Narrative in video games is a topic close to my heart. I want to believe that video games can tell compelling, dramatic stories. Most games that I do declare to have excellent stories, however, end up needing the qualifier “for a video game.”
So I’m constantly looking for ways that narrative and video games intersect, and this project by a British game design student is an excellent example. Robin Burkinshaw is conducting an experiment that turns stories in gaming on its head to explore the stories you make up yourself while playing.
Using the Sims 3, he has created a pair of memorable characters and using his blog to tell their story. The beauty of the Sims is the characters have specific personality traits, dreams and goals and you let them loose to watch how they interact together.
He created a family, Alice and her father, Kev, and made them wander the world of The Sims homeless. Kev is a disparaging asshole lunatic who is constantly putting his daughter down and Alice is a miserable teen with no friends.
The brilliance of Burkinshaw’s project is the stories he weaves on his blog about his two characters. Kev persecutes and insults his daughter with zeal while she’s around. When she is not, he tries to mack on ladies in his wife beater and underwear. Alice is constantly depressed whose friendship goals are thwarted when her targets are repulsed by her desire to sleep in their comfortable beds and take a shower when invited into their homes.
Here’s an excerpt:
I mentioned that Alice is feeling stressed out now that she’s a teenager. When she was a child, she used to always get her homework done on time, worked hard every day at school, and got constant A grades. She would often come home from school feeling strained, and the only way she could relax after working that hard was by cuddling her teddy.
She’s too old to cuddle teddy now. All she’ll do is hold him, but gets no enjoyment from it. She can’t even pretend that somebody loves her any more.
She won’t do her homework while this stressed. She won’t work hard at school. She is constantly miserable.
Finding something fun for Alice to do is a lot harder than you’d think. She’s still limited by a curfew, and her hours away from the park are often spent finding food or rest. Remembering her early days as a young child, I stopped her from going on the bus home after school again, and sent her to the school playground.
She had a happy few seconds on the swing before her exhaustion forced her to stop. She moved to the bench that used to be her home away from home, and napped. But she was still despairingly exhausted when she woke.
Then she just sat there, and cried.
That he is able to weave together an emotional tale based on two digital characters is intriguing. That the story is open ended, and could just as well end poorly keeps me interested. Is the tale of Zev & Alice a comedy, or a tragedy? We don’t know yet.
It’s also funny how some people can waste compassion on a digital character in a computer game when there are plenty of homeless people in the here and now that could use a hand.
Luckily Burkinshaw includes links to several charities that assist the homeless should his project warm peoples’ hearts. I say, if one person uses one of those links to donate, his project was worthwhile. Kudos.