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Playng the Plot: on the anatomy of gamified stories

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Game lecture at the IT Universitý, Copenhagen May 8th 2013

Game lecture at the IT Universitý, Copenhagen May 8th 2013

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  • 1. Playing the Plot- the anatomy of gamified storiesITU May 8th 2013Kjetil Sandvik, associate professor, Media, Cognition andCommunication, University of Copenhagen
  • 2. A gamified world: the experienceeconomy• Staging of experiences as a consumer modus isnot only about entertainment, but about engagingthe consumer.• Regardless of the degree of participation, stagingof experiences will always be about scriptingnarratives which appear as unfinished without theconsumer’s participation.• Especially computer games are characterized bythis logic in which the consumer (player) providesactions which contributes to producing the veryexperiences which the games offer.
  • 3. Users want play authors
  • 4. Users want to play detectives
  • 5. Users want play designers
  • 6. Users want to play TV producers
  • 7. Users want to play journalists
  • 8. Production of contentUse of contentContent
  • 9. Establishing shot• In the gamified story we do not just read forthe plot on the level of the story, we also do iton the level of the characters of the story andthus we engaged ourselves in playing theplot.• We submit to an investigative reading inwhich the exploration of both charactersactions/events and place constituting thenarrative.• In playable narratives we gain agency overthe plot/place-structure and the ability to getembodied into the narrative, not only on acognitive level (the level of perception) but ona physical level as well.
  • 10. Establishing shot• In the gamified story we do not just read forthe plot on the level of the story, we also do iton the level of the characters of the story andthus we engaged ourselves in playing theplot.• We submit to an investigative reading inwhich the exploration of both charactersactions/events and place constituting thenarrative.• In playable narratives we gain agency overthe plot/place-structure and the ability to getembodied into the narrative, not only on acognitive level (the level of perception) but ona physical level as well.A gamified story: a story structured soit can be played: a narrative embeddedwith a gameplay as its dramaturgy
  • 11. Agency and embodiment• The gamified story enables a certain formof agency and embodiment:• - the structure of the narrative grants usthe possibility of carrying out the tasks ofplaying out the story.• The narrative creates a structure andspace for actions into which we not justproject ourselves in the act of reading butin which we also may participate actively.
  • 12. Towards the playable plot• The sense of agency, embodiment and spatialexperience is working in various ways dependingon the media format:– the novel, the movie, the tv-series,– various hybrid formats which make use of cross-mediatic strategies,– the introduction of a physical, tactile dimension whenthe narrative migrates into the realm of games(whether they are situated in physical space,mediated through computers or using a mixed-realityformat).• In these last examples it becomes clear that thenarrative not only invite us to read for the plot, butincorporate the reader’s body and agency in theexperience of playing the plot.
  • 13. Games telling stories• It is all about telling fascinating stories. Weurge ourselves to make every single levelof the game into a good story.• Peter Fleckenstein, gameplay director on Hitman:Bloodmoney
  • 14. Basic narrative elements• Interrelated characters• performing together (with or against eachother) in a conflict-based structure ofactions and events• creating a story• about something (e.g. “even the mostunlikely of beings can make a difference”)
  • 15. The playable plot: keyconcepts• Narrative: the structure of actions andevents• Dramaturgy: the anatomy of the actions• Gameplay: the possibility for the player toperform actions and inflect change uponthe structure of actions and events
  • 16. The dramaturgical engine:Agencycontrolled bythe player
  • 17. The double actant schemaGame CharacterEnemies/obstacles Skills/accessoriesHelpersSolving the conflictMastering the gameDemands/challenges Player Skills/adaptationManuals/cheatguides
  • 18. Game dramaturgy• The way player-inflected actions workwithin the game as part of causal chains ofpro-actions and re-actions in a (mono- ormulti-) linear structure producing change intime and space.
  • 19. Storytelling  Storydwelling• The player moves in as a ’resident’ in thestory itself.• The interactive and playable story offersan open structure in which we are invitedinside as participants, as players.• To play is the most important mode ofcomputer game narratives and a gamenarrative is a narrative structure whichfacilitates game-play.
  • 20. Games as narrative• In games, suspension of disbelief, whichis vital to reading and perceiving narrativeof all kinds, has become a physicalattribute in the narrative itself.• In games, suspension of disbelief is notjust a mental activity, but a hands-onintegrative structure of agency extendingthe player into the game narrative.
  • 21. Prioritizing playability (Pearce)• The key to game narrative is that it is, bydefinition, incomplete.• It must be en order to leave room for the playerto bring it to fruition.• In a game it is quite possible, and oftendesirable, to have a narrative with no“characters” whatsoever.• More abstracted characters leave more room forthe player, and are therefore better suited tosupport a play-centric model• It is important that the character is incompletebecause if the character is too developed, thereis nothing compelling for the player to contribute.» Celia Pearce: ”Towards a Game Theory of Games (2002)
