Plot inventory

The other day Liz Ryerson made this great tweet:

Liz wasn’t being entirely serious, and she later noted she doesn’t think “conquest” games are necessarily BAD, but, I thought this was interesting to consider. Video games do overwhelmingly tend to fall into narratives about domination, “beating” something, power fantasies of one type or another, and it’s easy to make a game fundamentally about this without realizing you’ve done it.

I started wondering: What are my games about, exactly?

So I made a list. Here is the basic player motivation / plot impetus in every game I’ve made (whether I released it or not):

  1. “Jumpman” Try to escape a pit.
  2. “Angels” Consume, but do not be consumed.
  3. “dot” Consume.
  4. “Impression” Try to escape a pit.
  5. “The Snap” Kill player 2.
  6. “You Don’t Fit” Try to escape a pit.
  7. “pongx8” Beat player 2 at tennis.
  8. “My Own Footsteps” Find an artifact.
  9. “Day & Night” Escape a wall of lava.
  10. “Template” Descend ever further into a pit.
  11. “Reverse Tarot” Write a story.
  12. “Unplayable Asteroids” Cause as much property damage as you can get away with.
  13. “Markov Space” Write a story.
  14. “Xaxxaxoxax” Try to escape a pit.
  15. “A Dark Place” Descend into, then escape, a pit.
  16. “The Shadowland Prophesy” Try to play a video game.
  17. “Breathe” Descend into, then escape, a pit.
  18. “7DRL” Descend into, then escape, a pit, while killing everything you see.
  19. “Flipper” Try to escape a dreamworld.
  20. “Luanauts” Save the world?
  21. “Fall” Kill everything you see.
  22. “Fall2” Carefully climb into a pit.
  23. “The World Hates You” Try to escape a pit.
  24. “The Nervous System” Consume.
  25. “Death By Chocolate” Try to escape a dreamworld.

My games probably aren’t representative? But I notice, I did kind of fall into a pattern about what kinds of narrative I make. A good half of these games are, fundamentally, games about being trapped in some kind of hostile situation or deceptive reality and trying to escape. (Hm.) And without having really thought about it at the time, a good 33% of the games I made wound up being some kind of domination narrative, assuming you count Tennis. (One thing I’ll note, counting it out: Only 20% of my games, at some point, give the player the option of killing something.)

You know what? Never mind the power fantasies thing. I think this is an interesting exercise by itself. So I challenged the indie dev community (or the portion of it which was reading Twitter at 2 AM this tuesday) to make their own plot inventory lists. Here’s what I got:

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is whether video games constrain you in terms of what kind of stories you can tell– obviously you can make a game about anything, but at some point you have to marry your narrative to a mechanic, so unless your story is in certain ways goal-oriented, unless you’re clever maybe it won’t be a very interesting game or you’ll find your story and game design goals fighting each other at some point. Coming back to Liz’s point, between the eight people listed above– and remember, we’re indie devs making mostly small experimental games, so we’d expect a broader range of kinds of games here than you might see in say commercial games– we made 345 games and 150 were what I’m broadly defining as domination narratives. Under half! That’s not so bad. Thesyncophant had the smallest proportion of “conquest” games (22/70) and Kyle had the highest (8/10). KYLE REIMERGARTIN: CONQUEROR OF GALAXIES.

Game devs: Send me your plot inventories! I DESIRE DATA.

UPDATE: More lists:

9 Responses to “Plot inventory”

  1. my plot inventory | PORPENTINE Says:

    […] made a post about tallying up the essential motivations in our […]

  2. Porpentine Says:

    here’s mine

    Cloadokum: Solve a mystery by finding clues—at least for part of the game
    Funeral for a friend: Dig a grave
    STARSHIT: Find a bounty and kill them
    Wonderful Swamp Crab: Explore
    Nostrils of flesh and clay: Locate an item
    KLIT OF THE MONTH: Survive bullets shot by a giant baby
    A Place of Infinite Beauty: Climb a mountain
    BATMAN IS SCREAMING: Get out of bed and walk around
    Myriad: lol. varies wildly based on scene
    The Sky in the Room: Get drugs, have sex, sleep
    metrolith: differs from character to character but basically explorational/hunting/wandering
    howling dogs: varies wildly based on scene

    hard to pin down a running theme

  3. Jonathan Whiting Says: Solve the puzzle.
    Only Forward: Rescue men from the maze.
    Isles of Colour: Solve the puzzles to collect 40 mcguffins.
    Husk: Explore/escape the maze.
    Antagonist: Escape malignant unidentified house breaker.
    Knoss: Delay consumption by red cylinder as long as possible.
    Jed: Rescue your robot children.
    Aubergine Sky: Finish your walk, realize something important.
    crushd: Climb/survive the tower of falling bricks as far as possible.
    loveletter: Prove your devotion.
    collateral: Follow orders; realize why orders were shit; avoid people dying.
    Stalwart: Reach the castle, keep the music playing.
    traal: Escape the dungeon.
    Craequ: Solve all the puzzles, meet the other person.
    Niña Nueve: Get through all screens, defeat bosses.

    Only collateral and Niña Nueve involve killing things, and collateral is vaguely against doing so.

    Prime running theme seems to be escape/survive. Also noticing that my games tend to have very little narrative justification at all, mostly they’re presented as “here is this thing, figure it out I guess”; not sure that’s actually a bad thing.


    […] been discussion going around of people tallying up the basic plots of their games. It looked like an interesting exercise so I’m gonna do it too, with my games. Bolded ones […]

  5. auntie pixelante › stated goals Says:

    […] friend andi has been getting people to identify and tally the sources of player motivation in their games, to get a picture of how much overlap people’s games have with the mainstream (kill aliens / […]

  6. zaratustra Says:

    rescue the princess
    escape the wizard’s trap
    collect elements to save the earth
    eat fish
    reach the goal (x4)
    help others reach the goal
    graduate from high school
    solve the puzzle (x11)
    do not make mistakes (x2)
    keep alive as long as possible
    figure out how to win at the game
    realize the game you are playing is pointless

    Disclaimer: I am not actually zaratustra! This list is reposted from the comments of

  7. Sergio Says:

    Electric Stories a.k.a. Pauli Kohberger / @madamluna has a list with a home of its own:

  8. Leiralei Says:

    Hmm. I haven’t any published ones with my own plots…

    Ideas so far seem to be:
    3 faction conquest pvp (my favorite faction is the “rightful” one defending against invaders)
    Defense with small variations (1 puzzle, 3 straight action, 1 adventure/puzzle (x5))
    Gather the stuffs to heal the world
    Find the promised land and escape from baddies trying to stop you
    Hero’s Journey with …a theme of defense against a powerful semi-immortal being…
    Fighting game concentrating on skillful combat with the theme of ascending the need for conquest by taking part in a neverending tournament of skill instead

    Um. Wow.

    Totally not a theme there. Nope. >.>

  9. Stated Goals | Ludus Novus Says:

    […] Anthropy posted a list of her games’ goals in response to a challenge by Andi “Jumpman” McClure. Seemed like something worth doing for my own games. So below […]

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