3 approaches to storytelling in games

Simon K Jones
18 min readJul 23, 2018

I was asked to give a talk comparing storytelling in games and literature by Access Creative College. This article is based on that talk — you can read the first part here. This article contains some spoilers, primarily for the game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.

Last time I wrote about genre and perspective in games, compared to prose fiction. Now it’s time to take a closer look at how games can be used to tell stories, exploring why it’s such an exciting, diverse and unusual medium.

It’s almost impossibly hard to define what a game ‘is’, which is testament to how fascinating it is as a form of artistic expression. Easier to identify are storytelling techniques in games, of which there are at least three distinct versions. These all boil down to the intersection of story with game design, and how that balance is weighted.

#1 Using games to tell your story

The priority here is to tell a story: that is the primary goal of the project, with games chosen as the delivery mechanism for the story. It’s likely that the story concept was the inception of the project.

Mass Effect 3, with my unique version of the protagonist

The Mass Effect trilogy is arguably an example of this form of storytelling. The games shifted their mechanical approach drastically over the course of three games, while retaining the same focus on…