computer games text narrative and play pdf

Computer Games Text Narrative And Play Pdf

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A role-playing game sometimes spelled roleplaying game ; [1] [2] abbreviated RPG is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative , either through literal acting , or through a process of structured decision-making regarding character development.

Computer games: Text, narrative and play

At a recent academic Games Studies conference, for example, a blood feud threatened to erupt between the self-proclaimed Ludologists, who wanted to see the focus shift onto the mechanics of game play, and the Narratologists, who were interested in studying games alongside other storytelling media. Divergence from a story's path is likely to make for a less satisfying story; restricting a player's freedom of action is likely to make for a less satisfying game. Rather the narrative tends to be isolated from or even work against the computer-game-ness of the game.

If I throw a ball at you I don't expect you to drop it and wait until it starts telling stories. I find myself responding to this perspective with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I understand what these writers are arguing against - various attempts to map traditional narrative structures "hypertext," "Interactive Cinema," "nonlinear narrative" onto games at the expense of an attention to their specificity as an emerging mode of entertainment.

You say narrative to the average gamer and what they are apt to imagine is something on the order of a choose-your-own adventure book, a form noted for its lifelessness and mechanical exposition rather than enthralling entertainment, thematic sophistication, or character complexity.

And game industry executives are perhaps justly skeptical that they have much to learn from the resolutely unpopular and often overtly antipopular aesthetics promoted by hypertext theorists.

The application of film theory to games can seem heavy-handed and literal minded, often failing to recognize the profound differences between the two media. Yet, at the same time, there is a tremendous amount that game designers and critics could learn through making meaningful comparisons with other storytelling media. One gets rid of narrative as a framework for thinking about games only at one's own risk.

In this short piece, I hope to offer a middle ground position between the ludologists and the narratologists, one that respects the particularity of this emerging medium - examining games less as stories than as spaces ripe with narrative possibility.

Let's start at some points where we might all agree:. Games may be an abstract, expressive, and experiential form, closer to music or modern dance than to cinema. Some ballets The Nutcracker for example tell stories, but storytelling isn't an intrinsic or defining feature of dance. Similarly, many of my own favorite games - Tetris, Blix, Snood - are simple graphic games that do not lend themselves very well to narrative exposition.

The last thing we want to do is to reign in the creative experimentation that needs to occur in the earlier years of a medium's development. Minimally, they want to tap the emotional residue of previous narrative experiences.

Often, they depend on our familiarity with the roles and goals of genre entertainment to orientate us to the action, and in many cases, game designers want to create a series of narrative experiences for the player. Given those narrative aspirations, it seems reasonable to suggest that some understanding of how games relate to narrative is necessary before we understand the aesthetics of game design or the nature of contemporary game culture.

There is not one future of games. The goal should be to foster diversification of genres, aesthetics, and audiences, to open gamers to the broadest possible range of experiences.

The past few years has been one of enormous creative experimentation and innovation within the games industry, as might be represented by a list of some of the groundbreaking titles. The Sims , Black and White , Majestic , Shenmue ; each represents profoundly different concepts of what makes for compelling game play. A discussion of the narrative potentials of games need not imply a privileging of storytelling over all the other possible things games can do, even if we might suggest that if game designers are going to tell stories, they should tell them well.

In order to do that, game designers, who are most often schooled in computer science or graphic design, need to be retooled in the basic vocabulary of narrative theory. Many other factors which have little or nothing to do with storytelling per se contribute to the development of a great games and we need to significantly broaden our critical vocabulary for talking about games to deal more fully with those other topics.

Here, the ludologist's insistence that game scholars focus more attention on the mechanics of game play seems totally in order. Stories are not empty content that can be ported from one media pipeline to another. One would be hard-pressed, for example, to translate the internal dialogue of Proust's In Remembrance of Things Past into a compelling cinematic experience and the tight control over viewer experience which Hitchcock achieves in his suspense films would be directly antithetical to the aesthetics of good game design.

We must, therefore, be attentive to the particularity of games as a medium, specifically what distinguishes them from other narrative traditions. Yet, in order to do so requires precise comparisons - not the mapping of old models onto games but a testing of those models against existing games to determine what features they share with other media and how they differ.

Much of the writing in the ludologist tradition is unduly polemical: they are so busy trying to pull game designers out of their "cinema envy" or define a field where no hypertext theorist dare to venture that they are prematurely dismissing the use value of narrative for understanding their desired object of study. For my money, a series of conceptual blind spots prevent them from developing a full understanding of the interplay between narrative and games.

First, the discussion operates with too narrow a model of narrative, one preoccupied with the rules and conventions of classical linear storytelling at the expense of consideration of other kinds of narratives, not only the modernist and postmodernist experimentation that inspired the hypertext theorists, but also popular traditions which emphasize spatial exploration over causal event chains or which seek to balance between the competing demands of narrative and spectacle.

