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.


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