Storytelling with Software

What aspects of video games make video games a potentially more effective medium of storytelling than “traditional” mediums?

I wouldn’t use the word “Video Games” for this, because, as I’ve mentioned in previous writing, digital entertainment software is a wider medium than just games, and this medium has unique strengths with regards to storytelling that other mediums don’t.

The most obvious thing is that software can easily deliver different bits of narrative content with regards to context. It can have branching narrative content, which is essentially an excess of narrative that is selected between. So rather than telling just one story, in software it’s easy to tell a lot of different possible stories that the writers prepare in advance, as well as replacing or modifying individual elements of these stories.

With software, you can create associations for performing certain actions, then recontextualize those actions in a thematically relevant way. Probably the most significant example of this is Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.

Software can do advanced calculations on the fly for a lot of things that are hard to implement similar functionality for in traditional media, and it can keep those calculations hidden. For example, you can determine which content to present based on prior user input sampled over a long period, and you can keep the factors that control this presentation a secret, or even that there was a calculation to determine this in the first place.

Another advantage is that in software, you can explore multiple narrative threads and leave the other ones hanging to be resolved later. Also, much like a real life haunted house or theme park, you can create a virtual environment that can be walked around and engaged with and examined at your discretion, so narrative elements can be embedded in the presentation of this environment, a technique commonly referred to as, “Environmental Storytelling.”

And of course, you could include a game within a piece of software, this is the most common use of digital entertainment software.

Software excels at creating places to explore and presenting a multiplicity of stories, along with the convenience to examine the story at your leisure and tie together disparate narrative information in a non-preset order, which is uncommon in other media. It’s like having an fictitious encyclopedia rather than a storybook, where things are laid out across entries that bind together to form a coherent whole, rather than a specific telling of specific events.

Software can say something like “He quickly dashed inside and (hid his [keys] in the [dresser]) OR (grabbed his [gun] from the [coffee table]).” where you can swap out which bit of narrative content actually happens, and change some of the objects of interest within the narrative content. Choose your own adventure books can have the OR, but they can’t swap the objects, and they can’t remember a choice from a prior page and bring it down into a later branch, unless you want to make a fuckton more redundant branches for each of these permutations.

Software can’t let you make “your own” story, but it can tell you many stories instead of one, and it can let you pick between which ones you want to hear.

In terms of maybe not narrative potential, but general artistic potential, software can create links between people, such as Nier Automata’s Ending E, in which players need to go through a difficult sequence, but can be offered help from other players in the form of a powerup that makes the sequence easier. The catch is that this powerup comes at the cost of all that person’s save game data, and you’re offered the same choice to offer that powerup to other players who cannot beat the ending when you reach the end at the cost of all your save data. The powerup is marked with a message from that person and their name, so by getting hit in the ending sequence after accepting the powerup, effectively their last will and testament within the game is being deleted after they’ve already given up their save data.

And I heard of another experimental game where there was a shared stock of lives between all players of the game, and in playing the game well you could earn more lives, but also lose them of course, and if you did really poorly, you might earn more lives for other people to play the game, but once all the lives were gone the game was dead.

To encompass this category of digital entertainment software I’ve come up with the word, “Videoware” recently, and I’d like if it that were to become a thing. The idea is that all digital entertainment software is now under the umbrella “videoware” and “video games” are a sub-category of videoware, with other applications falling into the general category instead, with subcategories for interactive fiction or maybe digital pets or software toys. Under this grouping, we can look at Steam as say a videoware distributor rather than strictly a games distributor. The term might sound a little silly, but I think it would be better for describing our current ecosystem than our current terminology, and it would acknowledge the link between digital entertainment software in general, and games software specifically.

Here’s some examples of stories told through software:

Does a video game need to be a good game to be a good video game? why?

Y’know, I’d take it as a given, but not everyone does, so I think I’m not really going to elaborate on this one.

Can you say why you think it’s a given? like what do you say to people who say video games are their own thing sort of separate from games? they use that to justify the idea that games dont need good gameplay, and that gone home is a good video game even if its not good as a strict game

Currently my position is that entertainment software, which I’m thinking of calling “Videoware” (somewhere between video game and software), is a whole medium, and video games are a subset of that larger medium. Gone home (or Dear Esther really) might be a good “videoware”, but it’s not a video game, the same way Mario or Interactive Buddy aren’t Interactive Fiction, and the latter isn’t a game either.

