Thursday, October 13, 2011

Writing a Mystery Game (Part 1)

Tips for writing intriguing stories for Serious Games

Part 1 of 3

‘Intrigue’ in stories is good. It’s great for capturing the audiences’ attention and keeping them engaged with the flow of the narrative. In fact a really strong ‘intrigue’ that is noticed early by the audience can be such a powerful force that it can mostly carry a story on its own.  

An example of a learning game I have worked on that utilized the element of mystery well was the “City of fear” game developed by the teachers at the Center for Learning Innovation, NSW, Australia. Developed on the Mystery Matters* game engine (developed by Playware Studios) this game is part of History syllabus and deals with the topic of the plague in Sydney. 

The plague in Sydney is a dreary chapter in the class. It happened in 1900 and students can’t connect the modern city they see today with the images of squalor in the books. The chapter talks about death from disease and focuses on themes such as sanitation and city planning which don’t appeal to the young school goers. 

Faced with this challenge, Sally Watts, the Lesson Design Officer, came up with an ingenious solution.
She christened the game “City of Fear” and presented it to the students as an unsolved mystery revolving mysterious deaths that they must investigate. During the course of their investigation the students sift through the available materials and slowly discover the learning objectives of the chapter.  

Look up Mystery Matters Here

The result of this transformation is that the topic has gone from being one of the most boring and shunned topics in the curriculum to being the most interesting educational game the kids have played. With kids even logging in from home on their own time to find the solution to the mystery. 

This guide will attempt to illustrate the creation of a Mystery Game narrative using the “City of Fear” as an example. Remember to have fun since there are many ways of creating stories and you don’t need to follow every step detailed in this tutorial to come up with a winning story. 

All great mysteries have three things in common; 

  • The Story is usually set against a background that seems like normal everyday life. However it is easy to notice that all is not as it appears on the surface 
  • As you peel away the various layers you gain better insight of the characters, situations and relationships
  • The big reveal is both fulfilling as somewhat predictable ‘Aha!’ moment and somewhat unexpected.

Continue reading 

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