In almost all the video games I’ve played, there’s been a protagonist (or group of protagonists), a villain, a set puzzle to be solved – basically, there’s been a set plot. Yeah, you can still make your own choices often or, in the case of certain games, end up with a different set of characters or ending based on your choices, but for the most part, you’re still going to end up with the same plot points. You’ll meet this NPC, you’ll fight that horde of enemies, you’ll have to sacrifice at least one of these characters – whatever the game is programmed to do. You’ll still get to that boss battle at the end, even if the outcome of that boss battle has a chance of being uncertain.
For example, the main villain doesn’t suddenly get killed by accident.
I play Dungeons and Dragons with a group of my friends, some of whom are in this class. There’s eight people in our party, plus our DM, and it’s really fun and often really chaotic. And the discussions this class has had about player choice vs narrative in video games made it even funnier when our DM’s plan was basically thrown out the window last session.
There’s this NPC named Ply who was a high-ranking member of an army whose camp we had to travel through to get back to a group of rebels, basically. Ply didn’t like our party very much because of things we did earlier in the game, and one of our characters freaked out when we were caught sneaking through the camp, for a number of reasons including the fact that this guy was the only one in a position of power in this army who knew the character’s (Benjem’s) real name. So, of course, our rogue here decides to roll to see if he can just, like, out of the blue, stab Ply in the face.
My friend then rolls a natural 20, which means he automatically gets a critical success, and Benjem kills Ply. Oops. Turns out Ply was secretly a shapeshifter who had infiltrated the army and has apparently been a number of characters we’ve met along the way. This shapeshifter was supposed to be the final boss battle of the semester.
Sooooo, basically, our DM now has to completely change his plan. It was pretty much the funniest thing ever when it happened, and now, thinking about it, that kind of thing just can’t happen in a video game. Playing Dungeons and Dragons is so much fun because although the narrative is originally structured by the DM, the players generally have final control over it. It’s created around our characters and our story, although the world itself is already built. So whether Benjem stabs the main villain a month before the boss battle, Aidina trips and accidentally sets a cart on fire, or Tym creates a giant illusionary dragon instead of choosing sides, D&D often oversteps the limits of a typical game narrative.