Growing into Videogame Narrative

Over the course of the coming week, I'll post my reflections and notes from my literature review in preparation for my upcoming conference. The posts during this week will be focused on how we can understand videogames as stories, how those stories are told, and what value those stories have in the lives of our students.

Grodal, T. (2003). The Video Game Theory Reader. In J. P. Wolf & B. Perron (Eds..), Stories for Eye, Ear, and Muscles: Video Games, Media, and Embodied Experiences (p. 129-155). New York, NY: Routledge.

Focusing on games as stories and applying traditional narrative measures limits to scope of analysis. Videogames are more than stories from other media, they include the gameplay and experiences that create the mental understanding and emotional attachment to the game. Grodal takes a ludologist’s position that are simulations of real life experiences, not stories to be walked through.

Games require more than a passive narrative experience. Videogames require cognitive and motor skills. A player is creating and connecting mental maps and plot points to progress through the game. Grodal would argue that this makes games different than narratives, and he is right. But it makes videogames more engaging as narratives, not more distant from narratives. The player is more invested into the story because they are actively taking part in it. Often times the player is the one shaping events in the story, sometimes major, sometimes minor plot points.

Grodal discusses how players grow into the space within a game world. Games at the outset feel open with a wide range of story paths for players, but as many games progress the actual path may be more confined. There ways in which the gameplay funnels to a certain point in the narrative. The question becomes how interactive is the game and how controlled is the story. What is correct? Where is the balance?

There is a larger discussion of linearity and non-linearity in storytelling and culture, with the strengths and weaknesses that come from a Western viewpoint of linear narrative. That debate is not necessary to this discussion, because regardless of if the narrative is strictly linear or allows for non-linear choices the players reaction. Creating alternative routes and multiple paths gives the simulation of freedom to the player. Videogames can create both a specific story within a world, or a specific world with a variety of stories.

Image from Bioware: Mass Effect


Gaming courses said...

For me it's probably the most interesting article I've read on Gamespot.. Probably because I always look for a game that tells a good story and has entertaining gameplay.