  • 22. Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft inTomb Raider: Cradle of Life
  • 23. No spectators, only participants• The game is not meant to be watched, butan end in itself• Narrative complexity and coherence,psychological character development,depth in character and story are lessimportant issues compared to the ability tobe in the story.• The thing is not to discover and uncoverand to read for the plot, but to play theplot.
  • 24. Gamified stories: mainconcepts• embodiment, which is the feeling of beingbodily extended into the narrative space• agency, which is the player’s ability toconduct actions within the plot structureembedded in this narrative space.
  • 25. Agency• Control is what differentiates games frommovies, books and other media. Withoutcontrol there is no game.» Aubertin, Callesen & Hauballe
  • 26. Levels of agency• Kinesthetic agency• Character agency• Dramaturgical agency• Narrative agency• Discoursive agency
  • 27. Extending the player’s body intothe game universePlaying computer games consists of an• interplay between the player’s bodymovements in the physical world and theagency of game characters in the game’smediated environment• with the controller as a mediatorremediating the movements of the playerin physical space into the actions of theavatar and into its navigational operationin the space of the game world.
  • 28. Interface: engaging the body• Screen• + mouse/keyboard orcontroller• + joystick, steering-wheel, guns etc.• + physical gamecharacters (e.g.Skylanders)• +dance pad, EyeToy,Wiimote, Kinect, etc.
  • 29. The bodily experience• When the player engages in theaction/event-structure, senso-motoricreactions corresponding with the actionson the screen is activated in the playersbrain.• Thus immersion is not just the projectionof the player’s I into the game universeand the game character, but also anactivation of senso-motoric processes inthe player.• In the computer game this processesspawn physical actions which makes theplot move forward.
  • 30. Body and movement• Engagement of the player’s body takesplace on several levels in computergames, ranging from• the virtual physicality inherent in theplayer’s embodiment and agency found inthe player’s control over the gamecharacter and game story• to the tactility in encountering andoperating the games interface.
  • 31. Embodiment and agency
  • 32. Wii: extending the player’s body• The Wiimote becomes an extension of theplayer’s body into the computer gameworld in a complex way:• The Wiimote not only controls both theavatars bodily movements, it alsorepresents the very tool which the avataris using when performing its actions, e.g. asword or a tennis catcher.
  • 33. Extensions of the body(McLuhan)Expanding the body scheme(Merleau-Ponty):’Becoming-one-with’ the tool(experiences from sports:athletes merging with orbodily extension into thetennis racket, the spear, theball).
  • 34. Amputated agency• Wii-Tennis is a tennis game of the casualvariety, since it only maps the control of oneparticular aspect of a tennis player’s actions,namely the swinging of the racket, whereaspositioning the avatar is taken care of by the AIin the game.• The sense of agency and transfer of ownershipto the virtual space may be hampered severely,since what you feel and what you see does notadd up.» Andreas Gregersen: Core Cognition and EmbodiedAgency in Gaming. Towards a framework for analysingstructure and function of computer games (2008)
  • 35. The bodily experience• When the player engages in theaction/event-structure, senso-motoricreactions corresponding with the actionson the screen is activated in the playersbrain.• Thus immersion is not just the projectionof the player’s I into the game univers andthe game character, but also an activationof senso-motoric processes in the player.
  • 36. Levels of agency• Kinesthetic agency• Character agency• Dramaturgical agency• Narrative agency• Discursive agency
  • 37. The character as vehicle• The “character” is better consid-ered as a suite of characteristicsor equipment utilized and em-bodied by the controlling player.The primary player-characterrelationship is one of vehicularembodiment (James Newman).• We do not play e.g. Lara Croft –we gain control over a certain setof ‘skills’ regarding the ability toact and which is implemented inthe Lara-avatar: the avatar’saction become an extension ofthe player’s body.
  • 38. Levels of agency• Kinesthetic agency• Character agency• Dramaturgical agency• Narrative agency• Discoursive agency
  • 39. Dramaturgical agency: DoomSave game-function:May be embedded in the game narrative (e.g. Prince of Percia
  • 40. Dramaturgical agency: GTA
  • 41. Levels of agency• Kinesthetic agency• Character agency• Dramaturgical agency• Narrative agency• Discoursive agency
  • 42. Narrative agency:The Sims as story-telling device
  • 43. Levels of agency• Kinesthetic agency• Character agency• Dramaturgical agency• Narrative agency• Discoursive agency
  • 44. Player innovation: design asglobal open source modificationHalf-Life Counter-Strike
  • 45. Sandbox game/game as design toolEnvironmentDesign toolsConceptSecond Life
  • 46. Agency: some closingremarks• The satisfying power to take meaningfulaction and see the results of our decisionsand choices.» Janet H. Murray: Hamlet on the Holodeck, 1997• Activity alone is not agency.• Although gamemakers sometimes mistakenly focus onthe number of interactions per minute, this number is apoor indicator of the pleasure of agency afforded by agame• In the Danish game Blackout (1997) the lossof agency is vital to the over-all gameplayand game story
  • 47. The loss of agency as vitalpart of the game• Your loss of memoryrenders you unable toact (others hold thetruth about youridentity, e.g. TheTruth-sayer).• The hostile environ-ment takes command.• The blackouts takecontrol over thecourse of the plot.
  • 48. Questions?Comments?