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Interactive Storytelling for Video Games - 1st Edition - ISBN: 9780240817170, 9780240817187

Interactive Storytelling for Video Games

1st Edition

A Player-Centered Approach to Creating Memorable Characters and Stories

Authors: Josiah Lebowitz Chris Klug
Paperback ISBN: 9780240817170
eBook ISBN: 9780240817187
Imprint: Focal Press
Published Date: 1st March 2011
Page Count: 336


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What really makes a video game story interactive?
What’s the best way to create an interactive story?
How much control should players be given?
Do they really want that control in the first place?
Do they even know what they want—or are their stated desires at odds with the unconscious preferences?

All of these questions and more are examined in this definitive book on interactive storytelling for video games. You’ll get detailed descriptions of all major types of interactive stories, case studies of popular games (including Bioshock, Fallout 3, Final Fantasy XIII, Heavy Rain, and Metal Gear Solid), and how players interact with them, and an in-depth analysis of the results of a national survey on player storytelling preferences in games. You’ll get the expert advice you need to generate compelling and original game concepts and narratives.With Interactive Storytelling for Video Games, you’ll:

Key Features

* Explore popular styles and genres of games (RPGs, Online Games, First Person Shooters, and more)

* Learn to create effective, original concepts and story lines with key components in mind: structure, process, characters, player desire, and outcome

* Learn about what players want, what they expect, and how to create truly compelling player-driven experiences

* Get access to an associated website with additional data on storytelling preferences in games, valuable PowerPoint lectures for professors for each chapter of the book, and links to movies, websites, game writer discussion boards, and more


Game Design students, Game Writing students, Game Writers, Creative Directors, Game Designers, Project Leaders, Script Writers, Level Designers/Writers.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Game Stories, Interactivity, and What Players Want

The Importance of Stories

Stories in Video Games

Interactive Stories vs. Traditional Stories: The Great Debate


Things to Consider

Chapter 2: A Brief History of Storytelling in Games

The Early Days

The Beginnings of Game Stories

Text Adventures and Interactive Fiction

RPGs, Adventure Games, and the Growing Importance of Stories

The Cinematic Evolution of Game Stories

Game Stories Today

The Limits of Storytelling in Games


Things to Consider

Chapter 3: The Hero’s Journey and the Structure of Game Stories

Types of Stories Best Suited for Games

The "Best" Story Types

Using Non-Ideal Stories

The Hero’s Journey

What is the hero’s journey?

Structure of the Hero’s Journey

Stage 1: The Ordinary World

Stage 2: The Call to Adventure

Stage 3: Refusing the Call

Stage 4: The Mentor

Stage 5: The First Threshold

Stage 6: The Journey

Stage 7: The "Final Dungeon"

Stage 8: The Great Ordeal

Stage 9: The Prize

Stage 10: The Road Home

Stage 11: The Return

Modifying the Structure

Stage 1: The Ordinary World

Stage 2: The Call to Adventures

Stage 3: Refusing the Call

Stage 4: The Mentor

Stage 5: The First Threshold

Stage 6: The Journey

Stage 7: The "Final Dungeon"

Stage 8: The Great Ordeal

Stage 9: The Prize

Stage 10: The Road Home

Stage 11: The Return

Common Themes and Clichés in Game Storytelling

Common Clichés and Themes

The Amnesiac Hero

The Evil Vizier/Minister/Aide/Etc

No One Noticing the Evil Vizier/Minister/Aide/Etc

The Last of His Race

I am Your Father

A Party of Clichés

Saving the World from Evil

The Ancient Civilization

Why Clichés are Used

When to Use and When to Avoid Story Clichés

Rule 1

Rule 2

Rule 3

Rule 4


Things to Consider

Chapter 4: The Story and the Characters

Story Flow and Progression

The Importance of Proper Flow and Pacing

Don’t Neglect the Little Things

Keeping the Player Engaged

Character Development

Common Character Archetypes

The Young Hero

The Reluctant Hero

The Best Friend

The Special Person

The Mentor

The Veteran

The Gambler

The Seductress

The Hardened Criminal

The Cold Calculating Villain

Advantages of Using Archetypes

Disadvantages of Using Archetypes

Making Characters Believable

Character Actions and Decisions

Character Dialogue

How Much to Tell and Not Tell Players

The Importance of Backstory

How to Tell the Backstory

Earth and Beyond, the MMO

Deciding What to Tell

Sometimes a Mystery is Best


Things to Consider

Chapter 5: Making Stories Emotional

Connecting With the Characters

The Fine Line Between Drama and Melodrama

Making the Player Cry


Things to Consider

Chapter 6: Defining Interactive and Player-Driven Storytelling

What makes a story interactive?

What makes a story player-driven?

