Jeffrey Yohalem, the lead writer of Far Cry 3, began his panel conventionally enough, making an aspirational call to action. To improve games writing, he said, developers should treat players like Method actors.
Video games, Yohalem said, are the latest and most evolved form of performance. As players, we embody characters, just as actors do onstage. But unlike a play or a film, video games put the performer in the character's shoes, not just their costumes, affording them agency.
For the next 30 minutes, Yohalem made a convincing argument for this narrative strategy, occasionally including advice to fellow narrative designers. In Method acting, he said, you must understand a character's psychological motives, perform their actions and connect their experiences with your own. The same can be said of a character and its player.
The writer mixed in quotes from Method acting creator Constantin Stanislavski and Method actress Meryl Streep, and showed examples of his creative philosophy in a variety of games.
Gordon Freeman going to work in Half-Life or the death of Bruce Wayne's parents in the Batman comics are relatable and profoundly human moments, he said. According to Yohalem, whether they be benign or traumatic, players can place themselves in those proverbial shoes.
From there, with the player connected via empathy, Yohalem said the player must — like an actor — be given clear motivation. "The protagonist's goal must be made second-nature," he said. "The player must have one consistent super objective within the first 30 minutes of the game." In most games, it's external, like seeking revenge or finding an accent relic. But Yohalem would like more games to have an internal super objective, like finding love or just confidence.
With all of these boxes checked, a player can "perform" a game, flexing their emotional muscles.
Then Yohalem's time ran out, but he did not stop speaking. He sped up, launching into a lengthy explanation of Far Cry 3's plot. Ten minutes over his allotted time, Yohalem finally looked up, "I can't talk about the final meaning of [Far Cry 3]," he said, "because we're out of time."
And so the lecture ended, an interesting take on Method acting, and a surreal explanation of one of last year's most critically applauded games.