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Ambiguity in narrative, in advertising October 19, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in advertising, creativity, storytelling, Video Games.
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Yesterday I was at my friend Tim‘s place where we waxed lyrical over beers on how we can make a squillion dollars – look for an announcement on retirement shortly. While there he fired up GTA 4 on his Xbox 360 as I hadn’t actually seen it in action (the gamer kids are asking for my dog tags back, it’s really quite tragic). I was incredibly impressed, it seems all the learnings about the balance between a sandbox and a story had been compounded into an experience equal parts open ended and focused. The biggest issue in games like GTA 4 (aside from the mammoth amount of technology they have to wrangle of course) is giving the users who want it an open ended universe to explore while at the same time delivering a taught experience for people who just want to play a game.

Tim actually took exception, saying it hinted at a completely open universe but didn’t actually deliver as he couldn’t run into any shop he wanted, rob them and then go next door to rinse and repeat. The pragmatist in me thinks that is unrealistic, but only because I’m coming from the perspective of a person who once had to generate content for people like Tim to run into every nook and cranny they could find; that is not a fun job to have.

I digress though. Ambiguity. Who did their homework and checked out the HBO Voyeur site? If you haven’t please go look at it now.

OK, what did you think? What did you see? A series of apartments spread across New York City, all with their own narratives going on. To my mind, what the agencies involved have done is take the essence of what they were promoting and asked themselves what the best way to tell the story would be. The other day I said the best examples of narrative in games are the ones where people think first about the story they want to tell and then settle on the style of game that suits it best; marketing can learn a lot from that approach, one of being platform-neutral and making sure the main thing is the main thing. No egos, no hidden agendas, just the desire to deliver the work in a way that suits the project best.

Sure, saying no egos in advertising is like asking the Pussycat Dolls to share vocals equally, like it was a vehicle for five careers and not one. The point remains though: we overcook so much on the way to delivering creative, we lose sight of what the brief was in the first place: to get the brand, product or service talked about.

Not the advertising around it.

Image courtesy of xeophin, with thanks to compfight.

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