How do you effectively challenge audience preconceptions? This is a question that many artists face when pushing the boundaries, but what if the audience preconception is to ignore your work entirely? This is the challenge faced by writers in the gaming industry.
Anyone that’s spent any amount of time in the gaming community is bound to come across some variation of the phrase “story doesn’t matter.” Video games are an interactive medium, so gameplay has to be the most important part, right? While this is true in many respects, it is the narrative that contextualizes that gameplay. For the first in this series about video game narrative, we’ll be looking at the 2009 PlayStation Network game, Flower.
Flower can loosely be described as a puzzle game in which the player tilts the controller to guide their flower petals along the wind, blooming every flower in their path. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be a narrative at all, but that’s where you’d be wrong. The game starts off in a safe natural environment full of grassy fields and rocky canyons, but these gradually give way to a more urbanized, antagonistic setting. Active power lines and crumbling infrastructure chip away at the petals, but they overcome, causing the entire city to burst into euphoric bloom. It may be simple, it may not be particularly deep, but this is a complete narrative arc.
This approach to narrative brings to mind films like Disney’s Fantasia, geared more toward the ephemeral experience of watching it in the moment than storytelling. Flower takes this approach and simplifies it even further by forgoing dialogue and even actual characters to leave the player with a narrative told purely through the game’s mechanics. Flower in its simplicity achieves the harmonious union between narrative and mechanics that serves as the end goal for video game storytelling. Not bad for a relaxing little art game.