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Showing posts with the label Storytelling

Fun With Murder: The Narrative Ethics of Assassination Games

It's funny. As someone who views "detective" as an integral part of their personality , I sure have a lot of crime games. Well, crime media in general, especially movies, but games have certain... implications. You're the one committing the crimes , not watching other characters do them or following a protagonist as they piece together criminal events through evidence and investigation. You're right there, doing all the bad stuff yourself. Recently, in the ongoing quest to tackle my massive game backlog, I've been playing the first Tenchu game, released in 1998. I bought it because the creators would later go on to make my beloved Way of the Samurai series, but if one looked at my shelves, they could easily assume I chose it thematically, as Tenchu 's neighbors include numerous Hitman , Assassin's Creed , and Dishonored games - a subgenre we'll call "assassination games." I've seen it remarked that there's an irony that, while

Odd Taxi's Genre Subversions

No matter what (or who) we're engaging with, first impressions carry a lot of weight. But even before we've made them, we already have a set of expectations and preconceptions. These can be based on deliberate signifiers (this taxi is available because it's parked and the light is on), cultural preconceptions (I can talk to the driver, but they won't engage with anything I say in-depth), and underlying, unquestioned fundamentals of reality (the driver will appear human). This takes place in media as well, and largely defines the way we engage with genre works . When our actual experiences don't line up with expectations, we experience a sense of confusion as our brains struggle to catch up and make sense of what it's been presented, confusion that may (or may not) be proportional to the nature of the dissonance. If someone was familiar with anime conventions and the types of stories typically featured in anime, but not, say, the convoluted, darkly comedic crime

Fifth Dimension

There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call The Twilight Zone. A Side :  If you’re familiar with the words above, you’ve probably seen at least one episode of the stalwart classic The Twilight Zone . (Or maybe you remember them from our previous Twilight Zone post where we reviewed a few episodes and the series itself? In which case, we hope you went and watched a few episodes afterwards.) The 2019 series revival may have been cancelled this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t welcome these newer entries into our strange home. While some of the new Zones may have been rehashes of old material, a number of new episodes can join the ranks of that "middle ground between sc

The Space Between Blows: The Audience's Role in Narrative Combat

POW! BIFF! ZOT! Fight scenes have been a part of narrative media for... well, as long as there has been narrative media . The Illiad , for instance, is full of the granular blow-by-blow we expect of fight scenes today, regardless of medium . So this is not a topic for which I can do any kind of justice - I'm sure there are people who have dedicated their entire careers to the study of narrative combat, and there will always be more to talk about, more to discover. Rather, this post will explore some recent thoughts inspired by (what else) a mostly-forgotten twenty-year old video game. Oni is a third-person action game with a focus, despite the arsenal of weapons featured in the official art, on melee combat. Today, it's remembered mostly as the game Bungie made after Marathon and Myth , but before Halo . Culturally, it's a rather bizarre relic: a western attempt at making an "anime game" based on limited reference points that the creators lifted wholesale, partic

Moment of Silence: One Year Later

One year ago, following the murder of George Floyd, Never Say Dice posted "a moment of silence" in memory of Black Americans who have died as the result of police violence, and out of solidarity to those who stand up to a system designed to break the bodies, minds, and souls of people of color. One year later, we thought we should reflect on what has transpired since then, and where we can go from here. There is always another story, ask anyone who works in words, images, and sounds, including those artists of ephemera who concoct fleeting tales around a table, shaped by dice and panic, lost instantly to time and the savageries of recollection. Every story that's told makes space for those that aren't. The "before" stories. The "after" stories. And the stories beneath. If someone has lived their life privileged enough to never hear the stories of those who suffered and died creating the world they take for granted, even acknowledging the existence

Whatcha Whatcha Whatcha Want: Crafting Character Motivation

There’s an old axiom that every story, regardless of medium, is ultimately about someone who wants something, but has obstacles standing in their way. While that’s probably overly reductionist, it’s true that both characters and plots are driven by desires and motivations. But how much do these need to be developed? Does every character need a complex motivation, or were Tears for Fears right when they said that everybody simply wants to rule the world? B : This will be a tough one to tackle, because character motivation comes not only from a creator’s intent, but also from their audience’s interpretations. Whether it’s someone reading words thousands of years after they were written or someone sitting on the other side of a gaming table, every audience member’s own desires and experience will determine how they see a character’s motivations, no matter how those motivations are being presented. Believability often comes down to accessibility. We might not want to become Jedi ourselves

