As technology has progressed over the past thirty years, an increased level of story depth and interactivity presented in video games can be seen . Choose your own adventure books can be used as a reference point to compare the changes in the stories and interactivity, presented in the early video games, Zork, Enchanter and Starcross, to a more resent game, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.
Choose your own adventure stories and the first text based adventures both appeared at approximately the same time around 1980. A few major differences can be seen between these two types of media. Choose your own adventure books have a story that is much more developed and detailed than the story in text based adventures. Whereas text based adventures contain a level of interactivity that choose your own adventures stories cannot possess.
Interactivity can be briefly defined for the purpose of this discussion, as the ability to make choices while either reading or playing a form of media. That is to say that while reading a book or playing a game the participant is forced to stop and make a choice before more progress can be made. The level of interactivity in a game is determined by the number of choices presented and the nature of the choices. A choose your own adventure book is very limited in the number of choices that the reader is presented. The size of the book is one factor that contributes to the number of choices; as the number of choices increases the size of the book will grow very quickly. The book will also grow in size very quickly if the reader is presented with a large number of choices at any one time. In choose your own adventures only so many of the choices overlap with different story pathways, resulting in a large number of different endings. A large number is endings is a common facet of the choose your own adventure genre. Whereas interactive games have a huge number of choices that can be made at any given time, games typically only have a limited number of endings.
Games that are considered interactive for this discussion have a strong aspect of nonlinear game play. If a game is linear it may have choices that must be made, but the outcome of the choice doesn’t provide an advancement of the story or alternative details that build story depth. The interactivity in choose your own adventure books can lead to either alternative endings or more depth into the personality of the character. The interactivity in games because of their small number of endings, that is saying that it has more than one,e often leads solely to character and story development instead of providing alternative story pathways that will eventually lead to alternative endings.
Now that interactivity has been examined it is possible to see the effects that technology has had on the amount of interactivity that games possess. Early text based adventures are quite limited in the choices that the participant can make at any one given time. It is easy to see that the early games do have more choices than choose your own adventure books. A reader may have at most typically no more than four choices that can be made at one given instance; a gamer of text based adventures may make ten or more choices at a given moment. The choices presented in a text based adventure include choices of the cardinal and intermediate directions, and possible interaction with environmental objects. The movement that occurs in these games is block based, moving from one preset area into the next. In most text based adventures the direction that an area is entered doesn’t play a role in the how the block of space is presented.
In Zork, Enchanter and Starcross movement works in this way, moving from one block to the next and getting the same description of the block no matter how the area is entered. Zork and Starcross’s level of interactivity beyond movement, are quite similar. “Take”, “examine”, and “drop” are the most common ways of interacting with environmental objects. A few objects can be manipulated and used in conjunction with other objects. Enchanter adds another level of interactivity by being able to cast spells. Casting spells makes this game stand apart from the others. To use a spell the player must first read a scroll, gnusto the spell (record it into the spell book), and then learn the spell before it can be used. These spells can be used on many different objects throughout the game. Game play in Enchanter also contains the same basic movement and manipulation actions of Zork and Starcross. The fact that Enchanter was released three years after Zork can have a reason to do with its increased interactivity. 1983, the year Enchanter was released, saw many new computing technologies appear on the market. The knowledge of making games by this point would have increased exponentially, leading to game creators being able to fully manipulate and develop the existing technology further.
Now jump ahead approximately twenty years. When a game was released that stands as testament to the progress that games have made. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind received game the year status for its system (www.gamefaqs.com). This game takes full advantage of the of power of the Xbox causing interactivity to be taken to a new level.
