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Active Storytelling in Games (07 Jul 2005)
In the early days of game development, programmers were severely restricted by the amount of information that could be crammed into a game. Consequently, the manual often told the story and introduced major characters.

When I was a kid, I'd buy these games with box art that depicted wizards and dragons and aliens and barbarian warriors with gleaming swords. Then, I'd turn on my Atari or Intellivision or whatever, and there would be a red square on the screen. I'd make the red square go over to this part of the screen and I'd push the button, and some dots would come out of the red square, and the green square would go away. And I'd say, the dragon is dead! Because the green square was gone! Then I'd watch Thundercats. You know why? Cheetara, that's why.

But look - my actions in those old games were contextualized by the fantasy world that I had bought into. I saw the box art for the game, I saw the warrior battling the evil monster and I thought, yes, that looks cool. You got into it, you saw what you were hoping to see. If you didn't get that context, the images on the screen were cool, but a little confusing.

Manuals played a similar part in the contextualization of abstract images on the screen. You'd read the manual and say, oh, okay, those circles are Martians. I'm fighting Martians. Sweet. And then you'd play the game with a new appreciation. Take that, you green bastards.

In fact, to this day, many games still feature a blurb in the manual that clumsily contextualizes the game world for the player. The question is, why? After all, the player has presumably already read the text on the box, and has no doubt played the game as well. The player already knows what world he or she is visiting. What is the purpose of this information in the manual? A large part of this is tradition. After all, we no longer require the manual to contextualize our actions for us. Games have evolved to the point where we can now create a great deal of context in-game.
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