It's always been my belief that meaning comes from three things. Immersion, emotional attachment, and story. The three elements are quite interconnected so to define them could help. A player needs to be immersed in the story, weaving narrative into exposition so that game-play doesn't get in the way of a players personal connection to the story. Players need to develop an emotional attachment to the elements involved in the plots. In this regard the farther elements from the narrative get away from things they can personally relate to the less emotionally connected they are. (Players are more likely to connect to the plight of a puppy then to the plight of Slab Bulkhead the space marine from Mars) The narrative or story is the unifying thread that runs between the two- it is rather hard to create an earnest emotional connection or retain a high degree of player-immersion without a narrative. There is “Jenga” style personal connection to something YOU made, but a game concept that relays on that alone will be on wobbly feet indeed. It is with this in mind that I put forth the following game concept.
A narrative driven story that revolves around a member of a military reconnaissance unit during April 1986. Due to the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev in Russia and because of based on bad intelligence as to the exact nature of the United States sends in a recon unit to gather intelligence on a power plant in Prypiat, Ukraine. The player makes user-generated characters to fill out an Airborne United States Army Special Forces unit that the player brings up from basic training to their special ops training, all the way to their first real mission in Prypiat. I chose to employ user-generated content because when someone MAKES something it becomes a good deal more relatable. It should also be noted that user-generated content is a double edged sword. A player's initially reaction is to put whoever they may into a frilly pink dress, give them a mustache and a 5 o'clock shadow. This game would give them a LIMITED amount of control (height, weight, facial elements, eye color, voice style, hair color, hair style, names from a list). Each character “spot” would have a background narrative explained via dialogue during the narrative. One might be a hick farm boy from the south while another might be a rich-boy gamer from the north who wants to act out his violent fantasies for real. Each spot would be tailor made to be relatable to a major demographic in the United States.
The characters eventually make it to an air-drop in Prypiat where they have to establish a observational perimeter around the power plant and gather as much intelligence as possible. (By “looking” at various targets) It should be noted that players are given a gun and showed how to use it, as well as a side arm, combat knife, and hand to hand but they only have to fire it once or twice. This is a narrative driven story rather than a combat driven one.
The real emotional part of the story is the characters are actually observing Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant when it goes off. They must watch as the citizens of Pripyat die slowly without giving away their cover. The US government refuses to pick them up- they are a covert operation and they can't just swoop in while the world's eyes are on them. You must also deal with the traumatic death of your squad mates. To make the story more immersive the game never out and out says “ Chernobyl” until it blows. It just refers to it as “the Pripyat Power Plant” and makes little mention of it's nuclear properties. This is so the players don't immediately make the connection.
Near the end of the game the player, now the only surviving member of the squad, decides to break his cover and attempt to save as many people from the spreading nuclear cloud as possible. (The Russians where VERY slow in alerting them to the real nature of the disaster and as a result. Waiting until 2p.m. on 27 April to really get started) The game ends with the player's character running out into the streets shooting off his gun trying to get people to flee- shouting out a warning before finally succumbing to his radiation exposure. The music plays him out on the Ballard of the Green Berets.
The goal of this game is not only to use the close personal connections for players, but also to educate the world on the shortcomings of the Soviet government in handling this accident. It would be as historically accurate as possible.