Designing a Narrative Experience (Inspired by Portal 2)

As you might know, Portal 2 came out April 29, the long awaited sequel to the critically acclaimed 2007 puzzle game, developed by Valve (makers of the Half-Life series). And even though there are many similarities between the original, Portal 2 takes a leap into an often complex issue; the delicate balance between narrative and interactivity.

Narrative in video games is still a very challenging endeavor, especially compared to other forms of entertainment where the story is the primary focus and is to be experienced passively, like, for example, in movies. The tricky part with game narrative is that story is not the primary goal, of course, the game itself is. The purpose of the narrative serves a more supporting role, which leads the player to the next game encounter. For that reason, Portal 2 is a perfect execution of a great game supported by an entertaining story. Most notably the use of narrative never feels intrusive or breaks away from the game. The cinematic elements happen while the player is still in control. This sustains the feeling of immersion and achieves complete suspension of disbelief. Another part of the Portal 2 story worth mentioning is it’s humor, which acts as a counterbalance for the somewhat complex puzzles the player must solve. Making the overall experience all the more enjoyable.

Another interesting element of Portal 2 is the overall experiences, which trigger involuntary reactions, like the feeling of vertigo when the character gets too close to the edge. Even though I knew I was safe in my living room, the feeling was still being triggered because of the level of engagement I had with the game. This experience of virtual vertigo made me reflect in how game design can create situations where the player is empowered to master his fears while having a simulated experience. And perhaps through repetition bring this mastery to their daily lives…

One big proponent, of the idea of using games to enhance ones experience in the real world, is Jane Mcgonigal. For more information I recommend her blog, videos, and book.

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