So I would like to discuss an interesting topic in video games today. Mainly, I want to talk about exposition in video games and the use of exposition in video games today. There is an interesting article on IGN that talks about this very issue, in reference to lecture given by Greg Kasavin of Supergiant Games.
Before we get into anything, I would like to first define what exposition is to me. Exposition is giving knowledge about a particular story or world that they wouldn’t have been able to gain through main storyline. This kind of knowledge could have been gained beforehand, if the player was a fan of the game’s universe, or alternate media based in that universe. Feel free to disagree with this definition, but for the purposes of this article, that is what it means.
There are three main points in the article mentioned above:
- “Exposition is the art of pacing your game properly.”
- “the best exposition in games is that which is expertly hidden”
- Design your game “as if no one cares.”
As for the first point, I disagree with that statement. Kasavin is stating that exposition is pacing a game properly. While this is true to a degree, it applies only to the narrative portion of the game. Exposition can be bad or good, it is not the art of pacing a game, it is how the game explains itself. In addition to this, I would say that the pacing of exposition has little effect on the player’s experience unless it is taken to either of the extremes (too fast or too slow).
His second point however holds much more water. I agree that exposition should be subtle. This applies to both movies and video games. If a game simply throws a wall of text at you, you will either be overwhelmed or indifferent. Even in games with a large amount of cut scenes, heavy-handed exposition is the easiest way to lose a player.
He makes another interesting point that is relevant to his second one. Greg Kasavin said to design your game “as if no one cares”. What he means by this is that you should design your game in a way that makes a lot of your exposition hidden. If somebody wants to find the background information they are welcome to, but if they don’t care they can simply blast past it. I think that the Batman Arkham games provide a good example of this. In the game you can find little fragments of recordings that will reveal different sections of Arkham lore. Even though the recordings are not the best delivery system for exposition, the way that they made them optional and placed them in hidden locations shows exactly what Kasavin was talking about.
When placing exposition in a game, the distinction between narrative and exposition becomes extremely important. Exposition involves the narrative but should not involve essential story elements. The real challenge is finding that perfect balance between exposition and story, so that players of all different types can enjoy your game. You don’t want to have all of your story hidden, but you also don’t want everything explained in the cut scenes.
So that brings up my main question: Is exposition by its very nature opposed to an enjoyable experience? It would seem that way if you were to look the statements made by Greg Kasavin. He essentially states that good games are made by doing your best to hide or camouflage any exposition. However, exposition serves a very important purpose: immersing the player in the world. The more they understand the world, the more they feel connected to it, and they enjoy the experience to a greater degree. I would say that exposition is not necessary, but it can lead to an enjoyable experience. Exposition if done well can greatly improve a game, especially if the game’s narrative relies on outside or canonized information.
TL;DR Exposition makes games more enjoyable, but it should be used discreetly; in other words, don’t over do it.