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Inherent Narrative


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#1 NathanRunge   Members   -  Reputation: 541

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 02:02 PM

Those that have studied the process, or write for games themselves are probably well aware of the various approaches to narrative in a game. The means I wish to explore, is that of making the narrative inherent in the world itself. Demonstrating narrative in the environment, the characters and in elements of the game that are open to be explored. The first question I wish to pose is that of literary validity. Writing a novel, and writing a linear narrative for a game are similar exercises. A linear game narrative can be compared to those of films and novels, and conclusions drawn about its quality. Inherent narrative, however, is spread out in the level design, the character design, the art approach and any textual elements or historic artefacts in the game. For example. A linear game narrative is one in which you see a huge battlefield. Team A is smashing Team B. You see the fire-fight unfold and eventually you witness Team A infiltrate B's command bunker and kill the commanders. An inherent narrative would be stumbling across the overgrown bunker, visible battle scars and the doors blown open. You walk inside and find the bones and bullet riddled clothing that denotes an officer. Perhaps you find a list of orders, or the final memoirs of a loyal lieutenant. While the linear example can be judged against traditional narratives, how does one judge the artistic merit of an inherent narrative? It, in many cases, may take more work and a greater creative vision than a traditional narrative, but is it on the same level artistically? If so, how does one present a collection of elements as a narrative? The second question I wish to pose, is when should it be used as opposed to traditional 'this is the story you follow' techniques. Obvious answers include when the story is not directly linked to any necessary player action and when the game itself, especially in MMOGs, does not allow for guiding the player's narrative. When either option is feasible, however, when do you believe that an inherent narrative would be best used? Are there any good examples out there right now? The rest I shall, perhaps, remember to post when I return from an errand.

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#2 Beige   Members   -  Reputation: 188

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 12:43 PM

I will respond to your second question with the answer that it would have to do with how informed a player you're dealing with, and how informed you want them to be.

Here's an example. In the early days of cinema, the music was very obvious about what emotion the viewer was supposed to feel. The cuts were very straightforward to ensure the viewer knew what their attention was supposed to be on. As the years went on, filmmakers could use more advanced techniques to tell their story, subtle underscore, misdirection, etc. these older, more obvious methods became what we know as cliche.

Getting back to writing for games: given that the use of cliche is, in itself, a deliberate technique, the question becomes "What is my intent behind using this technique?" There are times when you want a player to feel that they have figured out something themselves, and times where you want a player to have something spelled out with more certainty. In a nonlinear narrative, you may want the choices given to the player to be more or less concrete.

There isn't really a "use this here, use that there" guideline. It simply depends on the context of what you want to do.

#3 caffiene   Members   -  Reputation: 237

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 07:45 PM

Id suggest for inspiration on inherent narrative, try looking towards the more classical arts - painting, sculpture, photography, those sort of things.

Study of those arts often references the narrative of the piece, in a way that I think is very similar to the effect of inherent narrative in a game. In general, the piece is created with a form of story or emotional journey that the artist has in mind, and the goal is largely to have the piece convey the emotion, theme and mood of that story to the audience, often with cues crafted in to lead the eye and help define the experience (theories on line, colour, foreground etc are used to better determine where the viewer will look first first, what they will see second, and so on).

I think inherent narrative in a game is very similar - rather than explaining an explicit story, the experience is more subjective, and you are using the experience to create a more abstract effect than you would be with explicit, or scripted, narrative.


So to answer the question mores directly -

How does one judge the artistic merits: With difficulty, of course, as with any art, because its subjective. But in general, I would be looking at how effectively the player picks up the theme and emotion you were trying to convey, and how striking the effect is on them. If the player has an emotional experience along the lines of what you intended, youve done well.

When would it best be used: Well, since the effect is a more emotional and subjective one than traditional narrative, Id suggest its best used when that is the effect you are trying to get. When you want to convey an emotional component, and/or the "theme" of a character, location, etc, then it can be quite useful. When you want the player to identify and complete a 'specific' idea or action then traditional narrative will probably suit better, since it has more of a cause-and-effect structure. Or... use both together, for even greater effect ;)




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