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Narratives in
Contemporary Games
Dr. Christian Bokhove
Southampton Education School
University of Southampton
@cbokhove
Di...
Contents
• Background and rationale
• Frameworks and narrative elements
• Exploring different games and their narrative el...
This is me
• Educational researcher
• Maths education academic
• Use of technology
• Game enthusiast: shamelessly talk abo...
The role of narratives
• Contemporary discussions
• Gamification!
• Point
• Leaderboards
• Badges
• Surely there is more t...
http://bokhove.net/2014/12/30/my-five-best-games-for-2014/
Example of interactive fiction
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtG6yw2IrlI
In fashion
http://www.theguardian.com/culture/australia-culture-blog/2014/feb/21/writing-video-games-can-narrative-
be-as-...
Frameworks (a lot of different entry points)
• Setting, character, challenge
• Ludonarrative: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki...
Games and Narrative: a continuum..
InteractivityStorytelling
source
Or two opposing aspects?
There's a conflict between
interactivity and storytelling: Most
people imagine there's a spectrum...
Previous attempts
source
Recent successful attempts
source
Theory: Ludology vs. Narratologism
• Narratologist / Narrativist
• scholar who uses “narrative and literary theory as the ...
Plot vs. Narrative
• Plot and narrative are often used interchangeably, but
they don't necessarily operate as such.
• Plot...
Winter: Games tell stories
• A game’s narrative is the aspects of a game that contributes to it telling a
story
• Question...
Embedded vs Emergent Narratives
• Embedded narrative
• Pre-generated narrative content that exists prior to a player’s
int...
Narrative descriptors
• A narrative descriptor is an element of a game that
communicates aspects of its story to the playe...
Instructional text
Cutscenes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-cxtS51n8k(Music!)
Interface elements
Visual elements
‣ So do the visual elements of the game places you in space
‣ Wrap-around space also contributes to this f...
Narrative through mechanics
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQJA5YjvHDU(Moral choices)
Great channel:
Extra Credits
Ip, B. (2011). Narrative Structures in Computer
and Video Games: Part 1: Context, Definitions,
and Initial Findings . Game...
Techniques for narrative delivery
• Interactive narratives
• Back stories
• Cut scenes (incl. interactive)
• Structures
• Emotions
Established narrative
structures
• The Hero’s Journey
• 12 key stages
• Classical three-act (Aristotle)
• Begin, middle, e...
TASK
http://padlet.com/cbokhove/gamenarratives
• In pairs
• Explain to your neighbour what your favourite game is and what...
Embedded Narratives
Barry Ip: Narrative interventions
1. narrative presented as passive game screen;
2. narrative presente...
Embedded Narratives: analysis (1)
Narrative Structures in Computer and Video Games: Part 1: Context, Definitiona and initi...
Embedded Narratives: analysis (2)
Narrative Structures in Computer and Video Games: Part 1: Context, Definitiona and initi...
Story Graphs
Narrative Structures in Computer and Video Games: Part 1: Context, Definition and initial findings -Barry Ip
...
The Amnesia problem
http://www.giantbomb.com/amnesia/92-286/games/
“Emotional rollercoaster”
http://www.musik-therapie.at/PederHill/Structure&Plot.htm
Pacing
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LScL4CWe5E
Now for my
history of narratives in
gaming
(while making this I realized there is far too much choice.
Also, I can never d...
http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/gbrading/lists/a-brief-history-of-adventure-games/28894/
Zork I
• Chronologically played this one after a lot of the other games
• "It is pitch black, you are likely to be eaten b...
Sierra games
• First game: Leisure Suit Larry in The Land of the Lounge Lizards
• King’s Quest series
• Police Quest serie...
Lucasarts
• SCUMM
• Maniac Mansion
• Day of the Tentacle
• Secret of Monkey Island
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySmLlHT...
The Elder Scrolls
• Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim
• Lore
• Music
• Last version online:
big challenge balancing
multiplayer ...
L.A. Noire
• Film Noir
(another top game in
this genre: Max Payne 1 + 2,
3 is good but not so much
Film Noir any more)
• D...
The Witcher
• Medieval fantasy
• Part Three coming up
(I would hope it is
sort of the next Skyrim
that never came)
Fallout (3)
• Clearly interface from Oblivion
• Post-nuclear theme
• Many games with these elements
• (Sometimes with zomb...
