Storytelling Through Function pt.1
Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 10:31PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Story

"Everyone has an amazing story to tell. And if it's not amazing... then they didn't tell it right." ~Me

I originally made this quote around the time of my junior year in high school. Even in my youth I had a clear idea of what stories really were and where they came from. You see, I understood that stories were bigger than the margins on a page, somewhat wider than the breadth of our peripheral vision, and more plentifully between every living and non living matter than the air that we so habitually refer to as nothing. Stories are less categorical than characters, events, and settings capped off by a resolution. They grow like weeds, are more addictive than dangerous substances, and have the highest death tole you can imagine.

My entire life is made of stories. They are a way of looking back denoting growth and learning, making poignant that semi heart breaking right of passage known as coming of age. Though we may see in colors and think in pictures, we move and are moved by stories. Each of us have collected a group of stories that make up our past. What we choose to hold on to knowingly or otherwise reflects who we are in ways that are impossible for the words in those story to describe. In this way we all keepers of our own story, our own perspective on life, that angle to we hold up against the world and measure life by. 

In understanding what stories were, I stumbled across where they came from. The heart of the matter. The source of our stories come from our personal experiences. From that bowl of cereal we eat every morning to the loves we are chosen to fall from, all experiences are important shaping our stories. Even when writing fiction, every imagined or fanciful element is like a negative image to the writer's real life. The vase may not be real, but the face unmistakably belongs to the writer. Stories are simply real people trying to communicate. 

From this revelation, I fell in love with the everyday person, the mundane life, and the banality of the overlooked. I embraced it all because relating to people is something that will never grow old for me, and something I will never tire of. So I made the quote believing in everyone, and worked on developing the skills necessary to help people tell their own amazing stories.

The problem is many of us have been swept up by the Hollywood, over epiced, commercialized style stories. Many inexperienced writers are so concerned with trying to sound like a "writer" that they're failing to communicate their individuality in their work. Such writers are failing to write their own one of a kind stories from their one of a kind lives. And the results are never very good. From high school creative writing students, to professional screen play writers, to those who write stories for video games, this problem runs the gamut of writers.

For the above reasons, I have devised a new way to tell stories born out of the technology and information age, inspired by web 2.0, and structured in the solid foundation of Classical game design. 

The established or old way of telling stories generally involves a linear narrative of some kind. Whether through text, still images, motion picture, or some combination, these stories have a beginning, an end, and travel in a fairly straight path in the meantime. I must say that there is nothing wrong with any of these methods. Each method has positive and negative ways to effectively communicate their story. The problem I have with these types is that they're too complex for the average person to use. I've found that people get caught up with the grand scale, the bigger picture, and the broad and unfortunately vague feelings they experience from these old method stories. And when they write their own stories, they work too hard at trying to recreate a feeling of someone else's story instead of drawing from their own life and their own feelings. Because I'm interested in helping everyone tell their own story, I've sought an easier yet equally effective method of storytelling.

Even many video game developers have missed the mark. Borrowing outright from the established methods of storytelling, many "story based games" are wrought with cinematic cutscenes or are oversaturated with text. The worst part about this reality is that the text and the cutscenes, even in high budget games, are generally of a very low quality. And all that effort the developers spent on trying to remind the players of that vague feeling they get from watching real movies and reading real books, could have been spent designing a way to communicate the game's story through interactivity, the heart of the video games medium. In other words, instead of reminding the player of cool movies they've seen before, why not create a new kind of cool that only a video game can pull of?

So in attempt to start thinking of storytelling in a new way, I've stripped everything away from the storytelling process leaving only the very core essence: characters (subjects), events (something happens), and the results. As long as we can get these elements from this new method, we'll succeed.


Storytelling Through Function


Think of it this way.


Sound too radical? Complicated? Futuristic? Dare I say, next-gen? It shouldn't. After all, video games have been telling stories and communicating messages through their functions since the beginning. Just look at some of these interesting examples.

Political Pokemon. This political battle of epic proportions isn't awesome because someone replaced the Pokemon characters and attacks with politically themed ones. It's awesome because of all the messages and meaning communicated from the functions we all know from the Pokemon design. For example, in the game players gather their best Pokemon and do battle as a party. In the translation the Pokemon party is equivalent to a political party. It's also a common experience with the game to have some members in your party that are much stronger than others. That character is analogous to Barack Obama. The more familiar you are with the Pokemon game, the richer the meaning comes across.

Betrayal Yoshi. In this image, we find Mario doing something that we may all be guilty of. You may have never thought of it this way, but it is cruel to send Yoshi to an early grave just to save your own skin. When playing Super Mario World or Super Mario Sunshine, you might have felt bad for dumping Yoshi if only for a split second.

The Marriage. If you haven't experienced Rod Humble's creation, you should take the time now to do so. It'll take you no more than a few minutes. The Marriage is a great example of how meaning can be extracted from function especially in an abstract environment.

Bioshock/Phantom Hourglass Essays. In many of my BioShock or Phantom Hourglass essays, I cover a wide range of meanings that are extracted from the functions through which the player interacts with the game world.


In the next part, we'll look closely at characterization through function.

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (
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