I like this semantic because I don’t want to say video games are their own separate thing from games. I think the categories should be unified and we understand games, videoware or not, as being the same across mediums. I think we should unify tabletop games and sports and understand them in similar terms too.

I’d say that there are artistic forms that are possible in software that don’t exist elsewhere and perhaps deserve their own exploration, but I’d personally hold that a video game needs to be a good game

17 thoughts on “Storytelling with Software

  1. C.J.Geringer June 14, 2017 / 5:04 pm

    >”With software, you can create associations for performing certain actions, then recontextualize those actions in a thematically relevant way. Probably the most significant example of this is Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.”

    could you expand on this a bit for someone who has not played the game?


  2. C.J.Geringer June 14, 2017 / 5:22 pm

    >”To encompass this category of digital entertainment software I’ve come up with the word, “Videoware” ”

    I praise and agree with your intension, but that is a horrible world for this. It is below. Seems like what one would call Windows movie-maker type os software, and I don´t think the main characteristic of entertainment software is the fact they are visual(like “video” seems to imply).

    If you want a short term for Entertainment software, why not call it something like “Entertainware”, or “Amuseware”?

    Maybe “Interactware” since the defining characteristic of entertainment software when compared with other forms of entertainment (instead of comparing with other forms of software) seem to be interaction?(Even Dear Eshter which is would not rightly call a “software toy”, has it´s impact dictated by player imput and interaction.)


    • Chris Wagar June 14, 2017 / 8:25 pm

      I think Videoware sounds a bit more natural than Entertainware or Amuseware. I think entertainware has too many syllables in one word (same with interactware), and amuseware sounds a bit off to me. I’ll agree it’s not a perfect word, and I’d be up for suggestions for a better one. Videoware is however a portmanteau of “Video Games” and “Software”, so even if people’s associations are a bit off for it, I think if the word were to see widespread adoptions that people could rebuild associations for it rather easily.

      Other people have remarked that it sounds a bit too much like marketing speak, and honestly it reminds me a little of Videodrome (wouldn’t it be funny if we called the category that?).

      There already exist forms of entertainment that involve interaction actually, they’re just not thought of readily. Haunted Houses, Amusement Parks, and Promenade Theater. Also Toys of course. Software Toys I think should be a more specific category under the larger umbrella of videoware however.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. adrix89 June 15, 2017 / 9:05 am

    I think “Interactive Experience” was also a term that was floating around to separate from the umbrella of games.

    Another thing that software can do that is tangentially related to games is that it can create in depth functioning Worlds especially if you take the simulationist approach or by structuring players in a Sandbox MMO.

    Games are barely scratching the surface on this possibility in games like Dwarf Fortress, Minecraft, Rimworld or in some Rogulikes(Elona, CoQ, ADOM).

    There are also open world RPGs that do this on a more shallow level.


  4. stayskeptic June 27, 2017 / 8:32 pm

    The fact that people can’t seem to distinct video games from other digital interactive entertainment medium like Digital Interactive Fiction just because they use the same technology is one of my pet peeves. We really do need an umbrella word for all these mediums. It’s hard to come up with a term because regular software is digital, visual and interactive as well, and hell, so are websites, which are also often intended to be entertaining. They’re also all programmed. I’m at a loss, haha. Videoware isn’t entirely accurate, and an acronym like DIEM sounds silly, but at this point we may as well just use whatever unused sound we come up with to at least give the umbrella a name. I mean, many names don’t make sense anyways. Pop music doesn’t just mean popular anymore, indie rock doesn’t just mean independant anymore, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chris Wagar June 27, 2017 / 9:56 pm

      Names don’t need to be perfectly accurate to describe a category as long as its understood what category they’re referring to. RPGs aren’t about roleplaying after all.


      • C.J.Geringer June 28, 2017 / 1:02 pm

        Actually that is why inaccurate names are so frustratting.

        To many player RPGs ARE all about the roleplaying.


        • Chris Wagar June 28, 2017 / 1:48 pm

          And unless they’re playing tabletop games, they’d be wrong.


