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Game noir

Limbo is a grim, award-winning video game in black, white and grey, involving a small boy’s dash through a lethal forest. At one stage the boy jumps across the corpses of similar little boys bobbing along in a river. Another game, The Path, has similar narrative connotations, described as a short horror game updating Little Red Riding Hood. American McGee’s Alice is an earlier game in which Alice returns to Wonderland on a slash mission. Such games inherit the intensity of the noir genre in film, trading emotional intensity in place of spectacle, evocation instead of lavish costumes and sets, mystery in place of clarity — sometimes blending into horror. Game noir also brings to the fore the role of narrative in the game experience.

sky, clouds, movement
There are two (at least) categories of games, and of computer games developers, it seems. The “ludologists” conceive of games pure and simple as mechanically-defined operations. Think of puzzle games like Tetris, and sports: soccer, ping-pong. There are components, moves, rules and challenges, but no story. On the other hand, the “narratologists” enjoy the story aspect of games. Think of computer adventure games (Myst, Lara Croft), noire, role play, Cluedo, etc.

Theorist of popular cultures, Henry Jenkins, outlines the differences and implications of these two positions, and insists that there is a narrative aspect to all games. At their most play-full, the designers and developers of computer games create spaces in which stories unfold and are revealed, and that get filled in, by other stories from outside the mechanics of the game.

I agree. I would say that even the most abstract and mechanical game fits within a narrative structure of some kind. Narratives (ie stories) are multiple, layered, and nested. Noughts and crosses (tic-tac-toe), one of the most “reduced” and banal of games, is caught up in stories. We could invoke the trivial point that such games have a start, a middle, and an end, thereby exhibiting a narrative structure. Imaginative players might even think of the lines and circles as characters in a story.

But there’s also the narrative that unfolds as the players interact, the meta-narrative of the contest, jubilation, the complaining, the expressions of excitement and tedium. The narrative of the game might not be revealed until the game is recounted or remembered. Narratives don’t only inhere within the mechanics of the game, but extend well beyond it, a factor to be considered in the design, critique and reception of any game.

Jenkins refers to a larger narrative economy, to which any novel, film, tv commercial, or game might contribute.

Increasingly, we inhabit a world of transmedia story-telling, one which depends less on each individual work being self-sufficient than on each work contributing to a larger narrative economy. (p.677)

So it’s open season for game stories. Narrative can be spotted everywhere. Here are some suggestions for stories to which any game might be attached.

  1. The assertions of psychologist Sigmund Freud are very useful in revealing even the most prosaic operations as narratives. The story of Oedipus tells of childhood trauma, of yearning for the cosy comforts of the mother, and the ambivalence of leaving and returning to this safe place. There’s a story here about repetition as an enactment and re-enactment of trauma. Games exhibit repetition in abundance, a theme that Freud relates to concepts of the uncanny. Apart from all its other effects, the unsettling aspect of game noir is attributable to the role of repetition, the doppelganger, seeing yourself repeated — especially, we might add, in a corps (Limbo). But even the most basic puzzles participate in the condition of repetition.
  2. Think also of progressing through game levels. There’s a kind of quest, a rite of passage from one degree of difficulty to the next, induction into a higher mystery — for puzzles as for adventure games.
  3. Even debates about game “realism,” invoke stories about ever-greater progression towards a state of perfect simulation and immersion (Hamlet on the Holodeck). There’s a utopian dream here: perhaps a return to an ideal state of perfect representation, perfect immersion in an experience unmediated by the artifice of the storyteller.
  4. Games are richly social, even when played alone. They are social inventions. This narrative economy employs a host of actors: designer, developer, player, critic, publishers, as well as narrative devices and scenarios: victories, regrets, cheats, beating the game designer, false starts, and returns. And don’t forget online multi-user games.
  5. Games also fit into meta-meta-narratives of combatants, geeks, maniacs, and cultural tribes: eg otaku.
  6. Games invoke contest, that can merge into exploitation. Think of the “gold farms,” in which game addicts would play World of Warcraft for virtual gold which is then passed on to their bosses for sale on e-bay to other players.

The narrative economy in which games participate is rich and diverse, and what are economies anyway but games of chance.

