THEORISING VIDEO GAME NARRATIVE
By Jakub Majewski
Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of
MASTER OF FILM & TELEVISION
Centre for Film, Television & Interactive Media
This thesis examines several aspects of narrative in video games, in order to construct a detailed image of the characteristics that separate video game narrative from other, non-interactive narrative forms. These findings are subsequently used to identify and define three basic models of video game narrative.
Since it has also been argued that video games should not have narrative in the first place, the validity of this question is also examined. Overall, it is found that while the interactive nature of the video game does indeed cause some problems for the implementation of narrative, this relationship is not as problematic as has been claimed, and there seems to be no reason to argue that video games and narrative should be kept separate from each other.
It is also found that the interactivity of the video game encourages the use of certain narrative tools while discouraging or disabling the author’s access to other options. Thus, video games in general allow for a much greater degree of subjectivity than is typical in non-interactive narrative forms. At the same time, the narrator’s ability to manipulate time within the story is restricted precisely because of this increased subjectivity. Another interesting trait of video game narrative is that it opens up the possibility of the game player sharing some of the author’s abilities as the narrator.
Three models of video game narrative are suggested. These included the linear ‘string of pearls’ model, where the player is given a certain degree of freedom at certain times during the game, but ultimately still follows a linear storyline; the ‘branching narrative’ model, where the player helps define the course and ending of the story by selecting from narrative branches; and the ‘amusement park’ model, where the player is invited to put together a story out of a group of optional subplots. The existence of a fourth model, the ‘building blocks’ model, is also noted, but this model is not discussed in detail as it does not utilise any traditional narrative structure, instead allowing the players to define every aspect of the story.
Copyright 2003 Jakub Majewski