August 30th, 2006

More post-coital thoughts on Avatars of Story In talking about narratology vs. ludology and whether games can rightly be called narratives, Ryan brings up what she calls the “The ‘Games are simulations, narratives are representations” Argument. She says:

“This argument rests on the observation that games, unlike novels and movies, are different every time they are played: ‘But traditional media lack the “feature” of allowing modifications to the stories, even if exceptions happen in oral storytelling’ [quoting Gonzalo Frasco]. Here Frasca captures an important difference between games and ‘traditional media narratives,’ but why should their variable character disqualify games as narratives? Besides oral storytelling, story-generating programs and hypertext novels also produce variable outputs” (Ryan, 188).

A valid point, but what Ryan doesn’t address is the fact that, like video games, traditional media (books, movies, etc.) also changes with each reading/play through/experience. The art item itself doesn’t change–the text of a novel, let’s say–but neither does the hard coding of a game each time a new player picks up the controls. In all cases, it’s the Other’s perception that shifts–the experience of this particular reading, this particular game.

The issue is presented here as one of narrative/not narrative, but we’ve also talked about it in reference to another Big quesion: whether games are art. As you may recall, Mr. Ebert used a similar argument to kick video games out of that prestigious category. I say drop kick Mr. Ebert. He prostitutes his upward-facing thumb to the strangest things.

Tags: Blog

5 Responses to “The Experience of Narrative”

  1. FerrousBuller Says:

    To my mind, a narrative-based game is kinda like a play: the text of a play is fixed, but each time the play is performed, it takes on different meanings and nuances, depending on who performs it and how. Parts of the play may be dropped or rearranged, even rewritten; some scenes may be skipped while others are given more significance. The core of the play remains constant, but there can be wildly different interpretations by those performing it.

    Likewise, the “text” of a game is fixed – i.e., the game world and its mechanics are hard-coded – but each playthru yields a distinct experience, if only in subtle ways. The difference is that in a game, the player is both audience and actor: they are both watching the story as it unfolds even as they influence its outcome, moving towards the (usually pre-determined) end. With the advent of cheat codes, mod tools, etc., the player can also take on the role of author, reshaping (to some extent) the “text” of the game.

    To my mind, using the “but the story is different in ‘regular’ media for every reader / viewer!” argument is a specious one: yes, it’s true, but it does nothing to defend the narratives of games when you use the “all human experience is subjective and open to interpretation” argument. It just sorta misses the point, IMHO.

  2. Bonnie Says:

    To my mind, a narrative-based game is kinda like a play
    That’s cool; a play is still considered both narrative and art.

    It just sorta misses the point, IMHO.
    I can see how it would miss the point if I said this is the only way to define/understand games ever. But it’s one way to explain things, within the context of one argument. Therefore, for me at least, it seems to fit.

  3. FerrousBuller Says:

    Bonnie: my point was simply that any defense of the narrative or artistic merits of games which rests solely on the subjective perceptions of the audience is an inherently weak and poor defense. It’s the “blind men and the elephant” argument: no matter how the blind men’s perceptions differ, the elephant is still an elephant; it’s better to focus on the elephant, not the blind men. Wasn’t suggesting that was the only argument you were making. :-)

  4. MD² Says:

    Hello. Yes, I know, long time no see, been somewhat ill again, been working a lot also. Hope you, your dearest and the dwellers around are doing ok.

    Been reworking all my theories around narrative/video-games and critic theory, and I now would say narrative is a necessary structural development in video games, one they couldn’t have done without if they had to evolve, and one that has thus with time emerged naturally and organically around the game components.
    Story and play occupy two totally distinct planes, it doesn’t matter that the gaming experience will always be different as long as the story can be kept unconflicting with it were it matters. This is when/where and how autorial control and game/level design meet.

  5. Bonnie Says:

    Yes, I know, long time no see, been somewhat ill again, been working a lot also. Hope you, your dearest and the dwellers around are doing ok.
    Welcome back, MD^2! Thanks for your happy wishes and hopes you’re feeling better :).

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