After a player gets through button smashing their way through the start screen and intro video of the game, the last thing the player wants is to be bossed around by NPC’s. Nothing is more boring than feeling lack of control, especially when playing a video game. There is a difference between writing a book and writing a video game. Game writers face the chore of having to provide clever ways of pushing heroes through the storyline without nagging the player at every turn.
Forcing your hero to follow orders is one of the easiest ways of diminishing your hero, making them seem weaker than they actually are -look at any Grand Theft Auto protagonist and you can see what I mean. Players want to feel completely emerged in the gameplay, believing they are making the decisions themselves. When you have almost every NPC subscribing to the slogan “go there… do that… go here… find this,” the player then feels like an errand boy rather than a hero. Game developers know that the players aren’t actually making the decisions, but should find solace in the fact that players feel like they are. After all, players do come first.
Proactive NOT Reactive
The easiest way to keep your hero and player in control is by keeping your player proactive rather than reactive. If a player is simply following orders, satisfaction will drop quite rapidly. If your hero is a renegade detective being told what to do by a store clerk or gangster, it won’t make a lot of sense. If the hero is more proactive, they might demand answers from NPC’s rather than asking for them. If your detective hero is dirtier than most, he/she might beat the answers out of his victims. Regardless of how your hero approaches the subject, it’s important to remember that simple changes in how the hero acts can keep your hero in front, making players feel more in control without actually giving them control.
Other ways to avoid nagging your hero and increasing the diversity of your gameplay is through the use of clever tactics such as eavesdropping, rifling through paperwork, and even hacking computer systems. Frankly, any methods you can utilize to get information to the player while empowering them is the right move. Remember, the main focus is to keep your player feeling in control, regardless if they are actually in control at all.
Nagging & Mission Gameplay
I suppose we shouldn’t write off nagging in all situations. I’m sure there’s a lot of you reading this wondering how I feel about military simulation games such as Call of Duty, Battlefield or even Halo. The main focus of these games is completing mission after mission leaving the player feeling accomplished but not necessarily in control. Giving the player a choice of tactic or even direction in military simulation games is extremely rare. This is why most players feel like just another soldier on the battlefield, leaving them to play countless hours in competitive online gameplay. Here, online, is where they can actually feel like they have control of their headshots and killing sprees.
“Where am I?” “What happened?” “Who am I?” Amnesia is a common story trope used by game creators which allows for all the nagging in the world to occur. If your character doesn’t know who or where he is, he has no choice but to follow orders from the people around him. “Would you kindly agree?” you might remember Bioshock. This is a perfect example of how you can portray nagging into extremely clever gameplay.
As far as videogame development goes, nagging isn’t the most talked about aspect involved in story and gameplay design. However, new game writers may find nagging within their newly developed game without realizing it and wonder how to avoid the subject when combining gameplay and storyline. It’s important to keep track of how many times your hero is being told what to do. If your dialogue looks demanding to the hero, then change it up a bit and design new methods of pushing your hero through plot points. Just remember, people playing videogames are looking for control over the situations around them and it’s your job as a writer to entice them and give them that control (or at least make them feel like they do).
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