Project Description

Posted: September 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

Narrative Transmission in Video Games

The main goal of this project was to apply the concepts of narrative transmission to specific video games. I realized during the course of the semester, and especially when preparing for my symposium, that I had no practical experience with video games as a medium. It had been many years since I last played any games, and the technology in gaming development has advanced dramatically since that time. I understood the concepts of Genette, but, due to my lack of experience, I was at a loss as to how these theories could be applied to this form of new media.

One question raised during the course waswhether or not games could be considered narratives at all, especially if the story world of the game was optional and dependent on the interactivity of the player. My goal was to explore this question, find out how the concepts of narrative transmission apply to games, and try to find out if games can be an effective medium for story-telling. 

            Simply put, in order to achieve my research goal it was necessary to play video games. I had to choose video games, play them, and analyze them for their uses of narrative transmission. Games were chosen somewhat randomly. Don’t Starve, for example, was chosen because of its lack of rules or instruction and my lack of any previous knowledge about the game. It was my intention to discover the story as I explored the game space and then analyze the narrative as it occurred.  I hypothesized that, by having no rules or instructions, Don’t Starve would allow for a greater level of interaction and exploration of the game space and therefore story.

Finding that Don’t Starve contained very little to no story during my gameplay, I then chose Bioshock as my second game because of its wealth of story. In the symposium with Stefan Schubert, he suggested that it was interactivity and exploration of the game space which determined how the player understood the story. I believed that Bioshock could indeed be considered a narrative if played with a high level of interactivity.  

Gravity Bone, my third and last game, was chosen because I felt another game would round off my research and perhaps provide a happy-medium between my first game, which was practically devoid of story, and my second game, which was packed full of it.

The theories applied are those of narrative transmission according to Genette. I have analyzed the particular games on their different levels of narrative, meaning if the narration is extradiegetic or intradiagetic, and the different levels of story, considering if the narrator is hetero-, homo-, or autodiegetic. Also important to my work was looking at Genette’s distinction between narration and focalization.

Problems encountered were those intrinsic in the medium itself. Video games do not necessarily have narrative elements to which the theories can be applied. Don’t Starve had no initial exposition of story, and story was still non-existent after several hours of play.  

Also there was the problem of who was narrating or speaking. In all three games played, there was no extra- or intradiegetic narrator in any classic sense. Instead, diegetic visual or audio elements and cues were used, as in the case of Bioshock, and the function or absence of narrator became less important in relation to focalization.     

Problems were solved by looking specifically at how the games I played use theories of narrative transmission in their own unique way. As I already mentioned, use and presence of narrators widely differed in the games; therefore, I found that focalization and how I perceived and explored the game world was often of more importance than who was speaking. In order to understand story, I was able to focus on diegetic elements if and when offered by the game. In Bioshock, for example, exploring the game space and picking up on these diegetic elements was key for understanding the narrative. When I played with less interactivity and only to achieve the goal of advancing to the next level, I had much less understanding of what kind of narrative was being played out.



Posted: September 2, 2013 in Uncategorized


Bioshock. Irrational Games. 2K Games, Aug. 2007. Video Game.

Capati, Shawn. “BioShock: Good and Bad Ending HD.” 02 Aug. 2009. YouTube. Web. 02 Sept. 2013.

Castellanos, Michaela. “Concept Definition: Narrator.” Universität Bayreuth. Universität Bayreuth, 2011. Web. 02 Sept. 2013.

Don’t Starve. Klei Entertainment. Klei Entertainment, Apr. 2013. Video Game.

Egendfeldt-Nielson, Simon, Jonas Heide Smith and Susana Pajares Tosca. Understanding Video Games: The Essential Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.

EthosLab. “Etho Plays – Don’t Starve: Episode 1.” 20 Nov. 2012. YouTube. Web. 02 Sept. 2013.

Fawdz. “Gravity Bone – Playthrough.” 21 Aug. 2012. YouTube. Web. 02 Sept. 2013.

GameSpotTrailers. “Don’t Starve – Origin Trailer. 26 Feb. 2013. YouTube. Web. 02 Sept. 2013.

