In recent years, I have found some of the most interesting stories on a smaller scale have come from “From software’s” Souls series (Including bloodborne). These games provide very little in the terms of cutscenes and conversations with NPC’s to tell the narrative. Instead the story is mostly told through Item descriptions and locations in the world.
One story that particularly stuck with me was in bloodborne where you meet a small child whom asks you to find their mother who has not returned in a long time. This is a world where every night, people form large mobs of “Hunters” to track down infected townspeople that turn into beasts. The player is given a small music box and the child tells the player that “It was father’s favourite and they would play it for him whenever he forgot the mother and child. Also my mother wears a large Red broach, you can’t miss it”. Later on in the game, you encounter a large hunter that turns hostile when you enter the area. If you use the music box in the middle of the fight, the boss will reel back in agony which can make the fight easier. Halfway through the fight the Hunter transforms into a beast and the player eventually kills it. Upon looking around, you find a woman’s corpse near the site which has a “Red broach” item on it. The player then has the choice of telling the child or not. If they do, the next time they return the child is not there. If the player then explores the sewers nearby, they find a large pig monster which if killed after this drops a “Child’s ribbon” Item. This suggests the child attempted to find the mother/father and was killed along the way, bringing the whole story to a sad end.
This story was an incredibly small part of the game, but due to leaving allot of it up to player investigation and deduction, it stuck with me on a much more personal level. By involving the player in the process, even if it is just obscuring the advancement conditions somewhat, I find the personal attachment to the narrative is increased exponentially. The world of From software’s games are always incredibly interesting as well. Each area tells its own story and has its own history that relates to the world at large. And it is never told to the player directly through dialogue or a short text piece. Instead the player has to collate their image of the area through a variety of small text descriptions in items relating to the area and small snippets of dialogue from the few NPC’s available.
This admittedly makes it harder for the average player to attach themselves to the lore and backstory of the games. However, I find the small amount of extra effort not only benefits those interested, but also removes a lot of the non gameplay time for players with a desire to focus more on the gameplay.
Whilst certainly not an approach that would suit many games, I believe this method of storytelling can leave a strong, lasting impression on the user and would be worth having in more titles than it currently has been.
This area interests me, but I have to question if this topic would cover two semesters worth of research. Its a fun idea, but I am not sure I will take it forward.