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Types of Conflict – Narrative in Games

February 13, 2009

Note: I’ve been asked to bump this post up

Games are about goals that are challenging to reach. Narratives in games turns those challenges to conflicts, and puts a nice wrapping on the underlying mechanics of the game.

These are the various types of conflict with gameplay examples included. Each presents the player with a problem he or she must solve.

Man vs. Man

Two or more individuals on opposite sides of an issue.

  • Good vs. evil
  • Group vs. group
  • Two vs. one
  • Top score/ranking
  • Both want the same object
  • First to the top of the mountain
  • Someone said something about you
  • Rumors
  • Someone stole something from you
  • Someone turns out to be something other than what you thought they would be
  • Man X turns Man Y over to the authorities

Man vs. Nature/Environment

If the environment is preventing man from being in a place or a state he wants to be in.

  • Weather – he’s cold
  • Locked door – he can’t get in
  • Geography – can’t cross cavern
  • Jail – can’t get out
  • Security – can’t get past security system
  • Keeping you out – can’t get access to club/room/level
  • Keeping you in – can’t find way out

Man vs. Society

Laws or a basic code of conduct is preventing the character from doing what he wants to do or forcing him to do something that he didn’t want to do. Codes of culture can be illegal, depending on the role of the player.

  • Mafia member wants to return to society, but cannot.
  • Romeo wants to marry Juliet, but can’t.
  • No Irish need apply (Irish couldn’t get jobs in 1800’s leading up to the early 1900’s)
  • Perceptions of religion
  • Someone broke a law
  • Someone has a secret that, if revealed to others, would cause them to feel some particular way

Man vs. Himself

The character’s conflict is within.

  • He’s afraid, and he must push through it
  • The situation asks more of him that he perceives he can give… he does it anyway and succeeds
  • He finds himself in a moral dilemma – he doesn’t want to steal, but it’s there for the taking
  • Should she date her best friend’s ex?
  • He’s tired, doesn’t feel he can go on
  • He is conflicted about whether or not to turn in his best friend
4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 5, 2008 6:26 am

    A great list of examples. You don’t mention it explicitly, but what about presenting multiple types of conflicts in one setting? The hero always has to find something deep within themselves that allows them to overcome the external adversary.

  2. May 5, 2008 10:00 pm

    Hi Sam,

    Yeah, absolutely. During the course of an RPG, I’d be surprised if a great number of these weren’t used.

  3. February 15, 2009 8:26 pm


    How much would you say that these conflicts only click with us because we can relate to them in our own, real life lives? Sure, they may be dressed up with giant robots or ninjas, but the core conflict itself could just as easily be something you’d face in your own life?

    Further, do you think gamer designer culture gropes for the fantastic elements, like shooting big guns or fighting blood sports, and as such moves away from what’s actually compelling? And indeed perhaps tries to make up for that by adding more blood and gore?

  4. Mitul permalink
    February 27, 2009 9:39 pm

    I remember jotting down these very conflict types in my notebook during 7th grade English class. One can simplify these conflicts even further into internal and external.

    What’s really interesting is how much they reflect real life, though in real world conflicts they often end up being rather complex amalgamations. For example, say you have two individuals in conflict, but they may each have views respective of two conflicting societies. I guess it’s a reminder that we all live our own personal narratives on a daily basis.

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