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Can survival games tell compelling stories, and why do they bother?



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Survival games like Subnautica, The Forest, and The Long Dark have top-down, writer-led stories, but it’s a genre where players can just as easily tell their own ground-up stories by setting their own goals. As Tanya X. Short, captain of Kitfox Games (publisher of the Steam edition of Dwarf Fortress (opens in new tab)) puts it, “The traditional capital-s ‘Story’ is the authored kind, right? The designers are trying to have this plot or these events happen to tell their traditional narrative, but the player story often eclipses that.”

Tanya X. Short, Raphael van Lierop, and Giada Zavarise will be among the panelists discussing “Survival Story-telling” at LudoNarraCon (opens in new tab), an online festival about narrative in games that runs from May 4–8 this year.

It took Chris Livingston four hours and the lives of 12 poor sheep before he got his toilet working. I should clarify this was while he was playing Ark: Survival Evolved, he’s not a mediocre plumber with a lamb chop addiction in real life. Chris set off on his quest for a crapper when Ark gained interactive toilets in update v258. He came out of it with a functioning fartbox, but more importantly, an unforgettable story—one he wouldn’t have in a game that didn’t simulate the need to eat and excrete.

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