Narrative Games - A Ludo-narratological Examination of Video Game Narrative

Student thesis: Master thesis (including HD thesis)

  • Frederik Rex Borup Drescher
4. term, English, Master (Master Programme)
The paper elucidates how video games approach narrative as well as the methodologies for conveying story available to the medium. By illuminating this topic, the paper seeks to create an understanding of narrative within the video game medium and to discuss the benefits and issues of narrative games. To do this, the paper first explored narrative as per Genette, Cobley, and Propp, and found especially Genette to be valuable to the discussion. Genette provided insight into the ‘tense’, ‘order’ and ‘voice’ of narratives, which refer to the temporality of events, the sequence of these, and the narrating instance. Ultimately, this was later used to frame the discussion surrounding the place and role of narrative within video games. Seeking to define games, the paper turned to Salen & Zimmerman, Juul, Crawford and Egenfeldt-Nielsen et al. The paper found that rules, artificial conflict, and quantifiable goals were essential traits in games. Beyond this, interaction was deemed to be a critical component as it allowed for player agency, which refers to the player being able to manipulate the game state, and in turn, the narrative. Further, Klimmt et al., expressed that identification with characters within video games to be stronger and more effective than traditional media due to the interactive element, as it allowed players to ‘become’ media characters. The knowledge gained from exploring narratives and video games separately was then combined to discuss the application of narrative in video games. In doing so, the paper drew on examples from Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, What Remains of Edith Finch and Nier: Automata, among others, which were chosen due to them being narrative games, as well as influential and expressive of storytelling methodologies unique to video games. Exploring narrative within video games, Aarseth expressed that story within video games can be expressed through the ‘world’, ‘objects’, ‘events’, and ‘characters’, and that games exist on a spectrum ranging from ‘pure story’ to ‘pure game’. According to Aarseth, games which allow the player to manipulate any or all the four expressions of story above push the game towards ‘pure game’. This means that the affordances given to the player by the narrative allows them to shape said narrative, otherwise it remains completely authored. Later, the paper outlined the debate between ludologists and narratologists regarding whether video games should be considered narratives or something new and other. Agreeing with Juul, the paper found it important to acknowledge that video games exist within a narrative paradigm and that drawing on narratological concepts can prove useful in analyzing them, while still acknowledging that they are somewhat disparate from traditional media and that not all video games are narratives. Furthermore, the paper found that time, as it exists within typical traditional narratives, is often discarded in favor of allowing the player to manipulate diegetic time. This was found to dilute or eliminate narrative tension in a traditional sense. Instead, games rely on conflict between the player and the game’s systems. Further, it was found that video games exist in the narrative ‘now’, which denotes that the events of the game are usually not depictions of events prior or future but can be influenced in the moment. This aspect is crucial for player agency. The paper then discussed the issues regarding focalization, i.e. from what perspective the events are seen, and found that video games, much akin to film, rely on a virtual narrator in the form of a camera, to show, rather than tell, events. In combination with the interactive nature of video games, this would, in some games, allow players to focalize the events themselves, thus further giving them sway over the narrative. Narrative control is, however, often seized by the game during authored sequences, known as cutscenes. Delving into the storytelling methodologies of video games, the paper examined Hjaltason et al. and found that players can introduce narrative into games without any authored narrative by relying on ludic systems as storytelling devices. Furthermore, the paper found that ludic systems could be employed by game designers to convey story content. By allowing players to interact in a certain way with mechanical systems, the game could express thematic substance, thus allowing interaction to become metaphors for the story content. The paper thus concluded that the video game as a narrative medium is like traditional media in many aspects, but differs mainly due to interaction, which allows not only for the manipulation of events, but also the expression of story which are unavailable to any other medium. Keywords:  Narrative, Video Games, Mechanical Storytelling, Interaction

LanguageEnglish
Publication date30 May 2018
Number of pages78
ID: 280127629