The Story as a Journey

If your game involves an avatar on a journey, that is, a game in which much of the activity involves moving the avatar from place to place in the game world, you may choose to have the avatar's movements trigger the storytelling engine to advance the plot. Games that use this approach almost always set up obstacles to travel so the avatar cannot move through the game world freely but must overcome the obstacles to reach new areas. In effect, then, the story as a journey consists of a series of challenges and sometimes choices—as we've discussed—but adds a travel element: The avatar's arrival in an area can trigger a plot advancement all by itself, without any challenge or choice being involved.

Presenting a story as a journey offers the following benefits:

■ It automatically provides novelty. Because the player continually sees new things as he moves through the world, the experience remains fresh and interest­ing. The game gets the novelty that it needs to keep the player's interest from the visual appearance of the world, so you don't have to write as much novel dramatic material.

■ It allows the player to control the pace. Most games allow the player freedom to decide when to move and when to stand still. Unless the gameplay imposes a time limit, the player remains free to control the pace of the story—to stop and think about the characters and the game world and to explore without time pres­sure. The story progresses only when the player triggers that progress by moving.

Many games use not merely a journey but specifically the Hero's Journey story structure identified by folklorist Joseph Campbell. Some designers find the Hero's Journey's mix of challenges and travel particularly well suited to single-player, ava­tar-based game designs. For more information on the Hero's Journey, read Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Campbell, 1972) and Christopher Vogler's discussion specifically for writers, The Writer's Journey (Vogler, 1998).

If you treat the story as a journey and you make it a linear story, although the player might be able to move her avatar backward through the game world, no more dramatic events can occur in areas she's already visited. For this reason, many
adventure games periodically require the player to pass through one-way doors— travel mechanisms that cannot be reversed, though they may take the form of something other than actual doors. In The Secret of Monkey Island, the hero gets off a ship and onto an island by shooting himself out of a cannon. Once off the ship, there is no way back. The mechanism guarantees that the plot moves forward, along with the avatar.

Computer role-playing games routinely treat stories as journeys but use highly non­linear stories. The party can explore a large area, generally choosing any direction at will (though the game includes mechanisms for keeping the party out of regions that it isn't yet strong enough to tackle).

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