Gravity Bone. Blendo Games. Blendo Games, Apr. 2008. Video Game.

Lethbridge, Stefanie, and Jarmila Mildorf. Basics For English Studies. Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Mar. 2004. Web. 02 Sept. 2013.

llMadManxllMedia. “Let’s Play BioShock – 1 – Welcome to Rapture.” 05 Mar. 2009. YouTube. Web. 02 Sept. 2013.

Nitsche, Michael. “Focalization In 3D Video Games.” Digital World & Image Group. Georgia Institute of Technology, Oct. 2005. PDF file. 02 Sept. 2013.

Russel, Dave. “Video Game Audio: Diegesis Theory.” Dev.Mag. Dev.Mag, 19. Apr. 2012. Web. 02 Sept. 2013.

Schwanebeck, Wieland. “Chapter 5: Introduction to Narratology: A Brief Summary of Narrative Situations (Stanzel vs. Genette).” An Introduction to Literary Studies. TU Dresden, 2010. PDF file. 02 Sept. 2013.

xXxBunnyEarsxXx. “Don’t Starve – Ending (Spoilers!).” 19 Apr. 2013. YouTube. Web. 02 Sept. 2013.


Posted: September 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

Now that I have actually played a few video games (about 20 hours in total), I have a much better understanding of how narrative transmission in games works. In my analysis of the various games, I have tried to apply literary theory as a means of understanding narrative transmission. Unlike in film and books, however, we have to make some allowances for the new media of video games.

First of all, the category of narrator or the level at which the story is told does not necessarily apply. In all three games there was not necessarily a narrator as we would typically think of as found in literature. Instead, the games I played, especially Bioshock, used diegetic elements such as sound or written information to produce the story.  I am sure there are games which feature definite narrators or voice-over narration, but I have yet to play them. I do not know if or how that affects the way the game is played or the story is experienced.

More important than who narrates, I have found, is the focalization used in games. If exploring the game space and interacting with the game is important for story, then internal focalization at the level of the character is critical. Seeing through the eyes of Jack when playing Bioshock, I was fully immersed in the game world and better able to pick up cues offered to me by the game. Again, my understanding or awareness of these cues and story of course depends on my level of interactivity. When interacting very little with the environment, I was still able to play but my understanding of story suffered as a result. Interaction with and exploration of the game space is key in understanding story in a games such as Bioshock. Without this, it is only a game and not an effective medium for story-telling.

On the other hand, external focalization is appropriate for a game like Don’t Starve where there are no real diegetic elements to pick up on. Seeing from the perspective of Wilson would make the game nearly impossible to play. The world of the game is too large and there are no instructions to guide players. Having a greater overview of the world from above is critical for achieving objectives and facilitating gameplay.

My investigation into video games leads me to believe that games can be an effective, albeit non-traditional, medium for story-telling. They can be, but they do not have to be. A game does not have to offer story to be played, and a story can be available without being experienced. Nor does the story have to be linear, as is often found in films or literature. Depending on what is offerered by the game and on the level of interaction of the player, the possibility for video games as a story-telling medium are endless.

Please stay tuned as I continue to play and explore new games in future, and watch as my life unravels due to my new addiction.

An example of gameplay.

Video  —  Posted: September 2, 2013 in Links, Post-game

Gravity Bone Analysis

Posted: September 2, 2013 in Post-game

As it only took me one hour to finish this game, I did not stop to do any first impressions. I will wrap it all up here in my analysis.

Narrative Transmission in Gravity Bone

Gravity Bone is a short, easy to play video game. There was no introduction to the story. Gameplay began as my character exited an elevator and walked into a party. There is no narrator either within or out of the game space. Focalization is internal, and I really had no idea who my character was as I played. I was, however, able to understand my role through diegetic cues in the form of business cards with instructions written upon them and recordings which told me how to complete the mission. From these I could assume that my character is some kind of spy and the plot revolves around that of a spy adventure.

After completing my second mission, my character was shot but not fatally injured. I lead chase after my assailant only to be killed by her shortly after. I had no weapons or means of defending myself. Death at the end was inevitable, and I do not believe there can be any alternative ending.

