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.

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