Chapter 2.24. Emotioneering Techniques Category #24: Self-Created Story Techniques (a.k.a. Agency Techniques)
Who's in charge the game designer or the gamer?
Making the player feel
like he or she is impacting, or even (ideally) shaping the story is sometimes called "giving the player a sense of agency," or simply "giving the player agency." This chapter focuses on ways to accomplish this ways to help the player feel that he or she is playing the game, rather than simply being taken along on a ride.
A game, to a greater or lesser degree, helps guide the player's choices and determines the possible consequences of his or her actions. However, it's important to make the player feel like he or she isn't just a pawn in the story.
In Chapter 2.21, "First-Person Deepening Techniques," we looked at ways a player could feel like he or she is impacting a game by creating (at least the feeling of) emotionally complex consequences to the actions the player takes in a game.
By feeling your actions have consequences, you feel you have an impact on the game. To the degree that impact is either real or feels real, it creates the sense that you're playing, to some degree, a self-created story.
However, there are many other ways of creating this feeling in a game.
At first it seems obvious that the player should be in charge of what occurs in a game, or at least the agent of much of what takes place. But in games that involve stories, or sequential missions, creating the feeling that the player is in change can become a challenge. For isn't the player following a path laid down by the game designers?
How much does the story happen to the player, and how much does the player create the story? Different games handle this question quite differently.
Every game, to some extent, is a self-created story. Even a game of chess is like a story with a beginning, middle, and end. And very, very rarely are two chess games identical.
When, in a game, you choose your weapons or your armor, you're playing the game differently than anyone else so it's a self-created story.
There are some games, such as The Sims, where your impact on the game is extreme.
On the other end of the spectrum might be Final Fantasy X. Many players were enthralled by both the rich fantasy story and the stunning visuals, but couldn't shake the feeling that they were simply being swept along by the narrative rather than really impacting the game. Sometimes it felt as if the gameplay's main function was to move you from one cinematic to another.