A version of this article appeared in the April 2011 issue of Game Developer magazine.

In my previous two columns, I discussed how designers can craft and integrate stories into their game.  Narrative can take many forms in games, ranging in practice from the backstory paragraph that serves as context for many games, to the branching, integrated stories found in story-based games like Dragon Age.  There is one additional kind of storytelling to be found in and around games: the stories the players themselves choose to tell.

Much like developer-created narratives, the player’s stories can take a dizzying number of forms.  They might be designed to borrow, mesh and interweave with the game’s narrative – or they may choose to ignore it in favor of the player’s own narrative.  Further, the stories could be entirely mechanical – about game rules rather than game fiction – or even purely social, in the case of multiplayer gaming.

While these stories vary in many respects, they all have one thing in common – they are the player’s own.  They star the imagination and events of himself and his friends.  When the designer’s narratives have to compete with these stories for attention and brainspace, he faces an uphill battle.  Rather than fear or fight these narratives, the designer should look for how to integrate and leverage them. Continue reading