I want to develop games for myself. Sadly, I'm limited to making text-based things (though this does have some practical benefits). The biggest limitation though is none of my games can really have a 'story'. What's the point in putting any story in a game you intend to play yourself? You obviously can't surprise yourself. Yeah, you technically could, but that would be like piling up blocks just so you can knock them over. What kind of adult seriously enjoys that?

Of course, you could have this in a form. Games like The Sims Series and Dwarf Fortress for example are pretty good at procedurally generating stories without any real prompt. Of course, this has limitations, such as a lack of dialogue and no events being really all that unique.

I don't know. Is there a way to generate more interesting narratives randomly? Or is the best I can hope for stories like you see in The Sims and Dwarf Fortress?

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ This question currently looks a bit broad and opinion-based. You might want to check out some resources about dynamic / procedural narrative like Dynamic Stories for Dynamic Games and other content from the GDC Narrative Summit, videos from the ProcJam procedural generation conference, Emily Short's blog on interactive fiction, etc. Then you can refine your question based on those inspirations. Try asking on Game Development Chat and we'd love to help you find more sources. \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Commented Apr 18 at 18:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe you should try it. Sometimes writing is its own reward. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kevin
    Commented Apr 19 at 2:10
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Some people might be inclined to answer "generative AI". Unfortunately the current state of generative AI is good at creating a lot of meaningless drivel, but not very good at creating coherent narrative arcs. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Commented Apr 19 at 11:05

1 Answer 1


There is consensus on why we tell stories: sharing experiences with others. Without others, our stories cannot express their full potential; one can't enjoy stories they crafted because they "can't surprise themselves" anymore. Using Dan Cook's Loops and Arcs notation, I argue you find little value in the Discovery Arcs of your game's narrative because these don't help update your current mental model of the game: their value was already delivered to you before, during the creative process of writing the story. Then, I'll try to address your original question by reformulating it differently (and, hopefully, keeping it on-topic): "What value does a story-driven game deliver to its author when they play it?".

The "fun" part of enjoying a story is learning about the different threads, getting to know the characters and their drives, and finally untangling everything and coming to a closure. When you take this "fun" away, you try and find it somewhere else. Games can guide a player through stories, but the difference with traditional narrative is player agency. Players experience the story through the game, and advancing the plot requires overcoming some resistance by way of challenges: quests, battles, puzzles... While a reader progresses through a story by simply turning pages, a player is awarded story progression by acting to contrast the artificial resistance in the game: they play.

There are many techniques to add depth and complexity to your stories (as suggested in comments), but you ultimately end up with something whose elements are mainly crafted by you. This decreases the "aha"-factor of experiencing them as a player. Linear stories, multi-branching/multi-finale stories, and procedurally-generated stories rely on creating content in advance and presenting it accordingly during the game.

However, there's a lot more to games: the gameplay itself can give rise to a story no writer has written in advance: it is the emergent narrative you craft in your mind to make meaning of what you are currently experiencing. This kind of story is not strictly supported by usual means of storytelling but relies on combining game rules that result in unexpected results. If you combine that with additional pieces of writing and lore, the result is closer to what The Sims and Dwarf Fortress achieved.

Making text-based games doesn't imply their inner logic must be simple. You can have an intuitive text-based interface that interacts with simple game systems that collectively contribute to crafting a brand-new story in real-time, every time. Create a story game, and just make it work. Then, start building on top of that, add one new feature at a time and see how it behaves. Integrate bits of story text to add variation. Rinse and repeat, one small step at a time. You'll end up with an adventure where names, places, goals, and possibilities are mathematically limited, yet so numerous you can't simply keep track of everything, and will finally find yourself enjoying a story you didn't remember writing.


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