Time for a little fun. The latest flash game web sensation, Sock and Awe, gives you the opportunity to throw shoes at the president. It’s supposed to be fun and funny, not a big political statement. Go look at it now real quick. We’ll wait…
Finished? You may play it and agree that there’s no dialog or story in it, but I’m here to tell you just the opposite. It’s fun and funny because of the story. It’s just not written into the game itself; it’s been written by journalists and politicians for nearly five years.
Far too often, developers and gamers alike assume that because there’s no dialog or Star Wars-like scroll at the beginning that there is no story. Part of the job of narrative in games is to provide context and meaning to players’ actions. However, players often already have knowledge that can help your game and narrative, like in licensed games. If you play a Batman game, chances are you don’t need to learn his origin story or what Gotham City is all about. You have been exposed to his exposition perhaps through reading comics, watching movies or TV, or going to certain Halloween parties over the course of your life. When you plug in the Batman game, you pretty much know what story you’re in for.
In Sock and Awe, just like with many licensed games, the player comes to the table with the story and context in mind. You’re aware, for example, that Bush is president, that he was visiting Iraq years after the “Shock and Awe” campaign put US troops there, and that a man threw shoes at him. The developers chose the right design and the right art to tell the story that has been buzzing on the internet this week. Now imagine how you would react to playing this game if you had just woken up today from a nap that had lasted:
You would play this game and find the game funny, but you wouldn’t be sure why you’re throwing shoes.
You think it’s a little odd that you are throwing anything.
You are wondering why you’re throwing things at this random man (or, if you’re knowledgeable, at the Texas governor).
Let’s face it. The game is basically a low-rent re-skin of Duck Hunt. I’m even playing Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass right now and there are several mini-games of the same type in it. It’s what you know about the story and background that makes Sock and Awe fun. And adding in which countries have thrown the most shoes… well, that’s the icing!
Which games have you played that assumed you knew a lot about the world or backstory?