Game and Narrative – The Jenkin compromise

In most of my blogs I have been repeatedly talking about interactive v/s immersive and how they vary inversely with one another. This weeks reading on Game Design as Narrative Architecture clearly demystifies whatever doubts I had about the coexistence of narrative and interactive on a game like media.

I totally agree with Jenkin’s proposition that the nature of the media requires you to redefine narrative to a certain extent. A game is a medium where the narration – if present – has to truly incorporate non linearity, and modularity for a well formed single narrative is hard to construct in a truly interactive environment. A game with a central narrative will however, never be a truly interactive system but to a certain extent, only a mere illusion of interactivity. The kind of restrictions such as health, goals, scores etc tends to constrict the player towards a certain intentioned narrative. However, as we saw today in the Oblivion, in a very interactive system created out of a seemingly complex world, the player really doesn’t have to follow the objectives and could roam around and see different things for themselves. Without the constricting factors the author’s story may get lost. But on a smaller scale, the more interactive and life like the system is, the easier it is for the players to conjure up less complex mini narratives in their minds. How detailed and engrossing these mini – embedded or spatial – narratives are depends a lot on the game design.

However to say that a game is a narrative medium is like saying that hide and seek tells a story. A game doesn’t really have to tell a story at all and still be engrossing enough to keep playing. Combat games such as Tekken or Mortal Kombat etc doesn’t require a historical or cultural background. It is just that these backgrounds and constructed narratives adds to the believability of the game – the player is able to connect better and produce opinions and emotional responses. Narrative thus becomes more like a value add to the gameplay and not a component of it. It is the same thing. Board games like Snakes and Ladders do not have the possibility of narrative construction. But other board games such as Monopoly or The Game of Life has a richer texture and more real life situations to it which makes it more immersive. The the comparable bit is that the game play element of both the games are inherently the same – both are played with dice where u gain turns and lose turns depending on where in the board u land up. However, the environment of the latter games, as I mentioned, is a value add and enhances the character of the game a great deal.

Most game designers are computer architects and graphic designers and I do not think that are remotely concerned about this tussle between the game play and narrative structure. When they add narrative to a game, they just do in order to make them more believable and marketable.


One Response to Game and Narrative – The Jenkin compromise

  1. alex says:

    Hide and seek doesn’t tell a story – but you can tell a story about a game of hide and seek after you’ve finished playing, right? I’d say this is another form of “value-add” when thinking about the roles stories can play in games – a game can create an engaging experience which then encourages storytelling after the fact. So the game isn’t a story, but it enables storytelling.

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