References

  • Jenkins, H., ‘Game design as narrative architecture’, in N. Windrip-Fruin and P. Harrigan (eds), First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004. Also in Jenkins, H., ‘Game design as narrative architecture’, in K. Salen and E. Zimmerman (eds), The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2006, 670-689. Online: 1, 2.
  • Murray, J.H., Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999.

About Richard Coyne

The cultural, social and spatial implications of computers and pervasive digital media spark my interest ... enjoy architecture, writing, designing, philosophy, coding and media mashups.

Discussion

16 thoughts on “Game noir

  1. I think that story-based games are also coming closer to the idea that the mechanics of a game also tell a story. Take, for example, the PS2-era Shadow of Colossus and the PS3 game Heavy Rain. Both of these games rely heavily on the interactive process to bring you closer to the characters. In Heavy Rain, you play as one of several characters almost in a quick time event-based system, but with several refinements. Rather than arbitrarily jamming on buttons here and there to dodge things or land punches, most of the game you will find you are interacting with people, objects, and backgrounds vaguely similar to how you would in real life- for example a turn of the analog stick will turn the car key. As you progress, things get more ingenious – as a character struggles up a muddy slope, your fingers reach and crawl all over the controller in impossible ways, mimicking the character’s own struggle. Later, when being questioned at a police station, the answer prompts appear on screen corresponding to certain buttons. If your memory fails you and you answer incorrectly, the answer prompts become more jittery, making them harder to see and conveying the sense of panic and anxiety the character is also feeling. In Shadow of Colossus, there is almost no story-telling moments besides small glimpses here and there of a larger overlying plot, but again the way you interact as the main character becomes the story. You are a small, helpless human boy and you interact with increasingly larger and larger monsters, most of them over fifty times your size, and his struggle to save his lover (friend? relative? princess?) becomes your own. His/Your quiet resolution and determination compels you to conquer each next monstrosity until it becomes his/your undoing.

    Ultimately, I think both of these games could never be translated into another medium such as film or literature, as most of what makes the story comes from how you have interacted with it. If games were just visuals or just narrative, they would be not too terribly different from movies or TV, but the mechanical and interactive parts of gaming are what truly sets the genre apart.

    Oh man, I could talk about games forever!

    Posted by auilix | September 22, 2011, 6:57 pm
  2. I wonder if your narratives about these games are also part of the game experience, as the way we talk about a film is part of what it is to enjoy the film. I’ll keep thinking. Keep talking.

    Posted by Richard Coyne | September 23, 2011, 6:23 am
    • Are you seeking for something beyond the experience, teacher. Or some senses really reveal the narrative rather than interactive?
      Speak of the comparison of narrative and interactive, I would like to invoke a game, which is called Go. Go is a kind of chess which is invented by ancient Chinese. People play that on the Go board, on the internet, and with other mediums. With the simplest rule and the hardest technique, I think, it could be the most interactive game. But in here, I want to say, it’s fairly narrative. In ancient East, people also call it ‘shou tan’, translate as ‘hand talk’, talking on that board.
      On that simply 19*19 board and the exactly same shape black or white chessmen, the stories could be plenty and exciting. While a player against another, he/she knows what is happening in that game. ‘I’m going to use the Bentian genre’; ‘I’m going to sacrifice this dragon, and therefore I shall kill his central force’; ‘I’m certainly losing in a minute, but, if I make a Ko here, it may possibly save me eventually’; ‘Aha, he’s snapped right into my snare, my rhythm, and my place!’. People can also genuine see those stories by watching the game records, or by listening to the running commentary. Those stories are created by the players, perhaps the audience him/herself also, and perhaps the medium, e.g. records with comments.
      On the other hand, narrative could will be interactive. On the loft, Auilix has shared his experience of Noirs, the games are narrative, but also are very interactive. Here I would like to discuss the pair from another point of view.
      Configuring a game, the degree of the difficulty depends on average ability of players. So it’s an interactive between the designer and audiences. The player is not interacting with the game itself, but the planner, the designer, even the programmer.
      It is quite obviously games have interactive character; otherwise it won’t be a game. But beyond the very front tier level of interactive, between man and medium, there are something exceedingly direct between man and man. Not just for online games or group games, but also the single play games, even the RPGs. Those are, the commonly movement, some shared experiences, and the time among the players. And those are the delicate competition, some topic stories, and the time between the creators and the players.
      Long story short, game noir is begin with narrative, company with interactive, and then continually be interactive and narrative. It could be other way round, it starts with interactive, along with narrative, and it will continually be narrative and interactive.
      Quoting that from above, ‘Oh man, I could talk about games forever!’