Mass Effect 1-3
• My favourite game series
(certainly in space, though
Dead Space excellent as well)
• Space adventures
• ...
Bioshock
• 1, 2 and Infinite
• Under water & in skye
• Lots of historical similarities
• Movies of discussions
story plot
Completely different: Ingress
• Niantic
• Strange powers
• ‘Aliens’
https://www.ingress.com/ https://www.youtube.com/watch...
Zelda
Breaking free from traditional
• Dear Esther
• http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/10/27/1250832/-Narrative-in-video-
games...
The Stanley Parable
• Wreden
• Break normal narratives
Last of us
• Only PS4
• Post-apocalyptic
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZkLPKd-Vs8g
Telltale
• The Walking Dead
• Post-apocalyptic, zombies
• Game of Thrones
• The Wolf Among Us
• Tales from the Borderlands...
Moral choices (Walking Dead series 2 example)
Contemporary challenges
• And I could have done Mafia 1 and 2,
Watch Dogs, Assassin’s Creed
• A lot of principles stayed t...
Now you are going to make a narrative
• Would be a bit too involved to add graphics etc.
• Text adventure makers: just as ...
Thank You
Narratives in Contemporary Games
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Narratives in Contemporary Games

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This is a guest lecture I gave at Winchester School of Art on narratives in games.

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Narratives in Contemporary Games

  1. 1. Narratives in Contemporary Games Dr. Christian Bokhove Southampton Education School University of Southampton @cbokhove Disclaimer: I’ve tried to make sure all the content is referenced and accounted for. If you feel there is content that should not be there pleas elet me know.
  2. 2. Contents • Background and rationale • Frameworks and narrative elements • Exploring different games and their narrative elements • Creating a narrative: text adventures
  3. 3. This is me • Educational researcher • Maths education academic • Use of technology • Game enthusiast: shamelessly talk about my love for games • In perspective • Week 2 on narratives • Location based games and narratives: know Ingress?
  4. 4. The role of narratives • Contemporary discussions • Gamification! • Point • Leaderboards • Badges • Surely there is more to games than that • Looking back shortly at the games in 2014 I liked…
  5. 5. http://bokhove.net/2014/12/30/my-five-best-games-for-2014/
  6. 6. Example of interactive fiction https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtG6yw2IrlI
  7. 7. In fashion http://www.theguardian.com/culture/australia-culture-blog/2014/feb/21/writing-video-games-can-narrative- be-as-important-as-gameplay
  8. 8. Frameworks (a lot of different entry points) • Setting, character, challenge • Ludonarrative: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludonarrative • Clash game and narrative: http://www.jesperjuul.net/text/clash_between_game_and_narrative. html • Very nice blog on narrative: http://hitboxteam.com/designing-game-narrative • http://www.lhn.uni-hamburg.de/article/narrativity-computer-games • This
  9. 9. Games and Narrative: a continuum.. InteractivityStorytelling source
  10. 10. Or two opposing aspects? There's a conflict between interactivity and storytelling: Most people imagine there's a spectrum between conventional written stories on one side and total interactivity on the other. But I believe that what you really have are two safe havens separated by a pit of hell that can absorb endless amounts of time, skill, and resources. -Walter Freitag, game designer. ... the fundamental qualities that make a good game have remained unchanged and elusive. Consumers still flock to buy original, addictive, and fun games, leaving many flashy products with million-dollar budgets languishing in the $9.99 bin. These costly failures demonstrate that the consumer does not desire a cinematic experience, but rather a quality gaming experience. -Sid Meier, game designer. “Where gameplay is all about interactivity, narrative is about predestination. There is a pervasive feeling in the game design community that narrative and interactivity are antithetical.” - Mateas and Stern, “Interaction and Narrative” http://www.jesperjuul.net/text/clash_between_game_and_narrative.html
  11. 11. Previous attempts source
  12. 12. Recent successful attempts source
  13. 13. Theory: Ludology vs. Narratologism • Narratologist / Narrativist • scholar who uses “narrative and literary theory as the foundation upon which to build a theory of interactive media.” –M. Mateas • Ludology • most often defined as the study of game structure (or gameplay) as opposed to the study of games as narratives or games as a visual medium.” –Game- research.com http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/~michaelm/publications/CMU-CS-02-206.pdf source
  14. 14. Plot vs. Narrative • Plot and narrative are often used interchangeably, but they don't necessarily operate as such. • Plot refers to the pattern of events in a narrative; the sequence of events: the causal chain of “what happened and why.” • Princess was kidnapped.-> Hero finds out. -> Hero must rescue the princess by completing these tasks. -> If hero completes task, princess is saved. • Narrative is the larger narrated story. This can exist without a plot or as a larger system in which plot exists. • Narrative does not necessarily require a causal chain. Could be a history of events or sequence, technically the level progression in Tetris could be a narrative. http://www.slideserve.com/julius/games-and-narrative source
