1. We consider ourselves gamers so we have considerable experience playing all types of video games, although we have never played any of these games before. Both Papers, Please and The Walking Dead give the player choices that affect how their game is played and how the story unfolds. The story that is told through the game becomes unique to the player through the choices he or she decides to make within the game. This common theme of having the player develop the story based on his or her preferences is something that is unique to video games as a story telling medium.
a. Papers, Please puts you in the shoes of a border immigration officer in an eerily similar situation to the one on the border of East and West Germany during the Cold War. The narrative initially defined your role as just an honest working man trying to earn a wage to support your family. As such, we began the game in a similar fashion. We spend a large amount of time inspecting each person’s identification and travel documents to ensure they were allowed in. We quickly realized however that the extra time spent, the less money we earned for our family because the earnings were based on how many people we let into the country. As the requirements for entry became increasingly more difficult and time consuming, we began to question how meticulous we should be with each person and whether we should begin to take shortcuts in order to get more money for our family. Additionally, the game began to make us question our own bias as a terrorist organization was discovered in one of the regions. As people from that region requested entrance, we felt an obligation to check them more thoroughly to ensure no more terrorists were allowed in the country. This game makes you question each choice you make and consider its broader implications for the country as a whole. Additionally, it makes you consider your own morality since many of the choices make the player pick what is best for the country or best for the family.
b. In The Walking Dead, the central theme of survival changes because what survival means becomes less obvious as the player is faced with more choices. The player is forced to pick dialogue options which shape how the story unfolds. Survival becomes more complicated as more people are involved and the player has to choose who to trust and who to betray in order to survive. These choices become more real as the gameplay determines who dies based off of the players decisions. The game also makes the player question how they balance morality when trying to survive. Saving a child over an adult might be the better choice from a morality standpoint but saving the adult might make more sense given a survival standpoint.
2. The two games we played, The Walking Dead and Papers, Please each had variable narrative structures depending on in-game choices made by the player. For example, In The Walking Dead, the player is given certain options at points in the game. The game explicitly tells you that it has recorded your choice writing, for instance, “She will definitely remember this.” In the case of Papers, the impact of the player’s choice is much more subtle. The player must take time to ensure that he or she is very careful to follow that rules and not let any potentially troublesome individuals into the country. However, the player is reminded of the financial burden they are under because they are paid basically according to how many people are processed. Thus, gameplay is a careful balance between letting the maximum amount of people through and taking care to do the job properly. In many ways, the structure of this narrative is an adult version of a “choose the ending” children’s book. The narrative of the game is largely dependent upon the player’s choice and two different players could have vastly different dialogues. My favorite example of a game of this type is Bioshock in which the player is forced to question whether or not they actually are making the decisions for themselves.
3. The greatest inherent value in playing a narrative game, in my opinion, is that the developers can customize the storyline depending on the player’s choices throughout the game. This is completely impossible in other mediums for an adult audience. We discussed this element in question two so I’ll focus on the second greatest value: that the player is given more of a stake in the outcome. The best example of this for me is horror games. Take the horrifyingly scary series Dead Space for instance in which the player is isolated on a spaceship/spacestation floating in a far-away star system surrounded by alien creatures. In a film setting, the audience can be frightened for the character. In a video game, the player is frightened for themselves. There is a more visceral response to seeing the character that you embody be torn apart and you have actually agency in preventing these horrible outcomes. This concept can be toned down to less terrifying games but the main idea still stands: the player has a more direct connection with the character they embody.
The repeated harvest/rescue choice in Bioshock has strong implications for the plot of the game.