The vary first thing that occurs in the game is the building of a character. The character can take on a one of many different races and gender. This choice effects gameplay to the point that a change at this stage can alter gameplay and interactions with NPCs. The gamer also chooses attributes that will affect how the interact with the hostel aspects of the environment, by choosing fighting styles that include the use of weapons, varying from heavy weapons to the use of hand-to-hand combat, or choosing to concentrate on a heavy magic using character. These aspects alone set Morrowind apart from most games of its time and all most all games that have been created until then. Now that the character has been created environmental interaction occurs. The follow interactions aren’t necessarily new to Morrowind, Morrowind just makes very good use of movement possibilities and object interaction. No longer is a player forced to decide, do I go, N, W, E, S, NE, NW, SW, SE, up or down? Morrowind is a completely free roaming adventure. The player can choose to stick to the trails or stray into uncharted territory. It is now possible to look around 360 degrees horizontally and up and down vertically. The world have now become a character unto itself, from every lake bottom to hillside presents the player with a new view of this world that is never quite the same twice. No longer is a player confined to the blocks of space that are presented in the same manner every time they are entered. The character in Morrowind isn’t even confined to the places that can be reached by walking, the ability to fly and walk on water just serve to increase the number of ways the environment can be interacted with.
Object interaction is another facet of games that has changed drastically with the development of technology that has allowed these games to be created. Like in text based adventures, objects can be taken, used and dropped, but now because of the free roaming gameplay, this is taken much further. At one instance in Morrowind the character can create a bridge across and otherwise impossible to cross pool of lava. By carefully dropping books that have been collected throughout various areas of the world a bridge can be made by precisely dropping the books. The main idea is, because object interaction isn’t defined by specific code of what can be done with a particular object, the player can choose to be creative. I’m going to leave this discussion of interactivity with the idea of creativity. Creativity defines what games have become. No longer is the player forced to conform to what an object is supposed to be used for. Thinking outside the box, this is where games have left us. As was described in the example about crossing a pool of lava with a bridge of books. Making the bridge serves no real purpose because the pool can be walked around, but the fact is, it can be done.
In the choose you own adventure “The Cave of Time” the main character finds himself speaking with an old man. The main character is asked by the old man which time he would like to return to. One choice is to ask the man who he is, and the reader is told, “I am a philosopher who when asked to choose a time, instead chose timelessness, so that, although nothing would ever happen in my life, I would have all the time in the world to think about it” (Packard 45). This stands as to show that there are always choices that are not always available. If the reader of this book could choose timelessness the book would become boring very quickly. In a text-based adventure choosing to not advance toward story completion will also get boring quickly, but in Morrowind there exists a world that can be interacted with without causing story completion. Technology has advanced to the point where the player has freed himself from the need to make a limited number of choices, and choices that affect the story in some way.
The basis of interactivity in games and books provides the participant with alternative ways of telling the story and/or obtaining more details about the story. By interacting, the reader is attempting to determine the fate of the character that he is playing as. As mentioned earlier, choose your own adventure books contain a store that is much more developed than that of text based adventures. These books contain many ending that develops as the reader makes choices. Each choice can carry an incredibly large amount of weight, or have no effect of the out come of future events. An example is a heavily weighted decision is found at the beginning of the choose your own adventure, “A Night of a Thousand Boyfriends.” Two pages into the story the reader is given the choice to go out on a blind date or stay home with her roommate. This decision effects what pathway the reader will take, one path being quite uneventful and the other leads to many different adventures. The amount of depth that is presented in games will be related to the stories in choose your own adventures, because they are a story that progresses, moves and develops as choices are made.
In the text based adventures Zork and Starcross the player is left with little information about what is going on in the world around them. The following is the introduction that a player of Zork is given, "WELCOME TO ZORK! ZORK is a game of adventure, danger, and low cunning. In it you will explore some of the most amazing territory ever seen by mortals. No computer should be without one!" (Zork 1, Leaflet) After reading the leaflet the player is left to find treasure in the great underground world, and thats about the extent of story development. This can be considered a story because an account of what the character had to go through to get the treasure can be told, but the story lacks depth. No character development is presented, no information why you are in this situation is given and very little understanding about the world that you are in is established.
