Research: Gaming and Narrative

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?

http://www.jstor.org/stable/30220429?seq=9

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.

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One thought on “Research: Gaming and Narrative”

  1. This topic makes for a great research project because it is something most people can relate to but very few have spent time thinking about.

    Your idea that winning pushes a player deeper into the narrative and losing keeps a player in place is compelling in itself, but could be even more insightful when compared to other forms of storytelling. For example, all readers and players want to get more involved with the storyline; it is the reason they devote their time to reading and playing games. My question would be, is the storyline itself as important in videogames as it is in novels?

    In novels, readers are captivated by storylines that take unexpected turns and feature interactions between unique characters. While I would argue that characterization is a key element of videogames, I don’t know that the same argument could be made for the storyline. Not every videogame has a storyline full of the twists and turns that make up a good novel, and yet people keep pushing on the same way interested readers do. This seems to suggest that what keeps gamers invested in their videogames is not the same as what keeps readers devoted to their books. This is where storyline could come into play. Is there a difference between storyline in novels and videogames? If so, what is it, and what keeps gamers coming back?

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