Well, I’m just throwing down the contenious terms in that title. Narrative, character driven. Maybe the use of lament if you think it’s pretentious.
Character driven is the tricky one. See, I thought this was the designation for the types of stories I want to describe – stories where there is little to no plot, and consist almost entirely of characterization. Robert McKee in Story does use this term in one spot, but then proceeds to tell you that it doesn’t matter what type of story you’re writing, you should read his book regardless (mostly true anyway).
Googling also fails miserably. A number of bloggers seem to use the term to describe a story whose plot is driven by character’s action, as opposed to external, uncontrollable events. Using character driven to describe this kind of story seems redundant. A story whose events are driven by character decisions is just a well plotted story. Then what the hell are we gonna call the stories in the above paragraph?
Characterization driven stories may be a little more accurate, but I’ve moved past the need for accuracy at this point. I’m talking about movies like Lost In Translation, Coffee and Cigarettes, etc. (And so yes, Bill Murray seems to be in a lot of these types of films in his lower-profile work, so the story thing could just be a confounding factor.)
It’s pretty rare that these stories work though, especially in indie film, but part of the problem is that when people start writing they may not know how to plot well, and so they go for stories like these. These stories are harder to make, not easier. When they do work, they make the character sketches compelling by pacing how you find out information about the characters, and each piece of information’s contextual relation to everything that’s come before.
My point, that I finally have arrived at, is that these stories are all about character exploration.
What is a type of play that games do very well?
Sort it out.
There are games, especially ones that have been deemed as having successful stories, that do a little of this. Bioshock and it’s audio tapes for example. I can’t seem to come up with another example from a game that does not use audio recordings, messages left on a computer, etc. There’s Facade, which does kind of qualify. I think perhaps there is a way to play the game that results in a well-plotted player story, but the time is more typically spent learning about the characters & playing with them.
Instead of fighting our way up the river of designer created sequential plot vs. player driven plot, instead of making the assumption that everything, mechanics and narrative, must blend together better and better until designers have reach this assumed ultimate peak where everything is perfectly integrated and all our brains will explode in gameplay-narrative ecstasy, how about… not?
Screw plot. At least sometimes (and more Bill Murray wouldn’t hurt either, just in case).