Narrative in Gaming

A successful game – regardless of what platform it’s played on, what console, or whether it’s digital or in real life – will always have a story to tell. Without a clear narrative, a game becomes boring. It lacks depth. It is difficult for the gamer to engage with.

Humans are creative, intelligent creatures. We are hardwired to relate to stories – it’s why oral history has been so successful, it’s why the movie industry can churn out so many remarkably similar pieces and still be so profitable, it’s why books and songs and even photos stay with us for such a long time.

We like stories. They help us make sense of the world. They give us a notion of how we’re supposed to live, or how we’re not supposed to live. They make the universe knowable and less frightening.

This is why games always have a storyline. You might not give a rat’s ass about the storyline and skip right over it all, but it’s important nonetheless. It shapes the game, your goals and your focus as you play, so next time you sit down to rage through a game, take a little more time to understand why the narrative has been set out like that.

According to journalist and author Christopher Booker, there are seven classic narratives or storylines. If you look closely enough, you’ll see that just about every game you’ve ever played will have been built off one of these, as they are have been proven again and again to engage people and hold them to the end:

  1. Overcoming the Monster: you’ve seen this in Beowulf, Resident Evil. This is a GREAT gaming narrative. Enemies and action galore.
  2. Rags to Riches: Stories like Aladdin and Cinderella. Not a strong gaming narrative, it’s generally not dramatic enough.
  3. The Quest: Think Tomb Raider, Uncharted, Zelda. Also makes for great gaming as there are many challenges, suspense and action.
  4. Voyage and Return: Bioshock Infinite is a good example of this storyline. Can make for great gaming but is generally not used that often.
  5. Comedy: Duke Nukem is probably the most comical game that springs to mind. Not a very common narrative for gaming.
  6. Tragedy: Almost never used in gaming. It’s just not fun enough and there’s never a sense that you can win.
  7. Rebirth: These are redemption stories, where you come out better than you started. Usually in games it’s the opposite, so you don’t see this much either.

The Wes Anderson Influence

When we started out with Turf Geography Club, we knew we were creating something only a small part of the population would really love.

The people Turf appealed to were totally into checking in and games like Monopoly, who cared about location, and who had already fallen in love with 8-bit games. I know, I know – I said it was a small group!

But one more thing that really tied all these people together was a love of Wes Anderson and the unique, appealing visuals he puts out so often. This, somewhat surprisingly to us, has been mentioned in nearly every article written about Turf, so it seems about time to touch on it here.

Wes Anderson, at least to my mind, is one of the maestros of our generation. Stylistically, there’s really no one that comes near him. There are certainly exceptions (I’m thinking of Tarseem Singh, who directed that spectacular 2006 film, The Fall), but they are few and far between.

There is always a sense of journey, of adventure and possibility in Anderson’s work. We certainly tried to capture that in our Kickstarter video, as well as the promotional videos we did once the game had been built and released into the world.

I think the style particularly appeals to a certain type of person – maybe the hipster within you knows who I’m talking about. The perfect orchestration and flawless styling of all Anderson’s projects really inspired us to make Turf a visual delight as much as a gaming one, and I think that working within the 8-bit format, we did as good a job of that as we possibly could.

Why Check-Ins Work So Well

Check-ins. Oh. My. God.

Who could have predicted a few years ago that they would have taken off like they did? Who would have thought that people could be so utterly hooked on something so seemingly inane? Something so easily imagined to become a 1984-esque surveillance method?

A few people, apparently.

Facebook. Foursquare. Instagram. Yelp. Gowalla. Loopt. With. GetGlue. Foodspotting.

So many apps that are created around the sole concept of checking in at a location or clocking an event. It’s so simple, and yet people are obsessed with it.

Bill Hartnett over at Method Shop describes the extent of his love affair with the check-in:

“Ok, I admit it. I’m slightly obsessed with Foursquare. Yes, I have checked in everywhere and anywhere, including gas stations and park statues, for the past 2.5 years. Yes, I spent an entire weekend in 2010 on a quest for badges (I even scored the Pee-Wee Herman badge). I even laugh at dirty Foursquare jokes. I can’t help it.  Right away I loved the game mechanics and the perfect combination of curation, discovery and random serendipity of the location based app. I want each Foursquare update to give me better tools to order the best dish on the menu, get the free WiFi password and help me discover the secrets of every new neighborhood.”

Boy oh boy. That’s some serious infatuation. So what’s it all about? Deep down, what drives it? I’ve got a couple of ideas.

Status:

We all love to be the best. Whether we’ve actually achieved something or not, we like to feel like we have. So even if we’re just the laziest sod out and only ever go to one venue, we can dominate all the other lazy sods and feel great about it.

Gamification:

I know, I know, such a buzzword. But it’s a buzzword for a reason. People love games. If a process is transformed into a game, it’s so much easier to engage with, and it switches on the competitive side of human nature. So much dopamine flying around!

Social intertwining:

We’re not so great at connecting with each other anymore. Everyone’s glued to their iPhone or hunched over their desk 18 hours a day. So on the odd occasion we surface for air, we want to make sure we connect with people we care about and have a fun experience with them. Competitive check-ins make this easy.

How To Create A Cult Product

“Creating a cult product doesn’t just happen out of the blue! It takes steps, planning, market appraisal!”

So the ‘process people’ would have you believe. You know the ones. The accountant-y types, who like to have a replicable formula for everything. The types that think that luck, creative spark and nostalgia have no part in a venture.

