Game Development Reference
6.2 A Primer on First-Person Narrative
Drop the “shooter” in FPS, and video games are hardly the first medium to use
the first-person perspective. It is, however, the only medium that has done it so
spectacularly or made the experience so interactive.
First Person in Literature
From a literary standpoint, first person is a technique whereby the story is told in the
voice of the main character. He relates his experiences and describes the events that
unfold directly for you. There is rarely any duplicity in first-person narrative, though
there is that edge of personal interpretation skewing perception. Take Chuck Palah-
niuk's brilliantly written Fight Club to understand not only first-person literature but
how the protagonist's perceptions are limited. The advantage of this narrative style
is that it opens the character's mind to the reader. You can grasp the protagonist's
motivations and fears in his own words. You become invested in his plight. You are
also limited by the breadth of his perceptions, never seeing beyond his five senses,
discovering the same mysteries at exactly the same time he does.
First Person in Movies
You're probably wondering when, if ever, you've seen first person used in films. Ac-
tually, that's because there are two ways of going about it. The first is the physical
first-person shift where the audience sees through the character's eyes. Snippets of
this style exist in the opening combat of Saving Private Ryan and in horror movies
when the camera briefly shows a quick sequence through the character's or monster's
eyes. Of course, there's the first-person sequence in the movie Doom , but that's more
an homage to the game than anything else.
Then there's the other use of first person, where the camera remains distinctly
third-person but the film is narrated or explored through the main character. Take
Memento , where the movie focuses on the trials of Leonard Shelby and his inability
to remember anything past a few minutes. Few movies ever plant you that deeply
into someone's perceptions without diving in behind their eyes.
Movies like Cloverfield , however, offer a cheat by using the documentary style of
cinema verite or “cinema of truth.” The camera itself is both witness and proxy for
the first-person perspective of the main characters.
6.3 The Caveats
These are some of the hurdles facing writers for this genre.
1001 terrorists. Gameplay relies on a high action quotient (this is the shooter
chapter, after all), and that often means populating the story with a reason
why there are dozens, if not hundreds, of enemies populating any given map.
That means, more than most genres, enemy motivation throughout the game