Youssef_CS377G Final Reflection

Integrating Narrative Essentials: A Journey Through Game-Based Interactive Storytelling 


Before enrolling in this course, I approached game design with a utilitarian mindset, prioritizing mechanics over story. My experience was mainly based on the clinical uses of games. I prioritized a game’s therapeutic mechanism of action or a game’s outcomes. I viewed storytelling in games as a supplementary layer rather than the core of engaging gameplay. The class’s emphasis on narrative structures and character development illuminated the essence of storytelling in games. The Interactive Fiction projects I engaged in, particularly in my project ‘Cognitive Voyage’, as well as my experiences with other IFs and the game “What Remains of Edith Finch”, served as practical platforms for applying and understanding these concepts.


Mastering the 20 Master Plots

The exploration of “20 master plots” was akin to discovering a treasure trove of storytelling gems. It changed how I look at narrative development because I was able to build the mental frameworks and archetypes that allow me to interpret and develop narrative and characters. When I read the book on 20 master plots, each plot type offered a unique lens through which a narrative could be viewed and structured. These plots provided foundational blueprints that guided the creation of compelling and varied narratives, significantly enriching my understanding of how stories ebb and flow.


Among the plethora of plot types, a few stood out as my favorites. The first is The Quest. The Quest plot was particularly intriguing, as it embodies a journey towards a significant goal. In ‘Cognitive Voyage’, I employed this plot to drive the narrative forward, creating a sense of purpose and direction. The quest plot not only structured the protagonist’s journey to save humanity but also allowed players to feel a part of something larger than themselves, fostering engagement through a shared sense of adventure and discovery. Other plots that I found compelling include The Transformation. This plot resonated with me for its focus on change and evolution. This plot type was instrumental in depicting the growth and development of the game’s characters, particularly the protagonist. Another plot I like is The Rivalry plot, with its emphasis on competition and conflict. 


I reflected that I personally associate with the Underdog or the Ascension plots due to my personal background. This further emphasizes that we use the plot as a reflection of our own beliefs and biases.


Character Development with the 45 Master Characters

I also delved into the “45 master characters”. It was a rich exploration journey across the landscape of human emotions and motivations. These archetypes served as invaluable resources in crafting the diverse cast of ‘Cognitive Voyage’. My experience with “What Remains of Edith Finch” further reinforced the importance of such intricate character development, where every character’s story contributed a vital piece to the overarching narrative puzzle. What’s really powerful about archetypes is that people (audience) subconsciously understand and know those archetypes; when those characters are integrated into a narrative, it taps the audience’s unconscious and implicit knowledge and familiarity with those archetypes. 


Among these archetypes, a few resonated deeply with me, significantly influencing my approach to character development in ‘Cognitive Voyage’. 

  • The Hero: The Hero archetype, often at the center of the narrative, was a favorite for its versatility and relatability. In ‘Cognitive Voyage’, I used the Hero not just as a protagonist but as a mirror for the player’s journey, embodying their struggles, triumphs, and growth. This archetype’s journey from the ordinary world to a sphere of extraordinary experiences provided a scaffold for the game’s storyline.
  • The Sage: The Sage, with their wisdom and guidance, was instrumental in adding depth to the narrative. This character offered insights and advice to the Hero, often serving as a catalyst for pivotal decisions. In ‘Cognitive Voyage’, the Sage’s role was embodied in the AI co-pilot Luc. 
  • The Guardian: The Guardian archetype became a cornerstone in building the narrative’s moral and ethical framework. In ‘Cognitive Voyage’, the Guardian’s role was to protect and uphold certain values within the game’s world, often posing moral dilemmas to the Hero and, by extension, to the player. While very shallow and brief, the Aliens represented The Guardian character towards the end of ‘Cognitive Voyage’. 


Integrating these favorite characters into ‘Cognitive Voyage’ was a journey in itself – one that taught me the power of diverse and multi-layered character development. These archetypes were not just characters in a story; they were embodiments of human traits and emotions, each adding a unique hue to the narrative’s canvas. As I forge ahead in my career, these characters will remain integral to my storytelling arsenal, enabling me to create narratives that are not only engaging and entertaining but also reflective of the vast spectrum of human experiences.


Narrative Arc

Christina’s insights into the diversity of narrative arcs across cultures were another highlight of the class. Her presentation, supplemented by a blog post, provided a rich exploration of how different cultures interpret the fundamental aspects of storytelling. These teachings encouraged the incorporation of cultural nuances into ‘Cognitive Voyage’, enriching the game’s narrative depth and offering players a more immersive and culturally aware experience. My current working summary of narrative arcs is:

  1. Introduction: This initial phase sets the stage, introducing the setting, characters, and the primary conflict or premise. In ‘Cognitive Voyage’, this involved establishing the game world and introducing the central narrative question or challenge faced by the characters.
  2. Rising Action: This arc segment builds upon the initial setup, intensifying the conflict and complications. It’s where characters are developed, and their motivations and challenges are explored. 
  3. Crisis & Climax: The climax is the turning point of the story, often characterized by a significant confrontation or peak in the narrative’s tension. 
  4. Falling Action: This phase follows the climax, where the consequences of the climax unfold, and the narrative begins to move toward resolution. In ‘Cognitive Voyage’, this involved addressing the aftermath of the second interaction with the Alien species.
  5. Resolution: The resolution, or denouement, ties up loose ends and concludes the story. It’s where the narrative’s conflicts are resolved, either through a return to normalcy or a transformation into a new state. In ‘Cognitive Voyage’, the resolution provided closure to the story and characters. It is represented by successfully making contact with the Alien species and arranging the arrival of humans to the new planet. 

Forward-looking statement

The most valuable lesson was understanding the interplay between narrative elements and game mechanics. I learned that a game’s narrative is not just its storyline but includes character development, world-building, and the emotional journey that players experience. This holistic approach to storytelling in games has profoundly shifted my perspective on game design.

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