Starcross is very similar to Zork, the character wakes up on his ship and describes his financial situation. You learn that you move through space finding junk and selling it. Therefore a little bit of a story is being told, but little development takes place. The interactivity that Enchanter uses is an improvement upon Zork and Starcross. The games starts by giving the following introduction,
"Krill's evil must be unmade," he begins, "but to send a powerful Enchanter is ill-omened. It would be ruinous to reveal oversoon our full powers." A ripple of concern spreads over the face of each Enchanter. Belboz pauses, and collects his resolve. "Have hope! This has been written by a hand far wiser than mine!"
He recites a short spell and you appear. Belboz approaches, transfixing you with his gaze, and hands you the document. The other Enchanters await his decree. "These words, written ages ago, can have only one meaning. You, a novice Enchanter with but a few simple spells in your Book, must seek out Krill, explore the Castle he has overthrown, and learn his secrets. Only then may his vast evil be lessened or, with good fortune, destroyed." (Enchanter opening screen)
This game does present a story, you’ve been called upon to take down a powerful Enchanter. So the player knows why he is here and what he is to do. There will be an outcome to the story by removing the evil Enchanter. The thing that the game still lacks is that by making the choices that lead closer to the end of the game not much story is developed. You really don’t gain much character depth.
In Morrowind the character is immediately told that he is an outlaw from a country sent to the island of Vvanrenfell, a Provence of Morrowind. Little more about the past is told, because you are to start a new life on Vvanrenfell. The choosing of the character and the trait that the character will possess takes place next. The choices at this stage are very important in the game because it will determine many choices that can be made and the way people will interact with you. Some guild quests can only be completed if certain requirements are met, and some people will only talk to you if you’re a specific race. Making choices still does have a highly influential effect on the main story line in Morrowind, and it definitely effects the player if he wishes to get the most out of the game. Most games has a set main story that has one way to complete it, Morrowind happens to have three; it still isn’t many story lines when compared to a choose your own adventure book. What makes Morrowind stand apart is the incredibly large number of possible adventures that the player can go on to reveal information about the world. Some quests will lead to understanding of the religious rights, ruling bodies, murders and the problems that are occurring on this island. Morrowind has fulfilled a things that the games before the technology allowing Morrowind to be created couldn’t do. It gives the player a clear understanding about the world around him. This understanding of the world around the player allows for the main story to take over and produce a large in-depth story that draws the player in.
The main story revolves around gaining the power to take down an evil god that is casting a blight upon the island of Vvanrenfell. You are given a directions that are supposed to be followed. These directions will lead the character through an extensive adventure of uniting the civilized societies and the tribes of Vvanrenfell. They must unite and declare you the a god reincarnate, Nerevarine. Upon being declared Nerevarine the character meets with the good god, Vivic, to receive an ancient artifact that will allow him to wield the weapons necessary to sunder the evil god, Dagoth Ur. The alternative story can be chosen early. Instead of ever starting on the quest to be declared Nerevarine the player can level up and kill Vivic and steal the artifact. This leads to another added part of story, because the artifact that is stolen is damaged and needs repair before it can be used. Once the artifact is repaired the stories merge back into the same path. One last choice is given right before the epic battle with Dagoth Ur. You are presented with a choice to lay down arms and join Dagoth Ur, spreading blight across Morrowind.
Morrowind’s story has depth incomparable to that of text based adventures. It takes advantage of its free roaming style and interactivity that allows creative thinking to allow for multiple ways of playing the game. The story ends very differently depending on which choices are made. Compared to choose your own adventure books, Morrowind may not have as many ending but its story is very detailed. Technology had to develop extensively to allow for a story to be told with the high amount of interactivity that Morrowind possesses. The amount of information that is in the game plays a major role in determining what kind of gameplay can be achieved. The Zork game file is 92 kb in size, whereas Morrowind is packed onto a 4.7 gig dvd. Because of advances like data storage and processing power, games have been able to become more interactive while also providing a story that feels like a novel.
Packard, Edward. “The Cave of Time”. New York. Bantam Books, 1979.