Story is present in this game, but only in skeletal form. From exploring the game space, I was able to deduce nothing except clues on how to control character movement. Unlike in Bioshock, this game offered no contextual information on character or background when exploring the world of the game. Only when falling to the ground after being shot the last time did the game shift from play to a cut-scene. There I saw the life of the protagonist flash before his eyes in the form of past memories. That is when the game ended. There could have been much more story involved, but, as a short game, it was probably not deemed necessary. Through focalization and diegetic cues, enough story was present to understand and play the game.

New Game – Gravity Bone

Posted: September 2, 2013 in Pre-game

So I will start one last game called Gravity Bone. I got it as a free download (not illegally), and I read that it is a very quick game. Otherwise I have not the slightest idea what it is about. I just wanted one more topic for comparison. And perhaps I have become a little addicted to playing…

As multiple endings are available, narrative experience of the game will be different for players based on decisions made during gameplay.

Video  —  Posted: September 2, 2013 in Links, Post-game

An introductory cut-scene helps to immerse the players into the story of Bioshock.

Video  —  Posted: September 2, 2013 in Links, Post-game

Bioshock Analysis

Posted: September 2, 2013 in Post-game

I have killed Andrew Ryan and, because of my decision to rescue all Little Sisters, have been helped to escape from Fontaine. Now my task is to find some doctor and de-program Jack from his conditioning. I will stop playing now, or I will never be able to get any work done! I believe, however, that my experience with the game thus far has given me enough material to proceed from and playing until the end will not be necessary.

Narrative Transmission in Bioshock

Bioshock in many ways effectively brings together play and story. There are numerous diegetic elements and cues, such as radio transmissions, recorded diaries, and writings on walls or signs, which all foster immersion into the world and advance story as well as help to achieve goals in gameplay.

The really interesting issue to be discussed here is the level of player interaction involved in gameplay to determine story. As a player I have no control over the radio transmissions. They are activated at some point and are unable to be shut off. As these are key diegetic elements to understanding the story and obtaining objectives, this was a smart development decision. I was always careful to listen to broadcasts and pay close attention. Knowing my mission and what to achieve therefore was quite simple.

The other diegetic elements, such as listening to diaries and reading the writings on signs and walls, are completely optional and dependent on my level of interactivity. I purposefully did not listen to the diaries in some levels and only played to advance my mission. I was able to advance in the game successfully, but my understanding of the story was none for the better. Also, by failing to read the signs on the walls in one level, I missed key information that would have led to achieving my objective much quicker. (It was the Hints menu that finally informed me of my oversight.) Listening to the diaries and reading signs in other levels, my understanding of the background of Rapture was more complete and fullfilling, but it did little to help complete my mission.

Internal focalization as a way of perceiving the world of Rapture was also very effective as a means of understanding and furthering story. Seeing only from the perspective of Jack, in-depth exploration of the game space for me was necessary. And it was this intense exploration which led to the most enlightening story. Had I been able to play from an external focalization, I believe the experience would have been very different. In this case exploration would not have been as necessary, and  I would have rather tried to obtain my mission goals more quickly.

Bioshock – First Impressions

Posted: August 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

In comparison to Don’t Starve, Bioshock is rich with story. From the beginning, compulsory cut-scenes helped to introduce me as a player to the story and immerse me in the game world. The protagonist of the game is Jack, and we perceive the world from his level of internal focalization.

The question of who is narrating is very interesting in this particular game. There is not any one narrator informing the story. Rather there are several intradiegetic characters found somewhere within the game space that speak to Jack through radio communications. They structure the game play with tasks and directions and function somewhat as overt, homodiegetic narrators.

I have been playing with different levels of interactivity in the game space, which I will be more precise about in my analysis. Briefly, the basic idea is thus: after surviving a plane crash, Jack makes his way to an underground city called Rapture. He is given tasks through radio transmission by a man called Atlas.

I have been playing several hours and am very interested to see how this unfolds. Unfortunately I seem to be stuck on the Upper Wharf and do not know how to get out!