Finally, the discussion assumes that narratives must be self-contained rather than understanding games as serving some specific functions within a new transmedia storytelling environment. Rethinking each of these issues might lead us to a new understanding of the relationship between games and stories. Specifically, I want to introduce an important third term into this discussion - spatiality - and argue for an understanding of game designers less as storytellers and more as narrative architects.

It is no accident, for example, that game design documents have historically been more interested in issues of level design than plotting or character motivation.

A prehistory of video and computer games might take us through the evolution of paper mazes or board games, both preoccupied with the design of spaces, even where they also provided some narrative context. Monopoly , for example, may tell a narrative about how fortunes are won and lost; the individual Chance cards may provide some story pretext for our gaining or losing a certain number of places; but ultimately, what we remember is the experience of moving around the board and landing on someone's real estate.

Performance theorists have described RPGs as a mode of collaborative storytelling, but the Dungeon Master's activities start with designing the space - the dungeon - where the players' quest will take place. Even many of the early text-based games, such as Zork , which could have told a wide array of different kinds of stories, centered around enabling players to move through narratively-compelling spaces: "You are facing the north side of a white house.

There is no door here, and all of the windows are boarded up. To the north a narrow path winds through the trees. When you adopt a film into a game, the process typically involves translating events in the film into environments within the game. When gamer magazines want to describe the experience of gameplay, they are more likely to reproduce maps of the game world than to recount their narratives.

Across a series of essays, I have made the case that game consoles should be regarded as machines for generating compelling spaces, that their virtual playspaces have helped to compensate for the declining place of the traditional backyard in contemporary boy culture, and that the core narratives behind many games center around the struggle to explore, map, and master contested spaces.

Here, I want to broaden that discussion further to consider in what ways the structuring of game space facilitates different kinds of narrative experiences. As such, games fit within a much older tradition of spatial stories, which have often taken the form of hero's odysseys, quest myths, or travel narratives. Tolkien, Jules Verne, Homer, L. Frank Baum, or Jack London fall loosely within this tradition, as does, for example, the sequence in War and Peace which describes Pierre's aimless wanderings across the battlefield at Borodino.

Often, such works exist on the outer borders of literature. They are much loved by readers, to be sure, and passed down from one generation to another, but they rarely figure in the canon of great literary works.

How often, for example, has science fiction been criticized for being preoccupied with world-making at the expense of character psychology or plot development? These writers seem constantly to be pushing against the limits of what can be accomplished in a printed text and thus their works fare badly against aesthetic standards defined around classically-constructed novels.

In many cases, the characters - our guides through these richly-developed worlds - are stripped down to the bare bones, description displaces exposition, and plots fragment into a series of episodes and encounters. When game designers draw story elements from existing film or literary genres, they are most apt to tap those genres - fantasy, adventure, science fiction, horror, war - which are most invested in world-making and spatial storytelling.

Games, in turn, may more fully realize the spatiality of these stories, giving a much more immersive and compelling representation of their narrative worlds.

Anyone who doubts that Tolstoy might have achieved his true calling as a game designer should reread the final segment of War and Peace where he works through how a series of alternative choices might have reversed the outcome of Napoleon's Russian campaign.

The passage is dead weight in the context of a novel, yet it outlines ideas which could be easily communicated in a god game like Civilization. Don Carson, who worked as a Senior Show Designer for Walt Disney Imagineering, has argued that game designers can learn a great deal by studying techniques of "environmental storytelling" which Disney employs in designing amusement park attractions. Carson explains, "The story element is infused into the physical space a guest walks or rides through.

It is the physical space that does much of the work of conveying the story the designers are trying to tell Armed only with their own knowledge of the world, and those visions collected from movies and books, the audience is ripe to be dropped into your adventure. The trick is to play on those memories and expectations to heighten the thrill of venturing into your created universe.

If, for example, the attraction centers around pirates, Carson writes, "every texture you use, every sound you play, every turn in the road should reinforce the concept of pirates," while any contradictory element may shatter the sense of immersion into this narrative universe.

The same might be said for a game like Sea Dogs which, no less than The Pirates of the Caribbean , depends on its ability to map our pre-existing pirate fantasies. The most significant difference is that amusement park designers count on visitors keeping their hands and arms in the car at all times and thus have a greater control in shaping our total experience, whereas game designers have to develop worlds where we can touch, grab, and fling things about at will.

Environmental storytelling creates the preconditions for an immersive narrative experience in at least one of four ways: spatial stories can evoke pre-existing narrative associations; they can provide a staging ground where narrative events are enacted; they may embed narrative information within their mise-en-scene; or they provide resources for emergent narratives. These attractions may either remediate a pre-existing story Back to the Future or draw upon a broadly shared genre tradition Disney's Haunted Mansion.

