Peck’s Programming a Narrative: Jack into the Matrix!

Throughout this blog series, I have discussed various ways a developer can use the unique medium of video games to tell a story. Player choice allows the developer to create levels that reflect player styles or decisions. Through good moments of player choice, it can make them feel as though they are in control and actively contributing to the story. Atmosphere influences the mood of the player and set their expectations. But there is one other more subtle decision that is integral to telling a story through an interactive medium. That is the perspective of the player character themselves. In video games, there are many ways to experience a game. Sometimes you are a faceless entity controlling groups of units from high in the sky. In other games you are locked in a first-person perspective, experiencing events as the character does in graphic detail. These perspectives each factor into the player’s immersion, each one serving a specific purpose depending on the genre and type of game.

In video games, there are usually 3 types of perspectives a player can experience. There are most likely other camera perspectives in more obscure games, but these are the most common. One of the most popular perspectives a player can experience is the first-person perspective commonly found in first-person shooters like Call of Duty or Halo. This perspective locks the player in the perspective of the main character and is arguably one of the most immersive variations of player perspective. By seeing things from the character’s perspective it is much easier to suspend your disbelief and immerse yourself in the role. Usually, whenever the game is in a first-person perspective, several elements are modified to accommodate it. The HUD, or heads-up display, are elements of a game meant to inform players about critical information throughout the game. This can be anything as simple as an ammo count or health bar to more elaborate items like a radar keeping track of enemies. While in a first-person perspective there are many ways to represent this, such as having the player character wear a helmet and these items appearing as graphics. Sometimes these games will have no display at all, trying to stay as close to real life as possible for further immersion. They may even perform actions with hands attached to the player camera to continue the illusion that you are not just controlling a character, you are this character.

The second most common type of perspective in video games is the 3rd person perspective. This is commonly found in actions and adventure games, where the necessity of environmental awareness means that the camera has to be taken back a bit. 3rd person perspective games can be identified by having the camera hover behind the player character, either in an over-the-shoulder or cinematic manner. Examples of third-person games are numerous ranging from child-friendly games like Super Mario to adventure games like Uncharted. Third-person perspective games are inherently less immersive than first-person perspective experiences on average due to the disconnect between the player and the character. Instead of pretending you are the character it is made abundantly clear that you are controlling someone. However, this does not mean third-person games cannot be immersive at all. Dead Space is one of the best examples, a 3rd person horror game where you play as the engineer Isaac Clark trying to escape a ship infested with alien zombies. One of the most unique things this game does with its HUD is implementing it into the character design. The camera is always over the shoulder, so to not have the screen cluttered with health bars a device on your back is your health bar. Whenever a player needs to figure out which direction to go, instead of pulling out a map they follow lasers on the ground that they can summon or get rid of at any time. Even the weapons themselves display ammo counters as from the gun itself, showing how dedicated the team was to making this third-person game as immersive as possible.

The final most common method from which a player can experience a game is from an omniscient 3rd person’s perspective. This is usually implemented in games where the previous two types of camera angles either don’t fit the story’s narrative or somewhat conflict mechanically. This is usually found in platformers such as the 2d Mario games or real-time strategy games such as Starcraft. From this perspective, you take on the role of an ever-present controller. You are not a character most of the time. Yes, you may be called a commander or have a name but in a narrative sense, you exist solely to direct units or a character from point a to point b. This does not mean it is an inferior form of narrative, merely a different way of expressing a story. Usually, these stories are far more detached and similar to movies in a sense where you watch more times than not a large cast of characters interact with the world at large. This one is the least immersive as you are so far removed from the conflict of the story in both a literal and metaphorical way. But through this detached state, you can gain a much large widescale scope of the game, especially from the perspective of something like a real-time strategy game.

No matter which perspective is chosen, each one can provide a unique experience not only for storytelling potential but gameplay as well. If you are in a first-person game then you can experience what a city is like from the perspective of a person living in it. Or the horrors of war as the people who endured it experienced. From a third-person perspective, you can get a much wider view of the game, seeing the character you are playing as less of a blank slate and more of a character in their own right. While first-person games are meant for the player to easier insert themselves into the game, the third person allows for characterization outside of player interactions. The omniscient perspective is the most detached of these three methods, but that does not mean you can’t have good stories. These stories will just simply be less immersive than other alternatives. Every choice matters when creating a narrative of a game and the perspective from which you experience them is one of the most important.

-Brandon Peck, Blogger.

Brandon Peck – Asst Blog Editor, Prose Editor, and Layout Editor: Brandon is a Senior at Lewis University. He holds a great interest in painting miniatures and writing stories in his spare time. In addition, he enjoys many different kinds of media, ranging from movies to anime to video games, always keeping up to date with the latest trends of the time. Some of Brandon’s favorite pieces of writing include Devastation of Baal, Baneblade, Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse, and Fallout: New Vegas.

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