          • C.J.Geringer June 28, 2017 / 2:12 pm

            That is a very absolute view, and I a very narrow view of what can or cannot be roleplaying.

            Could you please expand? Why can´t peopel roleplay playing world of warcraft? Why are so many people who love CRPGs because of the roleplay aspect are wrong?

            Why can roleplay only happen in a tabletop RPG context? Why can´t a strategy AAR be roleplay?


            • Icycalm did nothing wrong July 4, 2017 / 12:11 pm

              You can play pretend in any game but to actually roleplay the game has to acknowledge your actions.


              This is an icycalm article, but I think it’s one of the handful of actually good ones


              • Chris Wagar July 4, 2017 / 2:21 pm

                Ehhhhhhhhhh, I’ll say that it makes some fair points, albeit poorly constructed and goes off the deep end.


              • C.J.Geringer July 4, 2017 / 11:52 pm

                “You can play pretend in any game but to actually roleplay the game has to acknowledge your actions.”

                Why the game? I would argue that play pretend IS roleplay. If the game itself recognizes it is secondary to how the PLAYER experiences it. If you like AAR (After action Reports) They are full of players who played in-character.

                They LITERALLY played a role using the rules of the game as a medium. They roleplayed BY DEFINITION (This two serve as great examples: and

                Second, in a lot of ways games DO Recognize actions. they may not Recognize intent, but the aforementioned AAR only work as entertainment precisely because the above system-driven games aknowledge actions. And What if the game does not specially recognize it, but the comunity does(e.g.: Roleplay servers of online games and a few of the afore mentioned AAR.)? that would be closer to a tabletop session, using computers instead of Dice and DMs.

                Obviously all this instances of roleplaying have their peculiarities, and obviously not everyone that enjoys one enjoys the other but at the end, they all create enjoyment by playing a role. To categorically say that only tabletop RPG is “True roleplayin” is too narrow minded.


              • C.J.Geringer July 5, 2017 / 3:09 pm

                > “You can play pretend in any game but to actually roleplay the game has to acknowledge your actions.”

                Playing pretend is the kernel of roleplaying. I would say that if one play´s pretend according to a role they are roleplaying. The game recognizing the roleplay or not is secondary to how the player experiences the roleplay. As long a one plays “in-character” I would consider it roleplay.

                But let´s stick with your rule for argument´s sake.

                I would like to use as an example two AARs: ( &

                In both cases the player is using the game as a medium for PLAYING a ROLE , which is roleplaying BY DEFINITION. And in both cases the AAR are entertaining in grand part precisely because the game reacts and acknowledges the actions(though it might not recognize the meta narrative or the intent behind the actions, the actions themselves are recognized.

                So according to your definition the aforementioned AAR are roleplaying, correct?

                The same can be said for numerous CRPG let´s plays. Or Dwarf Fotress sucesison forts, or any number of forms of self expression that use games as a medium to play arole

                And how about Roleplay servers for online games? Not only may the game Recognize actions, but other players recognize them, (which is closer to Mr. Wargars definition). Which in turn can make the game recognize the actions even more deeply, as th eothe rplayers react to the roleplay of the first one, and their actions in turn modify the game state further.

                Frankly I find it weird to classify Roleplay permadeath servers of ultima online, a anything but a form of online roleplaying.

                I agree that each form of roleplaying has it´s own limitations and will agree that is not exactly the same as tabletop roleplaying.

                ,But to categorically say that only tabletop RPGs can be considered roleplay, is IMO silly, narrow-minded, and smacks of gatekeeping. and the justification that software does not acknowledges actions is easily disproved by the above examples.


                • C.J.Geringer July 5, 2017 / 3:10 pm

                  Sorry for the double post, thought the site had eaten my comment, but seems it was only waiting fro moderation, my bad.


  5. R.K. July 2, 2017 / 3:32 pm

    Why is this subcategorization useful?


    • Chris Wagar July 2, 2017 / 8:02 pm

      You mean broad categorization. It’s useful because it allows us to acknowledge software and simulation as forms of art unto themselves, as well as games as a form of art unto itself, enabling us to recognize the individual strengths of all of these.

      Liked by 1 person

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