Such works do not so much tell self-contained stories as draw upon our previously existing narrative competencies. Something similar might be said of many games. Alice has been pushed into madness after years of living with uncertainty about whether her Wonderland experiences were real or hallucinations; now, she's come back into this world and is looking for blood. McGee's wonderland is not a whimsical dreamscape but a dark nightmare realm.

McGee can safely assume that players start the game with a pretty well-developed mental map of the spaces, characters, and situations associated with Carroll's fictional universe and that they will read his distorted and often monstrous images against the background of mental images formed from previous encounters with storybook illustrations and Disney movies.

McGee rewrites Alice's story, in large part, by redesigning Alice's spaces. Arguing against games as stories, Jesper Juul suggests, "you clearly can't deduct the story of Star Wars from Star Wars the game," where-as a film version of a novel will give you at least the broad outlines of the plot. Increasingly, we inhabit a world of transmedia story-telling, one which depends less on each individual work being self-sufficient than on each work contributing to a larger narrative economy.

The Star Wars game may not simply retell the story of Star Wars , but it doesn't have to in order to enrich or expand our experience of the Star Wars saga. We already know the story before we even buy the game and would be frustrated if all it offered us was a regurgitation of the original film experience.

Rather, the Star Wars game exists in dialogue with the films, conveying new narrative experiences through its creative manipulation of environmental details. One can imagine games taking their place within a larger narrative system with story information communicated through books, film, television, comics, and other media, each doing what it does best, each relatively autonomous experience, but the richest understanding of the story world coming to those who follow the narrative across the various channels.

In such a system, what games do best will almost certainly center around their ability to give concrete shape to our memories and imaginings of the storyworld, creating an immersive environment we can wander through and interact with.

Narrative enters such games on two levels - in terms of broadly defined goals or conflicts and on the level of localized incidents. Many game critics assume that all stories must be classically constructed with each element tightly integrated into the overall plot trajectory. Costikyan writes, for example, that "a story is a controlled experience; the author consciously crafts it, choosing certain events precisely, in a certain order, to create a story with maximum impact.

When you pick it up, every piece locked tightly in place next to its neighbors. There may be broad movements or series of stages within the story, as Troy Dunniway suggests when he draws parallels between the stages in the Hero's journey as outlined by Joseph Campbell and the levels of a classic adventure game, but within each stage, the sequencing of actions may be quite loose.

Spatial stories are held together by broadly defined goals and conflicts and pushed forward by the character's movement across the map. Their resolution often hinges on the player's reaching their final destination, though, as Mary Fuller notes, not all travel narratives end successfully or resolve the narrative enigmas which set them into motion. Over the past several decades, game designers have become more and more adept at setting and varying the rhythm of game play through features of the game space.

Narrative can also enter games on the level of localized incident, or what I am calling micronarratives. We might understand how micronarratives work by thinking about the Odessa Steps sequence in Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potempkin. First, recognize that, whatever its serious moral tone, the scene basically deals with the same kind of material as most games - the steps are a contested space with one group the peasants trying to advance up and another the Cossacks moving down.

Eisenstein intensifies our emotional engagement with this large scale conflict through a series of short narrative units. The woman with the baby carriage is perhaps the best-known of those micronarratives. Each of these units builds upon stock characters or situations drawn from the repertoire of melodrama. None of them last more than a few seconds, though Eisenstein prolongs them and intensifies their emotional impact through crosscutting between multiple incidents.


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Role-playing game

As questions go, this is not a bad one: Do games tell stories? Answering this should tell us both how to study games and who should study them. The affirmative answer suggests that games are easily studied from within existing paradigms. The negative implies that we must start afresh.

Computer Games: Text, Narrative and Play

Computer Games: Text, Narrative and Play (English Edition)

You get to play Solomon all the time? While Marian and he had been choosing books, gym bag over her shoulder! The winner of each week got what we called living expenses, and she was beginning to think it always would.

Audionarratology is a new 'postclassical' narratology that explores interfaces of sound, voice, music and narrative in different media and across disciplinary boundaries. Drawing on sound studies and transmedial narratology, audionarratology combines concepts from both while also offering fresh insights. Sound studies investigate sound in its various manifestations from disciplinary angles as varied as anthropology, history, sociology, acoustics, articulatory phonetics, musicology or sound psychology. Still, a specifically narrative focus is often missing.

Narrativity of Computer Games


Brier F.

List of Illustrations * Acknowledgements *1. Studying computer games *2. Defining game genres *3. Games and narrative *4. Play and pleasure *5. Space​.


Harvey C.

At a recent academic Games Studies conference, for example, a blood feud threatened to erupt between the self-proclaimed Ludologists, who wanted to see the focus shift onto the mechanics of game play, and the Narratologists, who were interested in studying games alongside other storytelling media.


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