Interactive Storytelling as a Spectrum

Fully Traditional Stories

Interactive Traditional Stories

Multiple-Ending Stories

Branching Path Stories

Open-Ended Stories

Fully Player-Driven Stories

How Stories are Classified

Games without Stories


Things to Consider

Chapter 7: Fully Traditional and Interactive Traditional Stories

Fully Traditional Stories

Fully traditional stories, Video Games, and Why They Don’t Mix

Interactive Traditional Stories

Creating Interactive Traditional Stories

Player’s Characters Speaking Dialogue

The Strengths of Interactive Traditional Stories

The Weaknesses of Interactive Traditional Stories


Things to Consider

Chapter 8: Multiple-Ending Stories

Creating Multiple-Ending Stories

What types of endings should a game have?

Choosing Where to End the Game

How many endings does a game need?

Determining Which Ending the Player Sees

Multiple-Ending Stories and Sequels

The Strengths of Multiple-Ending Stories

The Weaknesses of Multiple-Ending Stories


Things to Consider

Chapter 9: Branching Path Stories

Creating Branching Path Stories

Types of Branches

Minor Branches

Moderate Branches

Major Branches

Deciding Where to Place Branches

How many branches should a story have?

Japanese Visual Novel Games

The Strengths of Branching Path Stories

The Weaknesses of Branching Path Stories


Things to Consider

Chapter 10: Open-Ended Stories

Creating Open-Ended Stories

The Main Plot

The Branches

The "Distractions"

The Strengths of Open-Ended Stories

The Weaknesses of Open-Ended Stories


Things to Consider

Chapter 11: Fully Player-Driven Stories

Creating Fully Player-Driven Stories

Creating a Setting

Creating Rules of Interaction

The Problem with Fully Player-Driven Stories in Video Games


The Strengths of Fully Player-Driven Stories

The Weaknesses of Fully Player-Driven Stories


Things to Consider

Chapter 12: The Argument for the Supremacy of Player-Driven Storytelling

The Evolution of the Art Form

Giving the Writer Greater Freedom

Strengthening the Player – Character Bond

Giving the Player What He Wants


Things to Consider

Chapter 13: The Argument Against the Supremacy of Player-Driven Storytelling

The Fine Art of Storytelling

Time, Money, and Player Interest

The Added Time and Expense of Creating Player-Driven Stories

Adding Interaction at the Expense of Other Elements

Who is going to see it all?

Keeping the Story Interesting

Story Structure and the "Ideal" Chain of Events

The Problem with How We Think

Trying to Correct a Mistake

Loss of Impact

The Illusion of Control

Giving the Player What He Wants


Things to Consider

Chapter 14: What Players Really Want: The Most Important Issue

Do players know what they really want?

The Survey

How important are game stories to players?

What Players Say They Want

Story Preferences by the Numbers

What Players Really Want

The Best Game Stories

Further Analysis

Do stories sell games?

Buying Habits by the Numbers

Further Analysis


Things to Consider

Chapter 15: The Future of Storytelling in Games

Stories Then and Now

The Key Arguments

What Players Want

Looking Towards the Future

The Most Popular Types of Storytelling

A Future for Everyone

Things to Consider


Appendix A: Game Writing Groups and Other Useful Resources

Appendix B: Survey Data

Bibliography and References


No. of pages:
© Focal Press 2011
1st March 2011
Focal Press
Paperback ISBN:
eBook ISBN:

About the Authors

Josiah Lebowitz

Affiliations and Expertise

who is an independent game developer and an active member of the IGDA's writing special interest group. Josiah has a bachelor’s degree in game design and a master's in game production from the University of Advancing Technology, with a particular focus on game story structures and interactivity.

Chris Klug

Affiliations and Expertise

who teaches storytelling at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center. Chris has also taught at the Art Institutes of Pittsburgh and Phoenix and is a member of the Writer's Guild of America West New Media Caucus and a playwright. He has been a game designer, game writer, and Creative Director for more than 25 years, and has worked for Electronic Arts, THQ, SEGA, Hasbro Interactive, and many others. He has won three Game of the Year Awards, as well as Best Video Game RPG Story of All Time, which he counts as his proudest achievement.


Lebowitz and Klug's tag-team approach to the subject makes this an engaging read, even for seasoned interactive storytellers. The combination of Lebowitz's theory and Klug's field experience present both new and experienced game writers with both the promises, and the challnges, of experimenting with game narratives. The use of diverse case studies, which cover everything from the classic Final Fantasy VII to the Japanese visual novel genre, provide readers with the opportunity to engage Lebowitz and Klug's ideas and inspire innovation in their own writing. The exercises and questions both guide readers through the key points, and encourage application and exploration, perfect for a classroom setting.
Kathleen Dunley, Faculty Chair-English, Rio Salado College