domingo, 1 de outubro de 2017

About gaming narrative

The gaming field is a plural space for different genders, styles and types of products. Nowadays, we have a multifaceted environment where indie games coexist with AAA productions; one place in which hardcore gamers are experiencing extremely challenging games in consoles and, at the same time, casual games in their smartphones. We are facing an ecosystem where games could be played anytime, anywhere.

In this sense, there are abstract games that are completely based in mechanics, with no storytelling background, and games fully developed in complex narratives. In the very beginning of gaming industry, we didn’t have much to tell in the limited interfaces. Pong, as example, is about bouncing a square ball using a vertical rectangle. On the other hand, Donkey Kong, for Atari console, has an interesting narrative layer where the hero must save the lady from the giant gorilla on the top of the building. Many years in advance, we can find some publishers like TellTale or Quantic Dream that created games fully based on narrative components like Walking Dead, Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls and many others.

As we’ve discussed previously, it is a market full of opportunities for many types of ludic products. However, in this post I want to focus my attention in some interesting narrative features and how they are important in a gaming project.

First of all, it is essential to point out that the player “is at once the subject and the object of the play” (EHRMANN, 1968, p.56). We must always keep that in mind in any kind of gaming project. The game is an inanimate thing: codes, pieces, cardboards, miniatures etc., but the experience with the game is full of life. This experience is what we need to focus in: how we will deliver a good experience to the player.

A good narrative is one possible way to deliver a meaningful experience to the player. Following some ideas from Dansky (2007, p.5), it is possible to say that

On the most basic level, narrative strings together the events of the game, providing a framework and what can alternately be called a justification, a reason, or an excuse for the gameplay encounters. At its best, narrative pulls the player forward through the experience, creating the desire to achieve the hero’s goals and, more importantly, see what happens next. At its worst, narrative merely sets up the situation and turns the players loose to do as they see fit. It achieves these goals through three important techniques: immersion, reward and identification”.

This author (DANSKY, 2007, p.5-6) also explains that there are three fundamental pillars that we need to think about gaming narrative:

1) Immersion: in a simple way, it refers to the state of mind where a person is completely absorbed in what they are doing (we’ve already discussed this feature using the idea of FLOW in this post); immersion refers to the moment in which we are so involved with the game that time passes different and we can’t notice the world outside the experience. We are talking about games, but a good book/movie/conversation could have the same effect. Consuming many references is the secret to create a good narrative.

2) Reward: Dansky (2007, p.6) says that narrative can also be a reward to the player and “the narrative events can be revealed gradually, delivered as rewards for achieving in-game goals”. As an example, in Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice great part of the game’s rewards come from narrative pieces that tells us the background of the main character and some tales/legends from the Nordic culture.

3) Identification: something that, in the gaming context, provides justification for the actions during the experience. In Papers Please, for example, you assume the role of an immigration police officer from a dystopian nation and your job is to stamp entry visas. You must take some moral decisions based on the characters’ backgrounds and part of the meaning of this experience comes from the identification feature of the game.

Narrative in games is a great subject to discuss in future posts. Soon, I’ll bring a wide discussion about it.



DANSKY, Richard. Introduction to game narrative. BATEMAN, Chris (editor). Game Writing: narrative skills for videogames. Boston: Thomson, 2007.

EHRMANN, Jacques. Homo Ludens Revisited. Yale French Studies, No 41. Game, Play, Literature (1968). pp. 31-57.

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