The essence of the Vector Gaming Theory comes down to a simple concept.
There are story vectors where narrative flows from one place to another in a straight line.
There are game nodes where the direction of the narrative is diverted through the actions of players or mechanisms within the game.
At any stage in a roleplaying session; one of these two modes of activity has been engaged. These two may never be engaged simultaneously, but the degree of rapidity changing between the two modes may give the impression that they are occurring at once.
Let's look at this from a macro scale.
Many early computer games (especially those designated as "computer roleplaying games") have a clear delineation between the two modes. In this style of game, the user was capable of controlling the character when the designer believed that their actions would not interfere with the story they were trying to tell. You would have a cahnce to interact with the environment, kill enemies, pick up vital pieces of information, then the control was taken away through a cut scene. During the cut scene, the actions of all characters followed a script, the narrative was furthered, the player was given a new open playground to explore.
Many current computer games follow the same pattern, especially those which are designed as multiplayer games but which have provided a single player campaign to acquaint a player to the the game mythos.
A few games take a step beyond this, and these have tended to be the highly regarded games in recent years. Jade Empire is an example that comes to mind because it's one of the few games from the last couple of years that captured my attention long enough to actually finish it. Another example is the game Fable.
These games have specific decision points along a journey; and these decisions allow new storylines to unfold depending on the choices made. A story is still told, but the game has the potential to tell a variety of stories depending on the way it is played.
The first style of game is very similar to early module based roleplaying.
a) Play encounter.
b) GM describes outcome of encounter and links this to the next encounter.
c) Repeat, Wash, Rinse...until the final encounter is met and confronted.
The second style of play is closer to a flow chart.
a) Play encounter [go to "b" if encounter is successful, or "c" if not successful.]
b) GM describes an outcome which leads to encounter "d".
c) GM describes how the situation leads to encounter "e".
d) New encounter based on earlier success [go to "f" if successful, or "g" if not].
e) New encounter based on earlier failure [go to "h" if successful, or "i" if not].
In this second option, a diversity of stories develop; but the player experience remains basically the same. Game, Scene, Game, Scene.
Discussions in game design circles have spent the last few years analysing and re-analysing the concepts of scene framing and mechanism interaction with narrative.
From the perspective of Vector Gaming Theory these are just a tiny part of the whole picture. Very important parts, don't get me wrong, but there is a lot more that could be percieved and considered.
Scene framing is purely a look at how a story vector approaches a node, and the initial choices presented to the players when the interface between modes is crossed.
Mechanism interaction with narrative (using different mechanisms to tell different types of stories) is a way to describe the way a new story vector is created when a game node is exited.
A lot can happen within a game node, and a lot can happen along the vector path of a story.
This is one of the key concepts I'd really like to explore with this year's series of blog entries.