Sword of Mana: Do, don't show

In Game Design Review, Krystian Majewski takes a common creative writing mantra and rips it a new one in a way that I haven’t been able to get out of my head for some time.

It seems counter-intuitive but actually, LESS emphasis on some parts of the story create MORE emotional response. This is something which goes well with Rowan Kaiser’s recent article in The Escapist. He suggests applying the admonition “Show, don’t tell”. I would go even further and change it into “Do, don’t show” to avoid any misunderstandings. The problem is, as always, that games aren’t movies.

Nooo! Look behind you! Turn around! .. Gaaah! Give me that controller, you incompetent idiot!

When we watch a thriller, and we see Janet Leigh take a shower and the killer waiting outside it creates suspense because we foresee what will happen but we have no means to change the course of events. We are doomed to watch the murder happen and thus can do nothing but feel sorry for the victim.
Games are different. In games we CAN do something. The player IS Janet Leigh and the only way she would make the decision to take that shower is if she didn’t knew that there is a killer outside. In games the emotional connection does not happen through emphaty but through responsibility. As soon a the player realizes a decision was made by somebody else in advance, he disconnects emotionally: “Oh, ok, it is is not my fault, it was meant to happen”.

The phrasing’s a little off… “do” is a command for the player, while “don’t show” is a warning to the designer.  So to make sense, the catchphrase should be “Don’t show, make the player do” or “Don’t show me, let me do,” but I admit that’s not as catchy as “Do, don’t show.”  

It’s times like this that the world needs Latin. I’m a bit rusty, there, but with a little help let’s see… “[something] to enact, not [something] to be shown” would probably be “agere, non manifestandum.” (See my recent blog which included an aside praising obscure terminology.)