domingo, 2 de fevereiro de 2020

The concept of Tchekhov's gun in games

It is always interesting to create a cris-cross between literature and games. In fact, both worlds are intrinsically connected, and this is especially evident in games with narrative, characters, plot twists etc. I like to think about games as “ergodic literature” — an idea previously discussed in this post.

Here, in this short article, I would like to address the concept of Tchekhov’s gun applied to games. Anton Tchekhov (1860–1904) was one of the most important voices in Russian literature. He developed the principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed. Tchekov said that, if you say in the first act that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or the third act it must be fired. If the rifle isn’t going to be used, it shouldn't be hanging there. The Russian author also said that one must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it's not going to be fired. It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep.

What does this principle mean inside the gaming universe? As Tchekhov has postulated for literature, in games we also need to create a sense of order and to make sure every single element is relevant. If the scenery displays a highlighted symbol, it should have some function in that stage, like serving as a hint for a puzzle or as an object that the player must collect in order to defeat an enemy.

To further illustrate this, we can discuss a puzzle from the game Little Nightmares. In the scenery, there is a TV that can be turned on and a door that cannot be opened. But, previously, the player received a piece of information: in the other room there’s a bizarre blind create that is attracted to sound. So, you must turn on the TV, get close to the door, and wait until the monster opens it, so that you can walk into the next room. Check the video below:

In this example, imagine if the TV was just a decoration, something useless in the puzzle flux. It would make no sense in the game and it would be contrary to the concept of Tchekhov’s gun.

This is the point I wanted to make with this short article: everything must be interconnected and play a role in your game.

I’ll talk more about the overlapping universes of literature and games in the next posts.


3 comentários:

  1. I half agree and half don't.

    In roleplaying in particular, what's important is what attracts the interest of the players, and it's the duty of their host to provide things that might interest them, going along with and developing whatever does. In effect, the first session is a whole cabinet of Chekhov's guns and it's up to the players which one gets fired.

    Some of them are kept around for later in case play starts to flag and to keep up the sense of a dynamic world (NPCs must do things with their lives, not just wait around for PCs to notice them: session one's minor threat can be quite scary after ten sessions of non-interference in their plans!). Others may never be fired at all. They turn out to be red herrings – a trope at LEAST as old and respectable as Chekhov's Gun.

    And this is where I enter the Disagreement Box, because I have to remind people so often that Chekhov was a dramatist, and not even an improv dramatist. Advice given to writers for the theatre will not apply perfectly to the novel, the epic poem or the game table. We do not expect anyone to roll Bluff checks for Hamlet: why should the reverse be true?

    1. Hey, Jon! I like your point of view and I completely agree with you that "we do not expect anyone to roll Bluff checks for Hamlet: why should the reverse be true?". I think that this idea (and it's only an idea) is something just to help us to create a coherent narrative. I like to imagine a game as blending of references. =)

      But, again, your point of view is great. I don't like to think that Tchekov can teach us how to create a gaming narrative, but it's one more piece to help us.