  15. 15. Winter: Games tell stories • A game’s narrative is the aspects of a game that contributes to it telling a story • Questions concerning whether games are narratives, or whether narrative provides just one way to look at games are still actively debated. • Narrative is also used to describe the story itself • Computer games stretch the notion of narrative • The interactivity of computer games, like the interactivity of hypertext, pushes hard against existing theories of linear narrative • No longer just one privileged story being told; many possible ways to experience a non-linear narrative (computer game, hypertext fiction) http://classes.soe.ucsc.edu/cmps080k/Winter07/lectures/narrative.pdf source
  16. 16. Embedded vs Emergent Narratives • Embedded narrative • Pre-generated narrative content that exists prior to a player’s interaction with the game • Cut scenes, back story • Are often used to provide the fictional background for the game, motivation for actions in the game, and development of story arc • Emergent narrative • Arises from the player’s interaction with the gameworld, designed levels, rule structure • Moment-by-moment play in the game creates this emergent narrative • Varies from play session to play session, depending on user’s actions • Game design involves employing and balancing the use of these two elements source
  17. 17. Narrative descriptors • A narrative descriptor is an element of a game that communicates aspects of its story to the player • Broad concept, which encompasses most visual elements of a game and its surrounding context • Instructional text • Cut scenes (I would also add music) • Interface elements (joystick, buttons, controller, and how they’re used) • Visual elements comprising the field of view of the player • Narrative through mechanics (moral choices)
  18. 18. Instructional text
  19. 19. Cutscenes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-cxtS51n8k(Music!)
  20. 20. Interface elements
  21. 21. Visual elements ‣ So do the visual elements of the game places you in space ‣ Wrap-around space also contributes to this feeling ‣ UFO ties into cultural understandings
  22. 22. Narrative through mechanics https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQJA5YjvHDU(Moral choices) Great channel: Extra Credits
  23. 23. Ip, B. (2011). Narrative Structures in Computer and Video Games: Part 1: Context, Definitions, and Initial Findings . Games and Culture, 6, 103-134. There is a second part: Ip, B. (2011), ‘Narrative structures in computer and video games. Part 2: Emotions, structures, and archetypes’, Games and Culture, 6 (3), SAGE, 203-244. (DOI: 10.1177/1555412010364984)
  24. 24. Techniques for narrative delivery • Interactive narratives • Back stories • Cut scenes (incl. interactive) • Structures
  25. 25. • Emotions
  26. 26. Established narrative structures • The Hero’s Journey • 12 key stages • Classical three-act (Aristotle) • Begin, middle, end (denouement) http://www.cod.edu/people/faculty/pruter/film/threeact.htm • Archplot, miniplot, antiplot • Kernels, satellites
  27. 27. TASK http://padlet.com/cbokhove/gamenarratives • In pairs • Explain to your neighbour what your favourite game is and what techniques for narrative delivery made an impression on you. • Add the game and these descriptors to the padlet
  28. 28. Embedded Narratives Barry Ip: Narrative interventions 1. narrative presented as passive game screen; 2. narrative presented as on-screen text; 3. narrative presented as cut scene; 4. narrative presented as cut scene combined with on-screen text; 5. narrative presented as combination of gameplay, cut scene, and on-screen text; 6. narrative presented as combination of gameplay, sound, and textual cues; 7. short game prompts (mission hints or pointers) presented as on-screen text; 8. short game prompts (mission hints or pointers) presented as a cut scene; 9. short game prompts (mission hints or pointers) presented simultaneously as cut scene and on-screen text; 10. short game prompts (mission hints or pointers) presented as an integral part of gameplay; 11. short game prompts (mission hints or pointers) presented as gameplay, sound, and textual cues; 12. credit roll and/or ending sequence. Narrative Structures in Computer and Video Games: Part 1: Context, Definition and initial findings -Barry Ip
  29. 29. Embedded Narratives: analysis (1) Narrative Structures in Computer and Video Games: Part 1: Context, Definitiona and initial findings -Barry Ip
  30. 30. Embedded Narratives: analysis (2) Narrative Structures in Computer and Video Games: Part 1: Context, Definitiona and initial findings -Barry Ip
  31. 31. Story Graphs Narrative Structures in Computer and Video Games: Part 1: Context, Definition and initial findings -Barry Ip This shows that research on this becomes dated very quickly
  32. 32. The Amnesia problem http://www.giantbomb.com/amnesia/92-286/games/
  33. 33. “Emotional rollercoaster” http://www.musik-therapie.at/PederHill/Structure&Plot.htm
  34. 34. Pacing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LScL4CWe5E
  35. 35. Now for my history of narratives in gaming (while making this I realized there is far too much choice. Also, I can never do justice to all these games in a few buzz words. Finally, I think I do not reveal anything ‘secret’ but maybe spoilers.)
