I am focusing on narrative-heavy games in this post.
I think I've gotten used to the idea that the overall story in a game is delivered through two dimensions that usually work closely together – (1) through cutscenes and in-game character interactions, and (2) through gameplay.
For example in The Witcher 3, a lot of the story is narrated through cutscenes and in-game character interactions. The gameplay also tells you a part of the story, in a different way, while you travel from point A to B, fighting enemies and looting dead bodies. So while the cutscenes and the gameplay both contribute to the story, the nature of their contributions often feel different to me (i.e., how they are contributing to the story), but they both definitely contribute to the story experience.
This is where Florence did something different. In a way I still can't get out of my head.
In Florence, the gameplay is used to directly enhance the emotional content of a scene.
How does it do that? Well first I need to recognize that Florence's gameplay rules are extremely relaxed compared to conventional titles. In most scenes, there are some very recognizable visual elements that the game make you learn to 'recognize' a scene, and thereafter predict what action to take, which is mostly based on clicking or dragging your mouse.
So your character is on a date, and is anxious about what to say? You have to literally solve a jigsaw puzzle to fill in a conversation bubble, while having your date's large completed word bubble stare at you.
As the date keeps getting better, the jigsaw puzzles to continue the conversation keep getting simpler and easier, to a point where it's literally a single completed piece you have to just drag into the right place. So while the narrative, through the visual drawings and animations is telling you that the date is going really well, you get to experience that directly through the gameplay as well.
One area of the game really affected me emotionally. The game teaches you that when a giant 'vision' block appears over a character's head, you can drag the mouse over it to 'wipe in' the vision the character is currently having. Later on, there's a scene where the character is simply standing in front of a mirror. The game tells you nothing. But at that moment, I knew that if I dragged the mouse over the mirror, I would not see the character's reflection, but a vision of who the character dreams of seeing herself as. I knew that, as I paused, mouse in hand. And I did it, and I got to see the character's vision of herself. The gameplay directly allowed me to experience the emotions of a character looking into a mirror and seeing a vision of herself that inspires her.
I doubt a similar emotional experience could possibly be achieved by a cutscene alone. Because what was key here, was how important the gameplay was to deliver the emotional content of that scene. As I'm dragging the mouse over the mirror, I can see bits and pieces of the vision coming in. And I'm still overwhelmed by the experience.
I was thinking about what other games had gameplay that directly contributed to an emotional experience.
The first game that came to mind was Spec Ops the Line, although it's nature of contribution is very different. Your gameplay actions contribute to the emotional content of the story that is told through cutscenes at the end of the game.
The second game that I thought of, was the games from the No One Lives Forever series. In most games I might be slashing or gunning through hoards of enemies with not a lot of thought towards whether this is making me feel anything different. But the NOLF games have their occasional
moments, where I get to listen in on what two enemies are talking about, which could range from their current plans, to abstract philosophy. While this happens occasionally, and is mostly played for laughs, it still adds to the emotional content of the moment, which in this case is the humour of the scene.
What do you guys think about how gameplay directly contributes to the emotional content of the narrative?
Would love to hear other examples that may come to your mind.
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