I recently read an interesting article in the November 2006 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. No link here: you will need a subscription or access to GVSU databases to read it. Odd that a literary magazine once edited by W.D. Howells should be on top of the gaming world, but here it is nevertheless. The article focused on some of the failures of the gaming industry: while video games excel at immersive settings and engaging plotlines, most do very poorly at character development. Generally speaking, most characters in video games are quite flat–simply there to advance the storyline.
The Atlantic article introduced one small company (Interactive Story) that is trying to expand the roles of characters within video games. So far, Interactive Story has created a “interactive drama of one act” called Facade (free download) in which you play as a party guest witnessing an ugly marital row. You have no single objective: you can heighten the tension by flirting with one spouse or the other; try to reconcile the couple, or just watch as the scene unfolds.
I downloaded Facade and have played a few times now, varying my strategies and goals. Here is a quick excerpt from a game I played this morning. You can see that it looks and feels quite different from anything else out there. I am playing as myself–Rob. The characters you see are Grace and Tripp, the troubled couple. Take a look.