I was talking about the dark side of emergent gameplay, Natch.
Ok, ok, I guess I should be serious for a second. now. I find that emergent gameplay is a wonderful tool to be used in a greater story. I think “Metamorphoses” qualifies, even if the greater story is really just a playbox. Or “The Last Express”, which is not just about emergnet gameplay but about the lovingly handcrafted - just as you said - experience that is, though based on an “emergent” system, tied to a lot of other elements that keep the whole game within a certain set of rails.
To put it another way, this is from the film 1900, with Tim Roth. He plays a pianist that spend his whole life in a ship, was born there, never left. He once had the perfect excuse to leave, but he just stood there on the platform, looking at the city, before resolutely heading back inside the ship. This is his explanation:
Take a piano. The keys begin, the keys end. You know there are 88 of
them and no-one can tell you differently. They are not infinite, you are
infinite. And on those 88 keys the music that you can make is infinite.
I like that. That I can live by. But you get me up on that gangway and
roll out a keyboard with millions of keys, and that’s the truth, there’s
no end to them, that keyboard is infinite. But if that keyboard is
infinite there’s no music you can play. You’re sitting on the wrong
bench. That’s God’s piano. Christ, did you see the streets? There were
thousands of them! How do you choose just one? One woman, one house, one
piece of land to call your own, one landscape to look at, one way to
die. All that world weighing down on you without you knowing where it
ends. Aren’t you scared of just breaking apart just thinking about it,
the enormity of living in it? I was born on this ship. The world passed
me by, but two thousand people at a time. And there were wishes here,
but never more than could fit on a ship, between prow and stern. You
played out your happiness on a piano that was not infinite. I learned to
live that way. Land is a ship too big for me. It’s a woman too
beautiful. It’s a voyage too long. Perfume too strong. It’s music I
don’t know how to make.
I happen to feel this way about emergent gameplay, or anything procedurally-generated. If it goes too far, it stops being a story. You can’t make a story in an infinite context, with infinite choices. Because that story is God’s story. It’s called “Life”.
Thankfully, God never sued the makers of the board game for their obvious copyright infringement. That would be ugly.