Uncertainty in Games: Narrative Anticipation

There’s nothing like a good nail-biting story. The excitement one feels in the pit of their stomach keeps them on the edge of their seat, anxious to know more. In RPGs, playing to find out “what happens next?!” increases the enjoyment players get out of narrative anticipation uncertainty.

Whether the GM is railroading, or the group is playing in an open sandbox, the table is involved in dynamically creating a story. Like a good book, even the most railroady of adventures can be enjoyed. While the character’s fates may be sealed, unpacking and playing out those fates is still enjoyable to watch unfold. In a sandbox setting, the GM can be just as surprised as the players when the story that is produced is something they could never have anticipated.

Many types of games use narrative uncertainty to drive gameplay, plunging players into various scenarios based on the current events of the story. Some games push the story with minimal gameplay elements, while others use it as an excuse to set up challenges. How much enjoyment is had by each person is based on that player’s style, but both provide an uncertainty that is a force to drive gameplay forward.

The combination of forward gameplay momentum and nervous excitement of the unknown is what makes narrative anticipation one of RPG’s most important uncertainties. In some games, it can be cast to the side as flavor, but when character-actors gather around a table, a unique story always emerges, whether the GM wanted it to or not!