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    still more on games and narratives

    I know, being awake before noon on a Saturday and mad about narrative is probably about the geekiest thing ever.

    But one more thing that unnerves me about the drive to have games tell better stories is the way it overlooks one important fact: playing, or even watching, a game already has an inherent narrative dimension to it. Namely, the sequence of events that constitutes the experience of playing (or of spectating). A game of football, for instance, doesn't require additional plot to be grafted onto it, and it doesn't require the players to adopt characters or avatars or anything like that.

    This type of narrative is defined as "experiential" by Celia Pearce in her piece "Story as Play Space," which appears in Game On: The History and Culture of Videogames, and is probably the single most intelligent thing I have ever read on the topic of the relationship between narrative and play. She defines "experiential" narrative as "The emergent narrative that arises out of the game 'conflict' as it is played out, as experienced by the players themselves."

    Related are "performative" narrative ("The emergent narrative as seen by spectators watching and/or interpreting the game underway") and "descriptive" narrative ("The retelling of game events to third parties, and the culture that emerges out of that. In terms of sports, an entire section of the newspaper is devoted to this.").

    I couldn't agree more strongly that these are important narrative elements of any game, and I feel like any discussion of "how to make games better narratives" should focus on these things first, and only then focus on how to make a game more traditionally "storylike" (in terms of making them more closely resemble fiction).

    I think this approach is exemplified by the following comments from ARG designer Jane McGonigal (from her interview in the New Media Writing issue of Iowa Review Web), in which she seems to be discussing her attempts to script something that will yield a blend of "experiential" and "descriptive" narrative:

    "The story I help write and tell is the story of the players. My relationship to story and games is in giving players stories to tell about their experiences, creating narratives of their interaction in particular spaces and with each other... Those stories about the ingenious, impassioned action and interactions of the players--that's the narrative."

    It's this kind of thinking that makes McGonigal one of the most exciting game designers working today. Interested parties might want to dig around on her site, Avant Game, or check out her blog.

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    Saturday, September 02, 2006
    10:33 AM


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