Emergency: An Emerging Emergence!
Hello, dear readers! Olie here, and today we're focusing on something I have professional experience in outside of Casuology. This something is game narratives. Before I share my brief analysis of Frogs & Mushies' story, I should mention that the said analysis was born while I was working on the pitch deck for the project. When I write or design a game, I don't define all terms and tropes beforehand. I'm sure some writers or narrative designers do, but my approach to it is intuitive. However, sometimes putting a label on what you do is helpful when explaining your ideas to others, for example, prospective publishers.
And this is what this article is: an attempt to explain to myself and others what kind of narrative is offered in the mushroom complex management simulator called Frogs & Mushies.
This game is the epitome of my storytelling style in general: I'm giving you some key points but your interpretation of everything in between is, well, up to you. Ask follow-up questions if you need to, if there's no answer, find a resolution within your perception, or come back later. Maybe something will become clearer during the next communication, or you might focus on something else. No matter what you do, you'll arrive somewhere. While I can't promise a pleasant outcome, I can guarantee it will be the result of a symbiotic relationship between the player and gameplay.
If you're still with me or just skimming through the text for a quick answer, the narrative in Frogs & Mushies has emergent storytelling with structural elements at its core. Now, let me break down what that means with clear examples from the game.
First, let's talk about structure, as it sets the necessary boundaries for my frivolous approach to the story. Unlike most social simulation games, where one gets to "explore social interactions between multiple artificial lives", Frogs & Mushies is not an open-ended game. I'm not going to spoil much, but there are ways to both win and lose the game, and they all involve the main conflict of Big Toad vs. Little Frogs. You simply have to take into account Big Toad's demands and frogs' quests if you want your gameplay to reach its canonical "good" ending. Also, the merchants, Tay and Mr. Bat, have linear character arcs that you can choose to interact with but not control. Finally, there's a time limit, as the game ends after 100 in-game days.
That's quite a list of structural elements! So why does emergent storytelling plays the first fiddle in this narrative? Mainly, because of its replayability! It would take a player to restart Frogs & Mushies once to notice that many things, especially frogs, quests, and events, are random. This affects which kind of plots a player will be subjected to but, most importantly, how their relationship with frogs will develop. After all, frogs have different personalities, preferences, and things to say. A player might have a couple of favorites, and I wouldn't blame them. Some frogs might leave, and some might stay, and some houses might be destroyed by Big Toad... It all depends on how our dear player chooses to interact with the gameplay, as well as their successes and failures.
Which frog gets attention today? Who might even be a bit spoiled, and who's neglected? How are the complex's finances doing? Will Big Toad be content? Which quests do you choose to complete, and which are ignored till the story ends? These parasocial interactions lead to parasocial relationships, which form personal stories unique to each player. Just read the top reviews for Unholy Heights, and you'll see all kinds of stories people have to tell about their monstrous tenants. I'll leave this excerpt for you to ponder as my conclusion to this mountain of text:
Another family that keeps telling me to change the wallpaper back and forth and they're great at defending the place but I just can't stand their implied bickering, so I send them out as soon as there's an assault with the hopes that one of them will perish and I can finally either leave the room with smutty wallpaper or plain wallpaper...
Archmuffin clearly has a thing for smutty wallpaper, and I don't judge. So, if that's where your mind will wander after Beth the Frog requests to repaint her mushroom house yet again... That's an emergent narrative for ya.