Using Game Mechanics To Push A Narrative Theme

There a lot of ways you can use game mechanics to push a certain theme in a choicescript game. One idea that I had for an abandoned project was to insert a secret ending which would trigger if the player had restarted the game a certain number of times. The purpose of it was to emphasis the theme of “Not worrying so much about the past.” But it didn’t work for two reasons. Firstly, to my knowledge, there is no way to check how many times the player would have clicked on restart and it felt out of place.

Another way of using game mechanics, off the top of my head would be in Highlands with the sanity mechanic.

So, my question would be what other ways can game mechanics be used to enhance the story?/What ways can you use choice-script creatively to push your narrative theme?

Edit: I think the original title didn’t fit my question so it has been changed


You could replace the restart screen of the *ending command by one made by yourself, so the player wouldn’t know it is being tracked and you could count the times it passes through it. You’ll need a save and restore system to do that in order to keep the variables values according to the part it resets it.
Just of the top of my head I think its doable, I didn’t really tested it.

For your secret ending idea, I think it would probably work to provide a “Choose Again” option after the major choices in your game, which would reverse any stat changes and redirect them back to the previous choice screen. You can then track that by adding +1 to a hidden stat, and then set a threshold for when that stat is high enough for the alternate ending.

I’m not sure what you’re trying to get at specifically with this question. I suppose that I like games where your choices affect a personality stat, and the author writes alt text for certain high personality stats in the narrative. Then the character begins to feel more real, because they’re feeling things the player agrees with without being instructed to do so.

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I thought of that, but I didnt want to go through the hassle.

To rephrase, What ways can you use choice-script creatively to push your narrative theme.

For example: Maybe a game pushing the narrative that “abusing drugs is bad” can implement a mechanic whereby during a battle the player is given a choice to use a “battle drug” to automatically win the battle but consequences of doing so would far out weight the benefits of an automatic win (I can’t think of such a consequence at the moment.)

by that do you mean, if my eg:sarcasm personality trait is high, dialogue will be more laced with sarcasm.
Personally, I don’t really like personality stats, I rather be given choices which can showcase the characters personality.

Yes that could work, but I think one problem that would arise with play testers would be them wanting such an option at every choice. Maybe indirectly labeling it as a “Choose again” option, might prevent that issue.

Using mechanics to push a narrative element or theme leads to resentment and misunderstandings. Ultimately, the audience (or readers) will act like they were betrayed and even lied to by the developers. Bioware, E/A, Bethesda and many more developers are guilty of doing this at one time or another, and the backlash is often harsh.

Mechanics should always compliment the narrative. Full stop. If the mechanic you have in your game does not compliment what you are writing, it needs to be removed, redesigned or even ignored.

Using your game as your morality play is going to be a hit-miss matrix at best and at worst, it will turn off the majority of your possible market.

This is especially true with Hosted Games, because a large part of your core audience is an audience that is the targeted antagonists of most morality play products in their societies.

Finesse is the one aspect of game making, I do not think you can teach. Yet the ability to harness finesse is sometimes very important and will often dictate success or failure.

Most problems with mechanics are related to not understanding how to craft them and deploy them. And then, keeping hold of faulty mechanics because you have become attached to them as you work with them.

I sincerely urge you to reconsider your developer approach to mechanics, because from the little I’ve seen (in this thread) I fear you are setting yourself up for disappointment.


Of course, I know this ,a theme should be something subtle and is seen once you really analyses it deeply.

By morality play, do you mean pushing an opinion in a story as the one and only true opinion? If so, yeah I know, that’s the worst thing to do.

Also, were the mechanics in the previous two posts too on the nose instead of being complimentary?

Do you have any examples?

Sorry I don’t understand, could you reexplain in simpler english.

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I think going so far as to “far out-weigh” the intended benefit is a bit harsh for any game mechanic. I think it’s important to keep your games balanced, and it would be simple enough to set it up this way:

#Fight it out.
Player pushes themself to the limit, winning the battle but sustaining severe injuries.
#Make an escape.
Player escapes with minimal damage, but loses the battle.
#Take the drug.
Player wins the battle and takes minimal damage, but their HP cap is reduced.

This way the player still feels that they have lost something for taking the drug, but it isn’t a game-destroying issue.

I mean, the idea here is that you get to make choices that determine what your character’s personality is.

I guess it depends on how you spin it. I don’t think any game mechanic is necessarily good as a stand-alone idea, it all depends on how you contextualize it within the game.

I don’t think I understand…

Are you saying that you are looking for a game mechanic that reacts when the player takes a stance towards the theme of the story?

i.e. the theme is “revenge brings ruin” and the game mechanic could be “every time the player choose revenge the relationships with other NPCs will decrease”?

Yes something like that. Or any way a game Mechanic can be used to enhance the narrative.

I think there is a way to check for triggered achievements (don’t ask me how though, have to quiz the forum) but you could use it to track the number of endings people had gotten via triggered ending achievements. Alternatively as loudbeat says, you can replace the ending with a goto_scene startup and add a counter, however you’d need to make sure you reset all your variables back to their starting values as well as it won’t be done automatically. It’s not hard, it just takes being thorough. In saying that, I’d recommend against it as more than an easter egg as with most games people don’t replay games more than once or twice anyway, and it’ll only work if people are trying to play for different endings rather than to perfect a particular run through, so you could spend a lot of time setting something up almost no one will see.

Sanity works in Highlands because it complements the game experience. If you’re introducing a mechanic that works to immerse the player further in the world that can be a good thing. Highlands is lovecraftian, you expect some kind of mind altering sanity stat to be at play due to the nature of the genre.

If you’re pushing a message however, I’d be very careful as you could get people’s noses out of joint if they feel they’re being preached at and essentially told they’re naughty boys and girls for doing something the game offers as a choice, particularly if it causes them to “lose the game”. Do it if you want, but be aware that not signposting it as potentially being a bad idea may cause that mechanic to not gel well with everyone.