Generic Post

Over the years, I've heard many an author, agent, editor, and publisher claim (facetiously or otherwise) that the concept of “genre” exists solely to make it easier for bookstores to arrange their stock, that it’s ultimately a marketing invention to better move product. It’s funny, though, I don’t think I’ve ever heard this sentiment from the people who enjoy said product, jokingly or otherwise, whether they be readers, players, or audience members. A divide of this scale can’t help but lead to questions. Are both groups talking about the same thing? What exactly is a genre, anyway, and what role does it play in the telling and experiencing of stories? I first began to question "genre" in a college creative writing workshop. Until then, I had taken for granted that the categories of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, and thriller had been structured and organized by nature like the Periodic Table. This certainty wasn’t broken by coursework or  some newfound clari

Tales from the Grove: Storytelling in San Andreas

Recently, Andy and I found out that we had each started new run-throughs of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas , a game that both of us have loved since its original release, but neither had ever completed. We took it as an opportunity to play together (even while apart), keeping track of each other’s progress throughout. Now that we’re both done, we thought we’d discuss some of the game’s storytelling and characterization, and what San Andreas can teach writers and gamers looking to tell stories from the more… complicated side of the law. - B B : It’s appropriate that San Andreas starts with CJ’s return home, since picking the game up again felt a homecoming for both of us. My story (far less exciting and tragic than Carl’s) is that, now that I’m satisfied with my current hardware setup, I’ve been using the PS2 a lot more often, which meant returning to a complete Grand Theft Auto series playthrough I had started some years ago. Thanks to the lockdown freetime, I burned through Grand Thef

Details: The Power-Up Mushroom for Your Narrative

Many of you may be aware already, but March 10 is Mario Day! Maybe you’ll break out one of the 200+ games featuring Mario (no doubt Nintendo will have deals on a few), watch the Super Mario Bros. Super Show or read some Super Mario Bros. comics . No matter how you celebrate the day, you’ll be spending time with a character who has a long history and background. Your first experience with our favorite plumber may have been in Donkey Kong , Donkey Kong Jr. (the only game where Mario plays the villain) or the original Mario Bros . My first Mario experience, as is probably the case with many of you, was with Super Mario Bros. on the NES. Mario had already appeared in 21 games by this point, but it wasn’t really until Super Mario Bros. that audiences saw the character we recognize today. To celebrate the character of Mario, in true Never Say Dice fashion, let's talk about the story within that game. Think about the first time you sat down with that legendary game: Super Mario Bros.

What to Do with "Childish Things"

This Tuesday, I turn 40. I share a birthday with both Lou Reed and Dr. Seuss, a legacy I’m doing my best to look up to. Needless to say, there will be no big birthday bash, no retrogames with friends, no late-night Dio singalongs. It hasn’t exactly been the way I pictured exiting my thirties. But, as I’ve said before, the best thing to come out of the past year is this very blog and the opportunities it gives me to both explore the media I enjoy and to share my discoveries with an audience. For the past few years, it’s been my goal to have something published by the time I hit 40 (curse you, 20 Under 40 story collection!), and, even though it’s in a way I never anticipated, my dream has come true. Never Say Dice has had more readers than I ever could have imagined when Andy and I started this endeavor a year ago, and it’s helped me regain a confidence in my writing that I haven’t felt since college - even if that still seems like it was just yesterday! Nonetheless, the event looming b

Limited Imagination: Storytelling and the Politics of Assumed Perspective

"The artist must take sides. He must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative. The history of the capitalist era is characterized by the degradation of my people." - Paul Robeson, Speech in Support of the Spanish Republic (1937) The fact that the modern reactionary surge initially coalesced around an angry reaction to video games (and, significantly, how those games are criticized) might be seen as a darkly comedic indictment of our society. "I can't believe that history books will have to start this chapter with something as stupid as 'Gamergate'," goes the refrain, both presuming electronic gaming to be of lesser cultural value and ignoring the history of reactionary elements targeting new media and the voices it elevates. Comparisons between angry internet rants and Nazi attacks on impressionism and Jazz feel much less hyperbolic following the events of January 6. I've even seen "degenerate," the