposed RPGs that rely on the player both to instigate each individual storyline, and to dictate how it will play out. I'm thinking of games the designers of which wanted to tell a bouquet of stories through the actions and decisions of the player. What the player gets out of this sort of game is proportionate to what they put in, but they always get something, because the option to play out or not any given story branch is an equally valid decision in an open world.

Consider the recent example of Oblivion. It's a common claim for one to play dozens of hours into the game without touching the central storyline quests. It could be equally valid to claim those dozens of hours without touching any particular quest. The world is open enough, and full enough, that the choice to simply roam the countryside exploring caves and ruins, slaying beasts and collecting treasure, is as valid as undertaking any predefined story quest. But those quests are there, and they are the central draw for most players. The world of Oblivion is one with a daunting array of stories embedded in it, but none of which compel the player to any action beyond his own whim. The game designer as storyteller seeks to tell these individual stories by hooking the player and motivating them to play out each quest in their own way, but he also seeks to tell the broader story of the player's entire experience in his game, by way of the overall tapestry of smaller stories he creates through play, and the order and manner in which the player tackles them. Not only may any individual quest that a player undertakes be unique to himself as opposed to others, but the story of his complete experience with the game from start to finish is also dictated by when and how the player did or didn't decide to play out each individual thread in the world. In this way, the designer as storyteller conveys cohesive narrative through both the small, individual quests that he may dictate very specifically, and the way that he allows them to dynamically interlock throughout the world, giving the player the freedom to tell another, larger story through his actions as well.

The designer as storyteller is a direct collaborator with the player to tell the game's stories, as opposed to the designer as entertainer, whose player's main role is to hold down the gas pedal until the designer's story has been conveyed. The storyteller's is a different sort of player freedom than the designer as watchmaker, too, as in a storyteller's game, the player's main relationship is with the game's story itself, as opposed to the game's physical world and the interactive affordances within it. The gameworld in a storyteller's game can be affected by the player in fewer significant ways than that of a watchmaker, since the story branches become a sort of complex choose-your-own-adventure, but the limited outcomes can each be perhaps more dramatic, more affecting than the smaller revelations allowed by the watchmaker. The designer as storyteller must know all of the ways that the world's story can be told. It's up to the player to decide just what form that story will take.

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