      Posted by Jing Qin | October 12, 2011, 6:12 pm
  3. I want to talk about some of my opinions about horror games. It is interesting that nowadays many people are into horror games(American McGee Alice, Limbo)which are grim and bloody. Those games bring players to a world filled with monsters or ghosts .etc and what you need to do is try to survive.

    There’s a common characteristic each successful horror games should content— “empathy”. Take American McGee Alice as an example. Alice has a childhood trauma and is an ordinary girl. One day she followed an ugly cat into the crazy wonderland and begins her slashing quest. Player is acting an ordinary people but do extraordinary things. What’s more, if you use a PS2 or Wii, you even can feel the slash touching. So I think horror games make players feel terrified for imagining themselves under a same situation in the realistic world.

    Besides, why so many people are into such kind of games has three main reasons I think.
    1. Feel boring about virtual life. This can be explained by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. After reaching the level of Self-actualization, Maslow describes this desire as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming. This is a broad definition of the need for self-actualization, but when applied to individuals the need is specific. To those who like horror games their desire is to find much more exciting things and get rid of the trivial daily life.

    2. Curiosity about death and mysterious things. Death is something we all need to face someday, we afraid of it and respect it. Games provide a simulated sense of death and we won’t lose any things in the real world. Many horror games always include puzzle such as finding clues to open the door or investigate why you’ve been sending to this freaking place. And in those narrative games like American McGee Alice you may find out heroine’s childhood trauma and gather her losing memory pieces as the game proceeding.

    3. Pressure Release. People have to face more and more mental pressure than before because of the high competition of today’s society. In that case, they need a way to release their anger and anxiety. Game has provided a perfect platform for releasing pressure. Players can slash a monster in a game and feel some sort of comfort. On the other hand, when players finished their trip within horror games they come back to their real world and think “Thank god, I didn’t live in such horrible world like that game”. With that kind of comparison, we feel our life isn’t that bad at least better than these horror games.

    PS. My English isn’t that good, so if I made some mistakes or made my points hard to understand, please forgive me.

    Posted by Siying Liang | September 23, 2011, 4:08 pm
  4. Games are mostly considered to be a way of recreation, not a storytelling medium. I partly disagree with that. There are so many games , some of them include stories only to give a meaning to their rules and others can compete some of the best adventure films with their plot. All of them are accompanied with a story.

    It’s not that there can be a comparison between games and other mediums, although they have similarities. For example, you can play monopoly with the traditional way or online in the internet. Lord of the rings, you can either read it or watch it at the cinema. They belong to the “big narrative system”.

    As Henry Jenkins mentioned at his book Game design as narrative architecture :“What games do best will almost certainly centre around their ability to give concrete shape to our memories and imaginings of the storyworld, creating an immersive environment we can wander through and interact with “. H. Jenkins mentions that the more narrative systems you use to get a story, the deeper you perceive it. The fascinating part of games is that interaction can only take place in their fictional world. This is a significant difference between games and other mediums, that you can live an adventure of your own creation.

    You can tell a story about your high score in ‘Score 4’ or you can tell a story about how you got lost In ‘Paradise’. Maybe the stories are about our accomplishments, maybe they are about the world inside the game but all of them are stories generated from the game as a medium.

    Posted by stelladdm | September 24, 2011, 3:23 pm
  5. As a digital musician I’m interested in the use of repetition in music in the context of the uncanny.

    Repetition is a corner stone of almost all dance music, be it African drumming or minimal techno. The repetition of regular, recognisable rhythmic structures is used to develop a groove and a mood for the duration of a piece of music which sometimes leads to a trance-like state in the listener. I wonder if such states of euphoria are related to ideas of the uncanny as put forward by Freud.

    While there’s little to be ‘creeped out’ by in the repetition one hears in most dance music, the arrival at an altered state of conciousness could be analogous to that sense of eerie unfamiliarity that Freud talks about – how did I get here? What led me here? Haven’t I been here before, and how do I get back? Similarly, terms used by dancers echo this sentiment – ‘freaking out’, ‘losing it’, ‘going mental’…

    ‘An empty Bliss Beyond This World’, A recent album by sound archivist and musician The Caretaker (http://soundcloud.com/experimedia/the-caretaker-an-empty-bliss), has a more obviously Freudian sense of the uncanny. By looping snippets of old, grainy 78rpm records of early 20th Century ballroom music, the album attempts to disarm the listener with a sense of nostalgia, collective memory and popular social history. The sleeve notes talk about the retention of musical phrases and lyrics that Altzeimers patients sometimes exhibit, even when all their other memories are gone. When listening to the album one recognises reappearing phrases, lost in the fizz and crackle of ancient vinyl, and experiences a creepy sense of fading memories, timelessness and cyclical return.

    Posted by Dave House | September 24, 2011, 3:34 pm
  6. Why do we play?

    Why do we read?

    Why do we watch a movie?

    Because, it’s an enriching experience one way or the other – emotionally, intellectually, physically and/or socially. It’s also an escape from reality – whether it’s a story over a campfire, a game of tic-tac-toe, a video game, a movie, a book, music, dancing, drama or any other form of entertainment that draws us away from our lives.

    Regardless of having a story or not, most games have an objective – to score the most points, reach a checkpoint, drive the fastest, collect as many gold coins, etc. Every game (not just computer games) challenges us. And it is the experience of reaching this goal that makes playing a game worthwhile. This is what, in my opinion, makes a game a success or not. If either the game play or narrative (or both) challenges the player to achieve the goal and draws them in to the story (if one exists) it will help in creating a satisfying experience and therefore a successful game. Although, because a game is such an interactive experience, the game play might probably have a greater influence compared to the narrative/story. A game with a terrible story and great game play might be a bigger success compared to a game with a great story that is almost unplayable.

    Why is it so important for us to take on challenges? It’s human nature to prove our capabilities – either to ourselves or society. It gives us an identity (regardless of being virtual or real). It’s also probably related to the way we are as mammals – the need to prove dominance and have an identity.

    The more experienced gamers tend to gradually move up the ladder of game play in terms of their expectations and contributions to the game. Peer, advertising and social pressure can influence their choices and also their expectations from the game. They might contribute to the game in terms of publicity, micro-economics and the social structure of MMORPGs.

    Ultimately, to look at video games under a microscope will force us to look at the details and not the bigger picture. Video games did not spring out of nothing. There are influences from other forms of entertainment and ideas as old as humanity itself.

    -varun

    Posted by Varun Nair (@ntkeep) | September 28, 2011, 2:58 pm
  7. It is fair to say that narratology plays a very significant role in video games today. When i started playing video games in the early 1990’s, home consoles were much less powerful than they are now and a greater emphasis was placed on ludology , the technology was not available for the game designers to include FMV’s (Full Motion Video) or even use audio as a means to explain a game’s narrative. As a result i do agree with a point made by Henry Jenkins that there are many factors which contribute to developing a great game that have little to do with storytelling. Game genres such as fighting (beat ‘em ups), sports, or even racing do not necessarily contain a great narrative however they do provide a great gaming experience as they promote skill and competition between players, in fact it is not uncommon for people to travel to different countries in order to take part in regularly held tournaments and for video footage of these tournaments to be uploaded to and viewed on the internet (which I suppose could be considered a social aspect of video gaming).

    As advances in technology allowed for newer and more powerful consoles to be produced, games designers were afforded the opportunity to incorporate more story telling aspects within the development of video games. I find that today narratology plays a very important part towards a video game’s success as there is a vast list of titles relating to any given genre, therefore an intriguing and immersive storyline is required to keep gamers interested and to set the game apart from others within the same genre.

    Kinan Ballagh

    Posted by Kinan Ballagh | September 28, 2011, 11:22 pm
  8. I totally agree with Kinan, narratology has a vital part in video games. Probably the level of importance depends on the kind of game but most highly successful games (Tomb Raider Series, Resident Evil Series, Diablo Series, GTA Series) include well though through narratives. Game developers pay high attention to the creation of main characters, whereby various factors are included to give a main character a real “soul”. This souls comes in form of a background story of characters, habits and traits.

    As mentioned in the narrative economy, the characters are part of the economical package. the more a character is memorable, the more likely the audience is to recall the character in an extended version of a game or an add-on version. Recalling a character is part of the “repetition” process. Although repetition itself has a rather negative connotation, in the case of genres and brands it works the opposite way; it serves as the part which is familiar to the audience and therefore embodies the feeling of trust. A feature which many brands try to achieve.

    I have given the example of recalling a main character in a game, though the repetitive part can come in various appearances, such as a minor character or a familiar part in the course of a story.
    A game does not succeed only with repetition, a “new” aspect is also important because otherwise the audience is likely to become bored.
    Sometimes a game can be repeated to 100% in its original story but the new aspect are improved graphics. A good example for this is the game “Jagged Alliance 2” and now 12 years later the same game with the same storyline will be published but with up-to-date graphics.

    At this point I must also mention that American McGee’s Alice is a marvellous game and also a very suitable example of the right balance between repetition and new twist. I was so glad to see that people share the same opinions about this game such as the thoughts I always had about it.

    I have played this game probably about 3-4 times myself and I am still fascinated by it.

    The idea is simply convincing due to various reasons: Everyone has heard of the fairytale Alice in Wonderland at one point in his/her life. So this would be a factor that every individual can recall to a certain extend. That would be the “repetition” part.

    In my opinion Alice in Wonderland was also never really the good-ol- happy ending fairytale, it always had something uncanny by nature.

    To even push the uncanniness factor American McGee presented a very violent and disturbing version of Alice that likes to play with butcher knives. I guess this is the “new” twist, which is added to the part which was already familiar to us.

    Repetition(Alice and her story, known, familiar –> trusted) + New Twist (Mental & Violent Wonderland, unknown, weird –> interesting) = Perfect Mix of Old & New

    I am aware that we are discussing narratives in games but basically musicians such as Lady Gaga work with this basic formula as well.

    Repetition (Popmusic, safe beats, easy lyrics, everyone can sing a long) + New Twist ( Shocking outfits, provocative videoclips and movements) = Perfect mix, the safe music allows Lady Gaga to appeal to wide audiences while presenting clothes which are less suitable for mass audiences.

    Let’s look at American McGee’s Alice from the marketing point of view, the developers probably will have known that the initial target group (+18) will have the effect of recognition, because at one point in their lives they will have heard the story of Alice, plus the target group is old enough to appreciate, understand the sarcasm and handle the level of presented violence that the game includes.

    Even though the game is now totally outdated, the narrative and the whole concept of a gloomy Alice was so convincing that the audience still remembers it after 10 years. Facebook groups exist and even user generated content in the form of trailers were created on Youtube to push the EA Games to develop a second version of the game

    Here’s one example from 2009

    And guess what was released in 2011,…..(see: “Alice: Madness Returns” (2012))

    Goes to show that a strong idea with a catchy narrative can become an evergreen.

    Greg Telakis

    Posted by Greg_T | October 10, 2011, 12:01 am
  9. Both Greg and Kinan are definately right – narration is the key to a good and fulfilling gaming experience. Especially the repetitive mixture of old and new that Greg mentioned is a very interesting argument. It is as he said, repetition can incredibly improve the narration and the with it the gaming experience.
    One factor I want to stress here is that this repetition can be crazy and done over and over – as long as a couple of new story or even only gameplay elements are brought in, it is still possible to provide an amazing, new, fulfilling gaming experience.
    As an example I want to bring one of Nintendo’s biggest gaming franchises: The legend of Zelda.
    It’s story is well-known and always the same: Hero (Link) and love interest and princess (Zelda) are happy together, enemy (Ganon) destroys the piece, takes the princess that needs to be rescued. This story didn’t fundamentally change since the first game that came out in 1986. Even though this is 25 years ago, it still is one of the most sucessful franchise of all time.

