Game Development Reference
I was once badly jetlagged in London. Wandering around South Kensington
at 5:00 in the morning, I found the city telling me stories. Its narrow,
winding streets recounted its long history before the age of urban plan-
ning. Shops, churches, and apartments told me how the various classes
of society lived, how wealthy they were, what they believed, both in the
past and in the present. The great museums and monuments expressed
British history and cultural values. They spoke through their grandeur,
their architecture, their materials, even their names: a museum called the
Victoria and Albert tells of a history of prideful monarchic rule. The city
even told me of the party the night before—a puddle of vomit lay next to a
pair of torn pantyhose and a shattered beer glass.
All places tell stories. We can explore any space and discover its people
and its history. Game designers can use this to tell a story by embedding it
in a space. I call this world narrative .
WORLD NARRATIVE is the story of a place, its past, and its people. It is told
through the construction of a place and the objects within it.
Imagine walking through a castle built by a king obsessed with war,
the home of a closeted-gay drug dealer in the ghetto, or the home of a
couple married for 50 years. You might investigate the space like a de-
tective, inspecting its construction and the placement of objects, digging
through drawers to find photographs, documents, and audio recordings.
Look closely enough and you might be able to piece together a history,
event by event, leading right up to the present. You've learned about a set-
ting, a cast of characters, and a plot, without reading a word of narration or
seeing any of the characters.
World narrative is not limited to cold historical data. Like any other
narrative tools, it can convey both information and feeling. Prisons, palac-
es, family homes, rolling countryside—all of these places carry both emo-
tional and informational charges. They work through empathy— What
was it like to live here? —and raw environmental emotion— lonely, desolate
woRlD naRRative metHoDs
At the most basic level, world narrative works through the presence or
absence of features in the environment which imply some situation or
history. A town wall means the town was threatened militarily in the era
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