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Death of the Author

30/10/2009 Family Family Gamer Article
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Death of the Author Article

Death of the Author

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An interesting article in the October issue if Edge talked about the death of the author. As videogames offer ever more open experiences the role of the author to direct and pre-determine the narrative deminishes. It becomes a collaboration betweeen the desires of the writer and that of the player.

For the foreseeable future though, it is the writer who still holds sway and is able to limit choice and dictate consequence. Mass Effect 2 is an interesting case in point here. They revealed (game spoiler coming) that your character who you have lived with for some 60 hours could die at the end of the game. This leaves hte player to head into the third and final episode of Mass Effect without Sheppard and a significant chunk of the plot.

The author's choice here was to allow the player to, in some ways, break the plot by their actions.

The author's choice here was to allow the player to, in some ways, break the plot by their actions. By doing this though, the writing team had more (rather than less) work to do. How do they create a meaningful ongoing experience for the player. They suddenly had a whole lot of writing required to make sense of the mess and fragmentation of a death of a main character.

How they handle this may well be the most exhillerating and exciting aspects of Mass Effect 3. This is something they seem to be aware of. Their decicion to leak the possible end of Mass Effect 2 in this repsect is testament to the confidence in the epxerience their writers have created. And also, this adds a whole lot of weight and poiniencey to Mass Effect 2 - being aware you may actually die in the old fashioned videogame can't-recover-a-savepoint sense of the word.

Games that offer a space in which the player can create their own narrative.

But more interesting than this in terms of the loss of authorial power are games that offer a space in which the player can create their own narrative. No, not the campaign restart-point driven GTA's and Shadow of the Collosus games of this world. These are games that don't try and recreate real life. Instead they offer a canvas in which players can make their own way.

Flower is a great example of a game space in which the player can imagine their own narrative. The writing here, at first, seems almost non-existant. The player can decide for themselves who the hero and villain are, what's wrong with the world and how they need to fix it - the classic world forming questions of old.

The player brings their previous history and personality to the game, and this has as much effect on how they experience it, as the intent of the original writer. It becomes more like engaging with a poem than with a novel or play. And because of this players become engrossed in the action - after all it has become their story.

Wwhen you see it work in practice... the whole thing can really sing.

It's interesting though, that even games like Flower give way to a directed story eventualy. As the game develops, themes emerge of the loss of beauty and its recovery. Levels, stages, hidden secrets and even end level bosses become apparent. But although the game attends to these very video-gamey concerns the writing remains poetic and loose - and basically requiring the player to complete it, not just the game itself.

This sort of literary theory can sound a little high faluting. But this is also a lot of fun. And when you see it work in practice, when a game really is more like a piece of poetry than a directed story, the whole thing can really sing. Now that's true grown-up gaming.

Written by Andy Robertson

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Andy Robertson writes the Family Gamer column.

"Videogame reviews for the whole family, not just the kids. I dig out videogame experiences to intrigue and interest grownups and children. This is post-hardcore gaming where accessibility, emotion and storytelling are as important as realism, explosions and bravado."

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