Game Development Reference
In a game like Half-Life 2 , seeing the world subject to a fascist alien regime is
motivation enough to want to fight them. It's empathic narrative because it
inspires the player to feel connected to the character, to the world, and to its
Supporting narrative. These types of narratives are often side stories and
mini-arcs associated with the main storyline. They may help flesh out the
world, enhance the mythology, or even provide story elements that can't be
casually dropped into the main arc. Here, characters might exist for the sole
purpose of imparting information through exposition, providing humor, or
enlivening the world.
Another technique that uses supporting narrative is one where the story's
themes, motifs, and moods are played out through secondary arcs. These
support the central elements of the story, whether it's to show the effects of
current events as played out during the game, or the dangers of allowing mat-
ters to continue unimpeded. Regardless, supporting narratives should always
tie back into, and support, the main storyline whether as mirror, as warning,
or as beacon.
Independent narrative. Independent narratives add flavor or additional con-
tent to the world, and nothing more. Certain elements may contribute to the
main storyline, but frankly, the game won't live or die on the strengths or
weaknesses of these stories.
6.9 Linear versus Modular Storytelling
At its most basic, FPS story falls into two main categories, linear and modular sto-
rytelling. Linear storytelling is closest to the narrative experience found in books,
television, and movies, where the story progresses along a set track and deviating
from those rails is rarely possible. Modular storytelling, on the other hand, is a “new”
storytelling technique unique to video games. The player can explore the world more
freely and follow the storyline at his own pace.
Linear narrative is any storytelling technique that forces the player to follow the
storyline. The story could be set along one set of rails where the character must either
succeed or fail (thus ending the game), or it may incorporate failure conditions where
the narrative branches off to another set of conditions.
Regardless, the advantage of linear storytelling, although eschewed by purists as
a cinematic convention and not a video game one, is that the writer can create a
more focused storyline. Stories of this nature usually use the gameplay narrative and
sometimes the empathic narrative to formulate their plot, but rarely the supporting
or independent narratives.