How can I learn to see the micro-narratives in a game?


I think i’m similar in that I really like this sort of thing but don’t often think about it. As others have stated, the game you’re playing can really lend itself to it. CK2 and XCOM are great examples. Battletech is another one in the XCOM vein.

For me any game where I have a squad of characters it can be fun to create stories out of the results of the gameplay. It’s not something I necessarily feel motivated to do for myself, but it can be fun to do on stream or through video.

I play a competitive turn-based football-like game called Blood Bowl in which you create a team of players based in the Warhammer universe. Each game you play, your players can gain experience and therefore new skills, but also gain permenant injuries or even die. You can knock players over that are standing as well as foul players on the ground. I generally like playing in leagues where I can keep playing my team for as long as they can hold together, and I like coming up with a theme for the team and player names.

One team I had was a mix of goblins and Skaven (Underworld) called Jazz Poison and had players named VX Gillespie and Ella Citronella. They had a particularly rough game against a Necromantic team that could turn an opponent’s player that they kill into a zombie for their team. I ended up making a video of a storyline that evolved as a result.

The fun part is that it’s a competitive environment so the story depended on my opponent’s input to make it so memorable. One of my favorite gaming moments of last year.


Love the video :slight_smile: The fact that you were able to make a narrative out of something your opponent did is exactly what I’m looking to do.

I’m currently playing Battletech, and it’s the thing that prompted me to make this post. Listening to the end of year episode about how it was Austin’s favorite game of the year because it created all these stories, contrasting it with my experience where it’s basically a difficult and frustrating tactics game. It’s clear to me now that the first thing I need to do is personify my pilots, and maybe the game will create enough narrative interest for things to fall into place from there.


So, this isn’t something that’s going to help with creating narrative out of thin air, like in XCOM or CK2, but a thing that helps me with deep, narrative heavy games like The Witcher 3, which tell little micro-stories across characters and areas is screenshots. Lots and lots of screenshots.

Specifically, I screenshot the lore/journal/character pages. If it’s a game I’m really into, I’ll name and organize them. When I’m in a game, I’m not going to spend hours reading every bit of story I pick up. Ok, that’s not true, I am definitely going to do that. But still, it’s hard to make a connection to something you read a week ago. So, when I’m bored, or eating dinner, or whatever, instead of loading up another YouTube listicle or scrolling Netflix for 15 minutes, I’ll flip through my screenshots of lore. It makes it really easy, if you come across something of interest, to connect it to that other thing you just read 10 minutes ago.

One example where this really paid off: Horizon Zero Dawn, the Vantages (aka apoca-shitstorm). Reading them individually, one piece every few game hours or so, they just seem like a guy making his way across the post-apocalypse, visiting landmarks and talking about the before-times. But when you read them all together, they reveal that these places were all personally significant, and he’s writing letters to his presumably dead mother, apologizing for being a teenage fuckup, and lamenting the unfairness that just as he was repairing his life and relationships, the world literally ended. It’s actually one of the more touching little side stories I’ve come across in a while.


This is really interesting. I’ve never really connected with lore in games, but I also play them really slowly over a long period of time and so exactly as you said I forget that they’re all supposed to connect together into a larger narrative. I’ll have to try this


The game I did this the most with recently was RDR2. It has its explicit narrative, sub-stories and random scripted happenings but it also has things like abandoned buildings with bullet holes and blood everywhere with no authored story given to you about it.

The thing though where my micro-narrative played out was everything between that stuff. Arthur’s old flame leaves him on a train platform? Well obviously Arthur would mosey (I moseyed for role-play purposes a lot) to the saloon and get a stiff drink after that. Sensing the end was near and the final job and Arthur’s demise was waiting for me at that last mission icon I finally gave Arthur a clean shave, pomaded his hair and went through the wardrobe and found the sharpest looking black clothes and hat to wear.

Having the games written narrative and events almost always bookended with the sandbox again with no direction invited me to craft those narratives.


I “hacked” my most recent playthrough of XCOM 2: War of the Chosen to bring out more micronarrative. To do this, you just need one six sided die and one online 1d_____ roller.

Every soldier starts assigned to one of six randomly determined Generals: Central, Tygan, Shen, Volk, Geist, or Betos. Assign each of them a number and roll that six sided die for each soldier. Each soldier also starts with three randomly determined bonds to three other soldiers - that’s what you need the online roller for. Put this info in the soldier’s description so that it’s easy to access. If there’s a clear way you can define that bond, write a single sentence describing it. If not, just leave it as “+1 bond to _______.”

The last thing you need to do is at the start of each mission, roll that six sided die again to determine which General is heading each mission. If it’s one of those Guerilla Ops where you’re choosing one of three missions, roll the die for each choice before you choose. The General is responsible for choosing one of their assigned soldiers as the mission’s Commanding Officer, and choosing other soldiers for the mission should be equal part based on bonds and surviving.

To be clear - playing this way is VERY time consuming. You end up spending as much time writing as you do going on missions. But my game’s bonds spun out in a way where one of my soldiers started a death cult, and another started their own gang named The Firebugs. It was super rewarding and I’ll do it again.


That’s such a clever idea. What gave you the idea to combine it with those tabletop mechanics? It does sound really time consuming but also extremely worth it if you get good stories out of it. I may try to retcon some of that stuff into my Battletech squad because it also seems really ripe for that kind of extra meta layer.


That’s pretty cool. I agree those kind of games really invite that stuff and it always makes me feel extra clever and invested when I think of them. I’m replaying Breath of the Wild right now and I’m trying to live in that world as much as possible, including like…sleeping through the night, eating a big meal in the morning before my adventure, etc.


Well, part of it was listening through all of Friends at the Table last year and watching Tactical Tuesdays - part of it was playing something like 100 hours of War of the Chosen last year. But mostly I just recognized that it saddened me when a soldier could only have one bondmate and I didn’t know who to choose, so I wanted something more like a Powered by the Apocalypse bond system to integrate into my play.


Since my D&D campaign ended last year I’ve been dying to play a new tabletop game and this actually sounds like it might help scratch that creativity itch for me. Going to give it a shot :slight_smile: