Game Story Elements: Creating a Videogame Narrative

I just returned from presenting at the ACLA Annual Meeting. While the crowd was small there were a number of good questions on my presentation and some excellent discussion between all the panelists. I'll post some more reflections on the presentation and the slides later, but I wanted to post the last narrative resource. Next week I'll post my reflections and write-ups on some literacy studies and videogames.

Dansky, R. (2007). Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Video Games. In C. Bateman (Ed.), Introduction to Game Narrative (p. 1-11). Boston, MA: Charles River Media.

Narrative as the method by which the story is communicated to the audience. Dansky states that the “greatest mistake” is reducing a game’s narrative to story and story alone. Games reach beyond fiction, to where the story is only the “launching point” for the narrative. Players can add to that narrative experience in a variety of ways, beyond the choices made and gameplay actions taken. Players add to the story through original ideas on fansite discussion boards and fan fiction or through official external narratives in web clips, film, novels, or comics. The narrative the player understands and appreciates expands well beyond the game screen or the page.

Dansky’s chapter serves as an introduction to game narrative writing and storytelling within games. His work is more technical rather than an analysis on storytelling. But it is useful to consider what Dansky includes within creating a narrative:

  • Setting
  • Character
  • Backstory
  • Cut Scenes
  • Scripted Events
  • In-Game Artifacts

Dansky also looks at three techniques of videogame narratives

- Immersion

o Similar to Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow”; the player is absorbed in what they are doing and have suspended their disbelief to follow along with the experience

- Reward

o Narrative advances in the story before/after key moments of the game

o This helps to drive the player forward and motivate their progress

- Identification

o Gives the who, what, why’s of the game space and in-game world; creates the context for a player’s actions

o This investment of the player creates ownership and is related to the idea of “agency”

Any narrative experience is completely defined in advance. For game writers this presents challenges to incorporate multiple paths and connect the choices players might make to the overall narratives or narrative. It is possible that no one player has the same exact experience each time. The writer needs to account for all these actions and decisions the players might make.

Because of this difference, while videogame writing borrows much from traditional scriptwriting it cannot be used alone. Game writing takes a little of each media, but not all of any. And this makes videogames and unique storytelling telling medium.

Dansky considers game’s not the writer’s story but the players. Is this true? Is any story simply the writers or does each reader bring something unique that adds and shapes how the events are understood and interpreted?


KingsQuest from FreeSci

Warcraft III from Gamershell