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Dramatic Novelty in Games and Stories (15 Nov 2004)
If we, as game designers, think of ourselves as creating interactive narratives (and many of us do not, of course), then we are either explicitly or implicitly buying into this analogy: the notion that gameplay tension is like dramatic tension and perhaps interchangeable with it. However, as Rimmer's Risk story illustrates, this doesn't always work. Risk is a terrible basis for a story. For one thing, it has no characters apart from the players themselves, and the players' personal qualities as human beings have almost nothing to do with the course of events in the game. Worse, however, is the fact that those events are all alike. Conquering one country in Risk is just like conquering any other country. Because it's a board game for the general public (as opposed to hardcore board gamers), it has simple, easy-to-learn rules, and that makes it repetitious. This repetition is bearable - even exciting - to the players of the game because they are personally involved and every move affects their progress towards victory or defeat.

The reader of a story, on the other hand, is entertained by ongoing novelty. A story should never contain two identical events. Rather, things should happen that the reader didn't anticipate. Characters should express their personalities through their words and actions. This can happen in a big way (melodrama) or in a subtle way (drama). Even if a story takes place between only two characters in one room, it can still contain novelty, as the characters converse and reveal things about themselves, their pasts, and their relationships with each other and third parties. (See the J.D. Salinger short story, "Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut," for a classic example.) Many stage plays, especially modern ones in which there is little change of scenery, work on exactly this principle.
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