Books: Third Person

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Third PersonThird Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives
Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardruip-Fruin (Eds).

When we come to discuss writing fiction for games it is common to focus on ‘story’ or ‘plot’, which leads to the inevitable debate about whether an interactive game can tell an authored story, or whether the two are wholly inimicable. While this may be an interesting debate, it overlooks much of the craft of writing fiction. The plot is only part of what makes a good story; characterisation plays an equal role, as does the construction of a believable setting.

This act of world creation and population has long fascinated readers and writers alike. Tolkein was famous for it. Middle Earth itself was his first love. It was only at the insistance of his friends in the Inklings that he turned it into the setting for a story. Other worlds grow out of the accumulation of many tales, such as the Cthulhu Mythos or the universe of Dr Who. As the result of many hands and many voices, such worlds take on the status of mythologies.

This kind of creation is one of the main themes of Third Person. As a collection of essays by many authors, this volume looks at the topic of “vast narratives” from diverse viewpoints. Some of the essays are directly applicable to game design, such as Richard Bartle’s “Alice and Dorothy Play Together” on the design of MMO worlds or Maathew Kirschenbaum’s “War Stories: Board Wargames and (Vast) Procedural Narratives”. Others are more obliquely inspirational, and even those that deal with purely literary texts (e.g. David Kala’s “The Long Arm of Fantomas”) have the feel of a writing-game about them, reminding me of collaborative storytelling games such as Lexicon or Baron Munchausen.

In games the exploration of vast, complex worlds can arguably be our most powerful source of fantasy and is perhaps more important and more achievable than an intricate plot. Third person is a valuable study of this idea from many different directions. I highly recommend it.

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  • Malcolm

    You can get a sense of some of Bartle’s essay from his IMGDC presentation Pleasing the Teller.

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