There's some really interesting dialogue being made here, and some perfectly valid critiques of the idea put forward which I deeply appreciate. I think its fair to say that some people go into GMing and games with very different ideas of what constitutes a "good game", a division I think we're all pretty familiar with. I'd argue that there's a lot of value to be found even by (for lack of a better term) simulationist designers and GMs by examining (and being given the tools to examine) what the fictional, emotional and narrative repercussions of the naturalistic character choices they make within the space they build for (or with) their players. Just as I think it serves even the most story-game, narrative driven person to be given, for lack of a better word, mechanical tools to create worlds with a degree of verisimilitude.
To admit my own biases, I'm pretty obviously squarely on the Games as Story side of the discussion, and so a lot of my analysis comes from that.
Regardless, thanks to everyone who posted some examples of games that do this sort of thing very very well. I really appreciate having more reading material on the list. Maybe we could post some more examples, maybe even a chunk of your favourite usage of narrative tools, to aid in the discussion? Here's a small snippet of one of my games (Americana, currently shooting for a June release date) from the Adversaries section. The game is in investigation game where you play as high schoolers, just for context.
"The Best Friend
Strengths: Cute, Loyal to the End, Trustworthy, Always Got A Plan, Emotionally Switched On, Physically Strong
Weaknesses: Forgetful, Magically Useless, Rocky Home Life
You’ve known this person your whole life, and you’ve most likely spent more hours with them than your family. You trust this person more than you trust yourself, you love them like a sibling. Which is why they’re a problem.
The Best Friend may seem like an odd choice for an adversary, but think about it. Who’s going to be bugging you about where you were last night? Who’s going to be knocking on your door and asking your mom where you are? Who’s going to get really upset and hurt when you blow them off to investigate the sewers tonight?
The Best Friend is a perfect double-sided blade. They are someone the player’s character can trust and get help from, but they’re also emotionally invested in their friendship to a degree that can impact the character’s ability to conduct their investigations. They might even accidentally jeopardize it by prying too deeply or asking the wrong questions at the wrong time. They mean well, of course, they mean the best, but they’re working with half a deck and their best friend looks tired all the time, and why do they have a black eye? What’s going on?
Best Friends are great to put unexpectedly with a Crew or at a Hang, they can be waiting for player characters when they get home, asking piercing questions. They can be great at school too, trying to get the character’s attention while the player is chasing up a lead or spying on someone. "
What I tried to do here with the Best Friend was provide a kind of simple explanation of what role that character archetype often takes in high school investigation stories, and suggest places and times for the reader to use that archetype, identifying common tropes and their purpose without being too overt about it. I'm not sure I've 100% succeeded here, but this is a small bit of what I'm talking about when I suggest including this sort of thing in your game.
Something I realized in writing this out is that there is one area of narrative tools we are really good at - plot hooks! Every game I've ever read is full of plot hooks and little evocative story beats.
Oh and shout out to King Crackers who has explained the idea just beautifully and with more patience than I think I'd have been able to muster