    Why does it still work?
    Greg’s argument explains it perfectly: There are always slight differences in the game – most game elements stay the same (items, characters, etc), but some things do change. This can go from fundamental changes like the visual style (compare the cel-shaded ‘Windwaker’ with the more dark and serious ‘Twilight princess’! ), from changing gameplay elements (becoming different characters with putting on different masks) to tiny changes like changing the age of the characters. All those changes happen in a very limited area, though. Nobody who ever played one of the games would be irritated by any of them. Nintendo always makes the franchise so recognisable that any change – how big it seems to be in the beginning – does only seem like an improvement. Even though some changes might not be as good and critically aclaimed as others, they don’t work against the recognisability of the games at all.

    This repitition with a slight change apply to a lot of other areas as well. Pop music was already mentioned, is definately true, but does not even fully cut it. Every medium that underlies fashion in any sense will have to experience this repetition. It is not only the micro- repetition within a certain franchise of games, movies or music. There is also a macro- repetition that comes along with things being in fashion. Right now, in almost every medium I feel that there is a certain back to the roots or retro attidude to them. Music picks up elements of the 70s and 80s, old synths or drum-machines. Not only since Mad Men everybody wears waistcoats and tight skirts. If somebody takes a picture with his iPhone right now, there is a huge chance that the picture will be slightly desaturised and furnished with a vignette by the app Hipstamatic. A german newspaper lately asked with a good reason: “How will we explain our kids one day why all the pictures we have of 2011 look worse than the ones their grandparents can show them?”.

    I guess my point here is that repetition is a method that can work really well, but that also leads us to hide behind it whenever we are not sure how to start something new. “Old is the new new” might be applicable and even fun in a lot of situations, but is something we should consider being able to prevent us from creating something new.

    Even though this would be a good attitude to follow, it is hard to actually go with it. “Old is the new new” might not be innovative but still gives us something different and with it – new. And it is always easier to go back to something that was already proven to be working, than to invent something completely new that bares a huge chance of not being approved and / or disliked. I think the best solution would be to try to always strife for the new with not forgetting about the old.

    Then again, new for the sake of being new does not make things good by default. Only if things are good, they are good. What sounds trivial does actually make sense: It is the evaluation, not the innovation that should be seen first. Both need eachother though; evaluation without innovation is need- and pointless, same applies for innovation without evaluation.
    Still, especially we as people hopefully ending up working creatively, it feels like it is our task to be innovative and brave enough to push being innovative forwards. We as a generation that still already grew up with amazing new technology (internet, etc) but a feeling for what things used to be like (we still know what vhs is!) are in the perfect position to push forward. Almost by default we are in this spot right inbetween old and new, retro and invention, and of course evaluation and innovation. Just following already given conventions can not be our goal, we should widen and push them. Not for the sake of breaking them, but for making space in which other people can step and widen them even further, bringing new innovations and new evaluations. We have to be the change that we want to see in the world. Cheesy, but actually true.

    Michael

    Posted by Michael Ibrahim Heins | December 13, 2011, 7:10 pm
  10. In my honest opinion, it is nearly impossible to separate a narrative from any type of game…even something as seemingly simple as Tetris. While Tetris may seem like just a puzzle game where the user is competing against the computer, one must think about the context in which the game was released to see that there was a story behind it. While not as relevant today, Tetris was released during the Cold War, a very scary time for the entire world (not just the two countries that were directly involved in it). Tetris was developed by Russians and the game came with a lot of Russian nationalist imagery and music. I am definitely not saying that Tetris was used as a propaganda tool for the Russians, but I am saying that there is a deeper story to the game than just making sure you create lines with different shapes.

    The debate between ludologists and narratologists seems like a pointless one because to claim to strictly be either is too black and white. Modern day game developers work very hard to create games with both amazing mechanical features as well as a story that makes the user want to come back for more. It is impossible to take the story completely out of a game, yet it is very important for the player that the mechanics of the game lend themselves to being able to engage with said story.

    Posted by Alex Galler | October 7, 2012, 12:08 pm
  11. Speaking of narratives within games, and as some have mentioned about online games, I think “Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG)” can be quite an interesting one to refer to, especially “Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG)”; where you have the setting of a fictional world, and general narratives between quests as you would get from any role-playing games; but beside these, you are also able to interact with other players who are taking up a similar journey in the game, and this does not limited to your local network, but in a worldwide network (though they still separates countries into group where they shares a same language).
    By being able to interact with others, players can their own unique experience from the framing of the game, whether it is completing a quest as a party, searching rare items with others, or simply having conversations with your friends in this fantasy world, the idea of sharing an experience, doesn’t these memories automatically creates an unique narrative to these experiences, even though there isn’t a “Last Bad Monster” to beat? Though it may not be as obvious in puzzle games like Tetris, and I agree with what Galler said above that stories can be embedded in a game’s background and its origin, and I felt on top of everything, the experience is something more direct to us as players.

