I met with a friend who doesn’t play a lot of games the other day and ended up regaling him with a tale of something that happened to me in  Oblivion earlier that day, where I went to rob a ship while it’s crew was out and it was filled with ghosts who killed me. It’s a funny anecdote to be sure, however in the form I transcribed it above it’s not only dull but soulless. Yet  that is exactly the series of events which I retold, with just a little embellishment to our mutual amusement.

I mention this because I’ve discovered that I enjoy games more when I apply the same principles to my own understanding of what’s happening in the game world. The Sins of a Solar Empire story I wrote up for myself was born out of simple and uninteresting elements, such as my race being called the TEC (which I extrapolated to mean Terran Economic Confederation) and a ship that was built to colonise some pacified planets  which took ages to die after I was betrayed.  From this I spun a narrative to myself about a government formed by mega-corporations, Avatar-esque exploitation of planets and colonial subjugation and ultimately redemption and honour.

In Oblivion enemies frequently find themselves stuck behind a table or rock feebly swing their swords at me from meters away while the AI attempts to correct it’s pathing issue. Other times I find myself running backwards peppering a pursuer  with arrows for kilometers, or having him or her chase me around a table in a small bar for upwards of five minutes while I wait for my magic to recharge. Each of these is pretty immersion shattering and naturally leads me to start thinking about how broken the game is in many ways. However by forcing myself to visualise each of the events as something which makes sense, like an enemy tripping over himself trying to get around the table or my character tripping and stumbling as she desperately tries to get a shot off at her attacker while sprinting away.  Although having to forcibly visualise something different to what’s occurring on screen is immersion breaking in itself, I find that once I begin to do this that I firstly drop back into immersion more quickly than when I find myself thinking about reasons why the AI might act in the way it does and secondarily I associate that particular AI malfunction with my real world justification and stop noticing it as much when it crops up later.

I wonder if there isn’t a way to encourage this sort of interactivity in games, to properly facilitate players sealing their own fantasy on a more conscious level or to craft their own narratives which are separate from the game mechanics which inspired them. To bring this article full circle, we’ve all told stories about the crazy things that happened to us in games, however the ones which stick with us are those that are not a direct telling of what happened but rather stories which were inspired by the events in the game. More Alice and Kev than the STALKER anecdotes we’ve become inundated with, as entertaining as they are.It seems that games which encourage a player investment, from the simple act of naming ships and planets in Sins to nurturing characters in X-COM or Oblivion alongside complex systems governing the game result in most of these stories although I whether there aren’t other elements which would bring this out.