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March 30, 2011


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Ed Howard

Very interesting stuff. Like you, I'm a little ambivalent about video game narrative, because quite simply while I've played some games (Mass Effect, Fallout) that are reasonably good at narrative in video game terms, I have yet to come across a video game that tells a story in a way I'd want to watch as a movie. Also, Heavy Rain, which I haven't played, might be an exception, but I also have yet to come across a game that approaches narrative in a way that's truly integral to the formal properties of video games. I love ME2 and Fallout 3, but narrative in both of those games is largely a matter of cut scenes, and despite the dialogue options in both, they're basically movies with choose-your-own-adventure branching paths rather than games that really integrate narrative into gameplay.

Probably the closest thing to what I'm talking about is Braid, which has its own flaws and isn't exactly a masterpiece of writing - but the one thing it does undeniably well that I haven't seen much elsewhere is that the gameplay reinforces and develops the themes of the story. It's not just fight/talk/cut scene. As you play each level, the gameplay mechanics force you to think about the themes of time, memory and change that the game designers want you to think about. That, I think, is an avenue for truly innovative incorporation of narrative in games, rather than just borrowing cut scenes from the movies in between shoot-em-up or puzzle-solving levels.

Jeremy M. Barker

I think it's interesting to bring up that triumphalist technology theory about how the medium helps determine the narrative. I actually tend to agree, but I never really want to argue that point. If I did, I'd wind up writing off all straight narrative theater based in psychological realism, which I don't want to do because I find it frequently enjoyable and meaningful. But film does it better. I wonder if maybe that's what it was so hard for me to articulate my response to part 1 of this series. Maybe the reality is that stories just don't work for me as theater anymore, and that what I increasingly fixate on is the physical presence of bodies. Much food for thought.

Malachy Walsh

Thanks. A lot of stuff to think about here. All worthy.

Isaiah Tanenbaum

Those narratives you miss still exist! All of the "sports" games, from actual sports (Madden) to sport-like activities (shooters, World of Warcraft) trade in just that "and then I did this, so he did THAT" storytelling you describe. And of course there is The Sims franchise, which is basically a virtual dollhouse, designed for storytelling, and that's not

Games do best when they allow players to trade in that sort of narrative making; they are weakest when they shuttle the player down a linear path. The real narrative of Call of Duty isn't the singleplayer campaign, but the constantly shifting dynamics of a multiplayer match.

Isaiah Tanenbaum

Oops. After the sims I wanted to say

"and that's not to mention the phenomenon of Farmville."

That'll show me to post from my phone!



Normally, I'd agree with you. But I think this might be slowly changing. UNCHARTED 2, for example, is very, very linear. You have no choices in it whatsoever. It's probably one of the most satisfying narrative experiences in video games. There's little choice in bioshock, but that's actually part of the way that the narrative and the theme are structurally linked (from a narrative structure point, bioshock might still be the best video game out there). These are exceptions, but they're also *wildly successful financially* which leads me to believe there'll be more work out there like them.

Isaiah Tanenbaum

I think both kinds of narrative can, do, and will continue to exist. The Sims is the best selling PC game of all time. The next biggest is Myst, which is either completely linear or essentially lacking in narrative, depending upon whom you ask; certainly the narrative was not the selling point if that game, although I still remember all three (three!) possible endings 15 years later.


spammers, above.

Fit PC

Absolutely, really interesting stuffs you have shared with many readers. I really find it somewhat applicable with other games. Those narrative are really amazing. I'll just find way to use those.

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