    Though I think narrative can always be there in different forms or perceived differently, but the debate between ludologists and narratologists does make sense also, as I see this debate simply as one focused on narratives more than others.

    Other than that, the invention of “Achievements” (others also known as trophies, badge, challenge or medal) within games also reflect on one of the point mentioned in this post, where progressing through levels within a game give the sense of guest. Achievements can also be seen as meta-goal to a game, that lives out side the general quests and level system of a game, and the reward of an achievement often have a direct impact on the normal gameplay experience such as secret levels and items, which not just create challenges but also gives the game more replay value. there are some interesting essays regarding this particular issue such as Badges in Social Media: A Social Psychological Perspective (2011) by Antin, J and Churchill, E (http://gamification-research.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/03-Antin-Churchill.pdf) and Framework for Designing and Evaluating Game Achievements by Hamari, j and Eranti, V; although these aren’t published works, but it is however interesting to see what others have gathered?

    Posted by Terry Peng (aka: Shih-Hung) | December 4, 2012, 8:07 pm
  12. I would also like to agree with Galler’s comment in that all games have some form of narrative structure even if this is not of the same linier style as a book or film. Although separating game developers into ludologists and narratologists works well for separating the focus on what the creation of the game is. It is not a black and white thing and all puzzle games will have some form of story and vice versa.

    Looking at a game like Tomb Raider (Lara Croft), I would actually categorize this game as a puzzle game, which is the opposite of what is stated in the original blog post. The way I see it in Tomb Raider you must complete a series of puzzles in the game. This is the part the gamer actually has to focus their brain on to get through the game. As a reward for completing a puzzle they then receive the next part of the narrative.

    I think that that instead of trying to subdivide gaming into sections it would be better to focus on how we are able to merge them together allowing the narrative to naturally mix with the mechanics of the gameplay.

    Looking at games with a more ludologist approach having narrative in games is still something that is important although could perhaps be put to use more. Traditionally the strategy game genre has always included a game mode called the “campaign” mode. This is generally the same as the normal version of the game but has the addition of a more visible narrative. In the Command & Conquer games the game developers went to the effort of hiring professional actors to create real world filmed cut scenes in between games. At the time this actually helped sell more copies of the game because it helped give them a brand and made their product stand out from other similar war games. People would buy the next game in the series just to find out what happens next even if the fundamental gameplay was exactly the same.

    Games have the potential to use gameplay to tell stories in ways not possible in books. It is possible that each time someone plays through a game it could tell a different story or even give the player control over the story itself. Some games allow the player to choose from a selection of dialogue and choose what to say. This can then have a direct effect on the game where by a non-player character who was once an ally could now be an enemy. Games like these tend to try and give players difficult decisions like choosing whether to destroy a village or save it.

    In the Massively multiplayer online role playing game scene this is often taken even further where by the developer can only provide the setting where the narrative happens. Players create entire societies by themselves creating whole new narratives in these virtual communities. The game World of Warcraft shows just how powerful this can be. It is over 8 years old now and still has millions of people paying monthly to be a part of this online community. This power of creating a game that can make new real world relationships can still have its downsides. These games can often be very addicting and people can sometimes turn down opportunities in exploring their own life to explore and socialize in a virtual world.

    That’s not to say that traditional means of telling narrative are worse. Going back to game noir, a game worth mentioning is Max Payne. This game seems to try and separate the gameplay and narrative by using long cut scenes with comic book strips and voiceovers to tell the story. Even in this very black and white setting it still works very well. Similar to Tomb Raider I feel it uses the long cut scenes and intricate story line as a reward and incentive for completing the tasts in game.

    Even though all the games I looked at here are completely un-related. They show that in my opinion it is not the splitting up of puzzle and narrative games that are important but the ways in which we can merge the two things together.

    Posted by Christopher Darke | December 18, 2012, 9:42 pm

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