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.


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