James Wallis levels with you

Second Life for Second Person

A couple of years back I wrote an essay on games that create a story as part of the gameplay, which was published as part of the excellent collection Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media (ed. Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin, MIT Press, 2007) which I have huckstered here before. The contents of the book are slowly migrating online (didn’t like the weather in the real world is my guess) and my piece has just gone live. You can read it here.

I’ll warn you now that much of it was written in a small hotel on Skye that turned out to be run by a man who had taught me history some twenty years earlier, sitting in the lounge after a tour of the Tallisker whisky distillery earlier in the day, in a tearing hurry to (a) meet the deadline and (b) to find somewhere with internet access that would let me plug a USB stick into their machine. It turns out the Scots aren’t big on giving foreigners access to their ports, not since they learned their lesson in 1072.

Nevertheless I think the piece holds up, and raises some interesting points about a neglected area of game design. I believe there’s a way to make comments on the MIT site though I couldn’t find it; have a poke around and if you can’t locate it then do come back here and we’ll chat in the comments.

Categorised as: game design | narrative


  1. […] “Making Games That Make Stories” by James Wallis. He points out that, in “the ongoing debates about storytelling and narrative in [computer] games, the various commentators often overlook a key point: even in the most cutting-edge examples of the state of the art, it is not the players who tell the story, it is the game.” He then describes and analyzes a number of games that use the creation and telling of stories, by the players, as an integral part of play — including Dark Cults, Tales of the Arabian Nights, Once Upon a Time, The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and Pantheon. See also Wallis’s note on COPE. […]

  2. Dominic says:

    I started reading your piece, but I just can’t get over the first paragraph or so. How does a face-to-face role-playing game structures and predetermines the narrative and the plot before the game? I agree with pretty much every other example you cite, but not tabletop role-playing games. The players have a clear influence on the unfolding of the story, and the DM usually makes up the story along the way. So why lump them together with CRPGs, in which everything has been programmed in advance? Aren’t these two very different kinds of beasts?

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