  36. 36. http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/gbrading/lists/a-brief-history-of-adventure-games/28894/
  37. 37. Zork I • Chronologically played this one after a lot of the other games • "It is pitch black, you are likely to be eaten by a grue." • Frotz on tablet
  38. 38. Sierra games • First game: Leisure Suit Larry in The Land of the Lounge Lizards • King’s Quest series • Police Quest series • Film Noir elements • Later: LA noire • Space Quest series https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCgFYW1--JI
  39. 39. Lucasarts • SCUMM • Maniac Mansion • Day of the Tentacle • Secret of Monkey Island https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySmLlHTV5rU
  40. 40. The Elder Scrolls • Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim • Lore • Music • Last version online: big challenge balancing multiplayer and narrative gameplay
  41. 41. L.A. Noire • Film Noir (another top game in this genre: Max Payne 1 + 2, 3 is good but not so much Film Noir any more) • Detective work • Facial features • Narrative and investigation central (recent: Velvet Sunset, but http://www.giantbomb.com/la-noire/3030-21500/
  42. 42. The Witcher • Medieval fantasy • Part Three coming up (I would hope it is sort of the next Skyrim that never came)
  43. 43. Fallout (3) • Clearly interface from Oblivion • Post-nuclear theme • Many games with these elements • (Sometimes with zombies)
  44. 44. Mass Effect 1-3 • My favourite game series (certainly in space, though Dead Space excellent as well) • Space adventures • Different modes (action, story, RPG) • Moral decisions influence game progression • Lots of anger about ending (which shows the series was immersive, imo)
  45. 45. Bioshock • 1, 2 and Infinite • Under water & in skye • Lots of historical similarities • Movies of discussions story plot
  46. 46. Completely different: Ingress • Niantic • Strange powers • ‘Aliens’ https://www.ingress.com/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ss-Z-QjFUio
  47. 47. Zelda
  48. 48. Breaking free from traditional • Dear Esther • http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/10/27/1250832/-Narrative-in-video- games# • Originally Academic project • Mixed reception: story v interaction • Kentucky Route Zero https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlGdbziSwEY
  49. 49. The Stanley Parable • Wreden • Break normal narratives
  50. 50. Last of us • Only PS4 • Post-apocalyptic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZkLPKd-Vs8g
  51. 51. Telltale • The Walking Dead • Post-apocalyptic, zombies • Game of Thrones • The Wolf Among Us • Tales from the Borderlands https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swYQEGmPm0k
  52. 52. Moral choices (Walking Dead series 2 example)
  53. 53. Contemporary challenges • And I could have done Mafia 1 and 2, Watch Dogs, Assassin’s Creed • A lot of principles stayed the same • Although graphics, audio etc. have vastly improved • Multiplayer and narrative • Some use co-op for this e.g. Watch Dogs • How do you supply a good narrative and still integrate multiplayer
  54. 54. Now you are going to make a narrative • Would be a bit too involved to add graphics etc. • Text adventure makers: just as expressive for narratives • Adrift • QUEST: http://textadventures.co.uk/ (also has version of Zork!) • Platform independent (browser version) • TASK • Explore the site and register • Try out the tutorial and make a simple adventure http://docs.textadventures.co.uk/quest/tutorial/ • Pay particular attention to the NARRATIVE
  55. 55. Thank You

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