Sadly, those are not the people that actually create the products. Whatever it is – a game, an app, a toy – it’s the accountants who yell the loudest, but it’s the developers, the designers and the customers who really know the truth.

Creating a cult product really does happen by chance. You can measure market behaviour, take opinion polls, and line up all the jazzy PR you want – but it’s the true fans in your niche that make or break what you’re doing.

Ask the developers at Sega. The guys behind Line. The team over at Snapchat.

All these amazing tools and platforms that have ripped through our culture like wildfire, and truly achieved cult status? They weren’t driven by the accountants.

Maybe once they were up and rolling, but to begin with, it was people who truly loved the idea, and who were obsessive and fanatical and absolutely unrelenting in their belief that their idea was precious and worth pursuing – even if the market didn’t care.

That’s where the magic of creating a cult product comes from. The unfettered adoration of the creator. If you don’t believe you product – be it game, app or web tool – is the most fantastic, scream-it-from-the-rooftop idea, then no one else will either.

 

Our Favorite Things About Turf

Sigh. Turf was such an amazing game. We miss it. We get nostalgic sometimes, and that’s why we made this page. So we could come look at all the wonderful things other people say about it, and get some warm fuzzies when we need them. If you have something to add to this, you can always email it in to turf@turfgeographyclub.com

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Turf Geography Club did a fabulous job at borrowing this visual style of Moonrise Kingdom, creating a game trailer that’d make any Khaki Scout proud… I totally dig the style of the whole thing.”

Eli Hodapp, Touch Arcade

Real life Monopoly mixed with Tiny Tower to create a unique and entertaining gaming experience. There are plenty of ways to achieve ‘world domination’ on your iPhone, but perhaps none are quite as literal as what you can do in Turf Geography Club.”

Know Your Apps

I know a couple of fellow obsessives who are playing so it has been very fun so far… the retro Ranger Rick/Smokey the Bear graphics are pretty cool indeed. So I am calling on all Foursquare obsessives to check out Turf.”

Bill Hartnett, Method Shop

The game is way different than anything you’ve played every before. ‘Real world Monopoly’ is the one-liner that founder Michael Tseng has used to describe the game. That description covers the basic premise of Turf, but under the surface you’ll find a much more interesting and complex game.”

Mashable

Why Gaming Is More Than Just The Games

Every now and then, some child therapist gets up on their high horse and starts ranting about how gaming stunts kids, makes them violent, anti-social and uncommunicative.

The gaming community yells back that it’s the parents who are anti-social and uncommunicative, and that they don’t give their kids good boundaries or world views.

It’s rarely a constructive dialogue.

So this post is more about pointing out the positive aspects of gaming, than trying to cut anyone down to size. It’s something we talked about a lot while building Turf Geography Club – creating a fun gaming environment that would hopefully translate to improved real-world skills.

In our world, we believe that the benefits of gaming lie in three specific areas:

  • Dealing with challenges
  • Being part of a community
  • Personal development & improved lateral thinking

Let’s break those down a bit, as the sceptics among us might be thinking “it’s very easy to put some nice words in a list, but what does it mean?”

In every game, you’re going to face down challenges. That’s the whole point of any game – to overcome and obstacle, and to be crowned the winner for having done so.

Now, in real life, you might not get an award every time you rise to meet a challenge. But the sense of pride and achievement you get from beating a tough level in a game translates very nicely to overcoming a tough problem in the real world.

Gaming makes you part of something bigger than yourself. Many of us are really awkward. We’re not good in big social scenarios. All too often, the anti-game-brigade are larger than life, extroverts who don’t need the safety net of a screen to filter their interactions.

For the introverted, shy, anxious types though, gaming allows us to make friends, and to connect with real people instead of hiding away in our rooms alone.

You’re forced to grow as a person and to get better at thinking out of the box. There’s just no way you can become an adept gamer without spades of patience, strategic and measured action, and lateral thinking. You must develop these things if you’re going to get to the top.

These skills are also vitally important in the real world – for kids as much as adults – and I think it’s one of gaming’s great advantages that you learn these skills in an environment where mistakes only cost you a virtual life.

Why We’re Taking A Break

As you’re well aware by now, Turf Geography Club is no longer. We had to make the call last year to pull the plug, as it really hadn’t gotten the traction we had expected, or that it needed to be viable long term.

Our investors were standing by, ready to pour more liquid gold into Turf. They were nothing but supportive, and gave us much invaluable advice throughout the process. But we all had to be realistic, and we could no longer justify spending their capital when Turf should have been financially independent long ago.

To be honest with you, it’s not just the financial difficulty that convinced us to bow out. Our team have all been absolute troopers, pulling outrageously long hours for months and months on end. We worked through the night. We skipped meals. We missed parties and birthdays anniversaries. We have all poured every last drop of creativity, energy and sheer force of will into this project.

And it’s broken us.

We’re all utterly exhausted. Literally empty. I can’t get enough of sleeping and eating, and I don’t think I will have had my fill for a few months more yet.

To that end, we’re all under mandate to rest, recover and recuperate. One of the investors is so serious about this that he ordered each of us a massage table from Massage World, so that we could have a therapist come to our homes to give us deep tissue massages whenever we need them. I for one will be doing this weekly, as my posture was so damaged from months of furiously fast coding.

This blog is a last-ditch attempt to keep Turf alive. To honour the extremes we went to in building that little baby. To have a home for our nostalgia and a place to reflect. We can’t promise anything life-changing, but we’d love you to be part of it.