I wrote this for last month's musing, but never got around to finish editing it or getting the pictures right, but here it is anyway, I thought it was interesting. It is a discussion and retelling of an emergent narrative that unfolded at a LAN party among friends. I'm publishing it now, with ugly photos and all. Enjoy.
In my fourteen-ish years of gaming there have been few times where I have been introspectively reflecting on how a narrative is emerging in my gameplay. I always have this nagging thought in the back of my mind that perhaps everyone experienced this the same way, and that my play experience was anything but unique. This doesn't mean that it wasn't fun, I just never really considered that it was worth retelling, thanks to the nagging thought that everyone had the exact same experience, I would look like a dolt for telling a story about my unique emergent narrative, when it was actually scripted.
There was then a point in time where "sandbox"-esque games started appearing in my videogame library and that changed (almost). Even with modern releases, I rarely feel like any game is a true "Sandbox" (except for 2nd Life, which arguably isn't a game) it just seems like I can always come up with something really cool to do, only to have reins tugged in on my creative spirit. The closest I've come to truly enjoying "sandboxy" freedom came from Crackdown and Saints Row II, two incredible games where I felt like something amazing happened, that was unique, and I was responsible. I digress though, I can't remember any of these probably incredible occurrences and instead I'm going to tell a story about a "use map settings" custom Starcraft Scenario.
Not too long ago I was at a LAN party with some friends when someone started up Starcraft lobby with the name: "Phantom". The rules of the game were straightforward: One person is selected randomly to gain extra resources over the course of the game, this is the phantom. The phantom's other advantage is:the phantom's identity is a secret to all but the phantom. The only goal of the game is to kill the Phantom. (for the phantom, the goal is to kill everyone), and the game ends when the phantom is killed or there is nobody left alive. My friends and I would usually play with eight people, so the games would be tense.
It would start out with a tenuous pact between all players that would slowly dwindle as different players grabbed resources and started flying accusations at each other. Nobody ever really knew who the phantom was until it was killed. Little did we know, that all the cunning and deceit in the world wouldn't stop who thought to be the least skilled among us from singularly dominating us all.
The game was in motion. Bases were established, two players were already dead and four of us were still trying to figure out the identity of the phantom, while one other was pretending to do the same thing, plotting our demise. The gut-wrenching stench of gamer BO filled the LAN room, as sweat accumulated on our brows as we examined the playing field. We were all about even in troops and upgrades, and everyone was allied. Naturally, the more experienced among us had staked claim to more resources than others, but nobody was drawing attention to themselves. Suddenly, The white base was enshrouded in the fog of war, as he turned off allied vision. I feigned nonchalance calling across the room, "Hey white... whatcha up to?"
"you guys don't need to see my base" he responded. The collective four remaining allied thought quickly and decided in allied private chat that White was exhibiting some very suspicious behavior: He needed to be taken out quickly. Troops were assembled outside the white base, and with precise haste, the we moved in and destroyed it. We waited anxiously for the Victory screen to pop up after the text, The_pope has been eliminated... nothing. We had slain another person who could help us defeat the phantom, and the game was down to four. I had a small expanded base and was upgrading as best I could, amassing defensive goliaths in preparation for the inevitable aerial assault. I was not the phantom, and with only three other people as suspects, I still had no idea. There was no action for a solid five minutes. We had dealt ourselves a crushing blow, and now was the time for decisive action. It was, Jordan (skilled, zerg, phantom suspect), TJ (terran, very skilled, phantom suspect), Matt (protoss, OK player, not a threat), and myself (terran, pretty good, not the phantom). TJ broke the silence, "Matt, you're hogging all the vespene."
He moved a battlecruiser fleet towards a poorly defended geyser and we all watched as the Yamato
cannons flared. "WHAT THE HELL MAN?" Matt shot back in anger.
"You're barely using it, and I need it" Matt responded to this with a small force of carriers. Jordan and I knew that TJ was the phantom, "I need vespene" wasn't an acceptable excuse for attacking someone else. We moved in and destroyed TJs base, sure that he was the phantom and that victory would be swift. We were wrong.
I quickly un-allied everyone in the game and started building defensively. "I'm not the phantom" I said aloud to the other two. "I don't trust you Nico" Jordan replied "What do you mean?" He meant guardians, attacking my base, along with Matt's carriers. I felt so betrayed. Jordan was obviously the phantom, and he was stringing Matt along all this time. It had come to a sad end, one of our best players, the phantom, up against Matt, who at the time really wasn't all that skilled. "I F*@#ing TOLD YOU!!!" I yelled at the two, who were both grinning. My base disappeared, and the game continued, no victory screen for them. I proceeded to the menu screen where it became immediately obvious from Matt's enormous resources score that Jordan wasn't actually the phantom. An enormous smile crept onto my face, as dismay and thoughts of betrayal crept into Jordan's heart. I rushed over to Matt's computer and joined the crowd of people around his massive monitor.
He had carriers, so many deadly carriers and they were picking apart Jordan's base. Jordan, the last remaining in the alliance against the phantom, was being killed by his longest standing ally, the phantom that nobody had expected. The phantom had done the impossible. He had deceived everyone, and spared no one. It was a crushing blow to the seven of us, we hung our heads and gathered around a bucket of Red Vines as Matt cackled maniacally watching the replay of his cunning victory. I had never expected so much tension and excitement from a single round of Starcraft, let alone from such a simple modification.
It makes me think about how some people can become so emotionally invested in a single game, and how that effects their lives. I feel that games can have a very deep impact on people's lives, physically, intellectually and emotionally. They can change the way we look at people, our friends, strangers, the world, and in a limited way it allows us to express ourselves with great ease. I appreciate when a game walks me through a narrative, showing me story and letting me play through it, but when I am engaged in my own created narrative with friends I am having the most fun. I always look back on that match fondly, even though I didn't win, that didn't matter, the game had no true extrinsic meaning. Despite this, it is a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life. For a brief time I entered a microcosmic world where I played a vital and unique role, and I had fun doing it. read