You never know how the parts of your life are going to fit together. For example:
In college, my boyfriend and I took off on a backpacking trip through Europe. Here I am, out in the wild, wearing the largest backpack known to man:
We had a train pass for continental Europe, which was awesome. But Susan Mary O'Connor here had to see Ireland. The problem was, our train pass didn't include Irish trains, and we were college students who couldn't afford the price of extra tickets.
So we hitchhiked instead.
We spent nights camped out in fields like this one:
And we spent our days by the side of the road, thumbs up, hoping that someone would pick us up and take us a little further down the road.
Here's something I learned: in rural Ireland, like every other rural place, everybody knows each other's business. They have heard each other's stories a million times. It's like watching the same television show over and over: sometimes you just want to change the channel and hear something new.
Tourists may be annoying, but at least they've got fresh stories to tell.
So whenever a driver made room for us (and our backpacks) in their car, we figured they were doing it for the craic more than anything. So we told stories about our trip and cracked jokes and did our best to make the drive a bit more of a laugh.
That experience shaped the way I think about storytelling in games.
In a video game, the player drives the action. They decide where to go and what to do. The avatar is there, too, but that's not the person making the decisions. The player is the driver, and the avatar is in the passenger seat.
So when an avatar in a game really WANTS SOMETHING, it's as if the passenger has suddenly decided to grab the steering wheel.
This is a great way to crash a car - or ruin a player's experience. What players want is agency and freedom - they like having their own hands on the wheel. Everything, at the end of the day, really has to be the player's idea.
The avatar may, in fact, very much want to save his beloved princess -- but it's not really up to him. He's got to convince the driver/player that Yes, saving Princess Buttercup is in fact a brilliant idea.
The driver/player has got a mind of his own. As game writers, we can't fight this fact, just have to work with it.
The goal is to keep the player and the avatar together, headed in the same direction.
Today's blog title is an Irish saying. It's another way of saying "Company makes the journey fly."
In an old story, a father asks his son to "shorten their journey" to see the king, and refuses to continue on foot when the son doesn't know how. Frustrated, the son asks his wife what to do. "Everyone knows that storytelling is the way to shorten a road," she says. They set out the next morning, and the son weaves a tale the whole way to White Strand.
Speaking of stories, did you hear the one about the Irish announcer?
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Susan’s first job as a game writer was for “a slumber party game - for girls!” She’s gone on to work on over 25 projects, including award-winning titles in the BioShock, Far Cry and Tomb Raider franchises. Titles in her portfolio have sold over 30 million copies and generated over $500 million in sales. She is an adjunct professor at UT Austin, where she teaches a course on writing for games. A long time ago, she founded the Game Narrative Summit at GDC. Now, she partners with studios, publishers, and writers to help teams ship great games with great stories. She is dedicated to supporting creatives in the games industry so that they can do their best work.