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No Show 2012 - Clara Fernández-Vara - Environmental Storytelling
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No Show 2012 - Clara Fernández-Vara - Environmental Storytelling


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Whenever there is a talk about narrative design, it tends to end up being a laundry list of examples of how the environment can be used to communicate the backstory of the game world without …

Whenever there is a talk about narrative design, it tends to end up being a laundry list of examples of how the environment can be used to communicate the backstory of the game world without cutscenes. This talk is different: rather than just focusing on the backstory, we are going to explore how environmental design creates opportunities for gameplay. The focus will be on leaving traces and indications in the space, both by the designers and the players. This is called “indexical storytelling,” because interpreting and engaging with these traces is the core of narrative gameplay. These traces are systematically classified depending on their type: they can turn the player into a detective, help create an identity, teach the player what to do (or not) and how, give a sense of progress or mess up with other players. Although there will be a couple of requisite mentions of Portal and Bioshock, some of the core examples come from games as diverse as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Myst, Super Mario 64, Metal Gear Solid, Demon’s Souls and Colossal Cave Adventure.

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  • 1. Indexical Storytelling: All that You Can Leave Behind Clara Fernández Vara, PhDSingapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab
  • 2. Who am I?
  • 3. Games and narrative
  • 4. Environmental storytelling
  • 5. Environmental storytelling
  • 6. Avoiding Cutscenes
  • 7. A bit short-sighted
  • 8. Environments packed withopportunities for interaction
  • 9. Indexical storytellingThe practice of using indices in orderto construct a story.
  • 10. Index? Wha’?
  • 11. Index?
  • 12. Index?
  • 13. Index?
  • 14. Academese section
  • 15. Peirce’s three types of signs Icon Symbol IndexThe concept of indexical storytelling derives from Charles Peirce’sphilosophy of language. According to Peirce, a sign is a mediation, arepresentation that conveys to a mind an idea about a thing. Thus thenature of the sign involves the idea, the object that represents it (thesign), and the interpretant who establishes the relationship betweenthe idea and the object. In Peircean philosophy, there are three typesof signs:
  • 16. Peirce’s three types of signs Iconicons / likenesses: signs that convey ideas by imitating them, such as aphotograph, a drawing, gestures or onomatopoeias (words that imitatethe sound they refer to, such as crack or roar).
  • 17. Peirce’s three types of signs Symbol-! symbols / general signs: signs that are associated with meaningthrough usage; the relationship between the sign and its meaning isarbitrary (Saussure, 1983) and part of a tacit social agreement. Mostwords are symbols, the sign denoting biohazard is a symbol where theassociation between the object and the idea it represents means ispurportedly arbitrary.
  • 18. Peirce’s three types of signs Index-! indices / indications: the idea is physically connected with thesign. Peirce provides a sign post as an example (the direction of thesignpost is where one should go).
  • 19. Peirce’sthree types of signs Index
  • 20. Peirce’sthree types of signs Index
  • 21. Indices in “[S]ome indices are more or less detailed directions for what the hearer is to do in order to place himself in direct experiential or other connection with the thing meant.”Peirce, C. Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings. Vol. 2. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1998.
  • 22. End of Academese(it didn’t hurt, right?)
  • 23. Indexical storytelling
  • 24. It’s not storytelling, it’s storybuilding
  • 25. Indexical Storytelling in Practice
  • 26. Indexical storytellingHistory of the world Detective Work Interpretation of Remains Signposts and TutorialsHistory of the player Player’s trace
  • 27. History ofthe worldDetective work
  • 28. History ofthe worldDetective work
  • 29. History of the WorldDetective work What has happened in the environment before? How has it left a trace in the space? How can the player read those traces to reconstruct the events?
  • 30. History ofthe worldInterpretation of remains
  • 31. Interpretation of Remains: Ghosts
  • 32. History of the WorldWho has been in the space before theplayer?How does the player relate to thepeople who left the traces?
  • 33. History ofthe worldSignposts and tutorials
  • 34. History of the WorldWhat is the role of signposts in thegame? Navigation In-game directionsHow does the tutorial integrate withthe story, if it points to the world of theplayer?
  • 35. History ofthe player Player’s trace:Persistence of the world
  • 36. History ofthe player Player’s trace
  • 37. History of the Player
  • 38. History ofthe player Player’s trace
  • 39. History of the PlayerHow can the player leave traces in theworld of the game?Who can read those traces? Other players NPCsHow does leaving traces createopportunities for gameplay?
  • 40. Indexical Storytelling can be applied tonon-AAA games too.
  • 41. Player’s Trace
  • 42. Player’s Trace
  • 43. *work in in progress*Hidden Object Games
  • 44. TakeawaysIndexical storytelling is using tracesand indications to construct a story.Indices are not only a way to save incut-scenes, but also a way toinvolve player in gameplay.Designers can leave traces for theplayer as indications, as well ascreating systems to let players leavea trace.
  • 45. Thanks for Listening!