For my research project I’m going to be investigating the role of plot and storyline in a player’s engagement with a video game. How is plot established in a game? What are the narrative devices common to the video game medium? What are the different types of narrative strutures in video games? Does plot and narrative affect the quality of a video game, or is it narrative merely a side product of gameplay which bears little significance?
The above article’s section on narrative does a good job of introducing some of the key concepts with regard to narrative in storylines. It notices that the two primary ways to advance the narrative is through backstory and cut scenes, the latter of which typically marks a check point in any game. Moreover, the article makes a nice distinction between character and plot based narratives, the former of which focuses on a single character which a person guides through a story, the latter of which is less about a character being guided through a game, and more about a player advancing the plot independently of any particular avatar.
We’ve already talked about narrative progression as reward in video games. In a video game, a player influences the narrative with their success which pushes the narrative along, where failure restarts the narrative from a given set point. Narrative in this way functions as a part of the reward system in the game; to win is to move the plot forward, while to lose is to stay stagnant. This is reinforced by the fact the victory over a level does not mean that the player has improved the character’s circumstance, yet it almost always means that the narrative will progress forward. Often times by beating a level the player’s character finds him or herself in a worse position then they were in previously, yet this does not make the victory meaningless, because progression through the narrative seems to be what is driving the player, not seeing their character’s circumstance be directly made better by this victory. This function of narrative aside, there are also, branching models of narrative in games which allow the storyline of the game to change based on player decisions. (In Far Cry 3, for example, a player is confronted with a decision to save or destroy his friends, and the story line will proceed from this choice.) Here narrative is within the direct control of the player, whose decisions will determine how the narrative proceeds. There is typically no reward or punishment for either choice; in either case the narrative will proceed; in this case, the player is simply given direct influence on the path the narrative will take, which does allow for a the player to take a more active role in the narrative than in non-interactive mediums.