Game Development Reference
A game story pursues the same goal. But like the unfortunate play-
wright, it must also handle the fact that players can make choices. And
whether they do it out of ignorance or malice, players can easily contradict
or miss pieces of a story, toppling the author's house of cards.
These agency problems fall into a few categories. Let's look at them one
PlayeR-CHaRaCteR motivation alignment
Many agency problems appear because the player's motivations are differ-
ent from those of the character he controls.
The character wants to save the princess, make money, or survive
a zombie outbreak. His motivations are inside the fiction of fantastical
castles, criminal business dealings, or undead invasions. The player wants
to entertain himself, see all the game content, and upgrade his abilities.
His motivations are in the real world of social status, entertainment dol-
lars, and game mechanics. When these two motivations point in different
directions, the player will take actions that break the narrative. I call this
desk jumping .
DESK JUMPING is when the player takes an action that the player
character would never take because their motivations are different.
The name comes from a situation I found in the spy thriller RPG
Deus Ex . In Deus Ex , the player is a super-spy working for a secret inter-
governmental organization. He can explore his agency's secret office, get
missions, talk with coworkers…and jump on their desks. Imagine James
Bond dancing back and forth on his boss's desk while they discuss a risky
mission. It's stupid and nonsensical. But the player will do it because it is
funny. The character's motivation is to get his mission, but the player's
motivation is to create humor. The motivations don't align, so the player
jumps on the boss's desk, and the fiction falls apart.
Players desk-jump for many reasons. They want to explore the limits
of the simulation, consume content, acquire stuff, achieve difficult goals,
impress friends, and see pyrotechnics. I've seen players attack allies, sys-
tematically rob innocents (while playing as a good character), attempt to
kill every single guard in the palace just to see if they can, or pile up oil
barrels in the town square and light them off to try to get a big bang.
Consider the player's motivation to explore game systems. The super-
natural crime shooter The Darkness starts the player in front of a wounded
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