A Tale of Two Pleasures?

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A Tale of Two Pleasures? Playing Videogame Narratives
Fenty, Sean
Place of Publication:
[Gainesville, Fla.]
University of Florida
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1 online resource (194 p.)

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Doctorate ( Ph.D.)
Degree Grantor:
University of Florida
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Committee Chair:
Ault, Donald D.
Committee Members:
Douglas, Jane Y.
Harpold, Terry A.
Pace, Barbara G.
Graduation Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Avatars ( jstor )
Computer games ( jstor )
Educational games ( jstor )
Game theory ( jstor )
Literary characters ( jstor )
Movies ( jstor )
Narrative plot ( jstor )
Narratives ( jstor )
Narratology ( jstor )
Written narratives ( jstor )
English -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
game, genre, interactive, media, narrative, story, storytelling, structure, video, videogame
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
born-digital ( sobekcm )
English thesis, Ph.D.


This study examines what kinds of narrative content gets incorporated into videogames, and how the tensions that arise when trying to combine narrative and game are resolved. The underlying axiom of this text is that we can and should see many videogames as simultaneously narratives and games, because a proper understanding of either quality in narrative-driven videogames necessitates a consideration of both. The overarching thesis of this text is that for the tensions between the demands of a game and the demands of a narrative to be resolved, their underlying structures must be harmonized by aligning the restrictions and requirements of both forms. When these tensions are resolved, the result is a videogame narrative: a videogame in which narrative and game elements are integrated at the level of their production with the intent of simultaneously evoking both narrative scripts and setting up the artificial conflicts that form the basis of game-play. This work examines how various types of videogame narratives balance the competing demands of narrative and game on players, and how they succeed in engaging players in the dual pleasures of being a part of a narrative and playing a game. ( en )
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In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
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Includes vita.
Includes bibliographical references.
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Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
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This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Florida, 2008.
Adviser: Ault, Donald D.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Sean Fenty.

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University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Copyright Fenty, Sean. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.
Resource Identifier:
650324227 ( OCLC )
LD1780 2008 ( lcc )


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2008 Sean Fenty 2


To my Mom, who gave me life and love; and to my Wife, who makes me love my life. 3


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I thank my mother and grandmother, both st rong women who struggl ed to make things better for their child ren. I thank my wife, who has helped me be a better person. I thank my supervisory committee for helping me achieve an academic goal that my family was not sure I would reach. 4


TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ...............................................................................................................4 LIST OF FIGURES .........................................................................................................................7 ABSTRACT .....................................................................................................................................8 CHAPTER 1 THE VIDEOGAME AS A NARRATIVE MEDIUM..............................................................9 The Growing Appeal of Videogames.......................................................................................9 Its a Duck! Its a Rabbit!.................................................................................................... ...13 The Game Plan.......................................................................................................................20 A Walkthrough.................................................................................................................. .....23 2 GAMES, NARRATIVES, AND COMPUTER MEDIATION..............................................29 Defining Videogame Narratives.............................................................................................29 Games Defined.................................................................................................................. .....32 Narrative Defined...................................................................................................................39 Computer Mediation Outlined................................................................................................46 Narrative and Game Rules in Beyond Good & Evil ...............................................................52 3 WHOS IN CONTROL?: THE ROLES OF MAKERS AND PLAYERS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF EVOCATIVE VIDEOGAME NARRATIVES.................................59 Meaningful Play or a Waste of a Day?...................................................................................59 The Role of Game Makers......................................................................................................64 Types of Videogame Narratives.............................................................................................68 The Role of Players................................................................................................................82 4 VIDEOGAME REMEDIATIONS: CONNECTIONS TO OTHER NARRATIVE MEDIA...................................................................................................................................91 Familiar Bloodlines................................................................................................................91 Interactive Antecedents........................................................................................................ ..96 Playful Precursors............................................................................................................. ....106 5 GENRE AND FORMULA IN VIDEOGAME NARRATIVES..........................................123 Convention and Invention in Videogame Narratives...........................................................123 Videogame Narrative Genres...............................................................................................130 Videogame Narrative Formulas............................................................................................138 Common Game Genre and Fi ction Formula Pairings..........................................................147 5


LOOKING FORWARD: THE FUTURE OF VIDEOGAME NARRATIVES..........................162 Current State of the Art.........................................................................................................162 Successful Convergences......................................................................................................16 6 Possible Divergences............................................................................................................174 LIST OF REFERENCES.............................................................................................................186 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.......................................................................................................194 6


LIST OF FIGURES Figure page 1-1 Screenshot from Pong (1972)............................................................................................27 1-2 Screenshot from Table Tennis (2006)................................................................................27 1-3 Screenshot from Half-Life (1998)......................................................................................28 2-1 Screenshot from Beyond Good & Evil (2003)...................................................................58 3-1 Screenshot from The Sims (2000)......................................................................................89 3-2 Screenshot from Final Fantasy VII (1997) of Aeris death...............................................89 3-3 Screenshot from Final Fantasy VII (1997) of Cloud battling............................................90 3-4 Penny Arcades Web-comic from October 7, 2005...........................................................90 4-1 Screenshot from The Last Express (1997).......................................................................121 4-2 Screenshot from The Shadow of Colossus (2005)...........................................................122 5-1 Screenshot from Donkey Kong (1981).............................................................................158 5-2 Screenshot from Resident Evil 4 ( 2005)..........................................................................159 5-3 Screenshot from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (2005)..................................................160 5-4 Screenshot from Pokemon Diamond (2006)....................................................................161 6-1 Screenshot from The Chronicles of Riddick : Espace from Riddick Bay (2004)..............183 6-2 Screenshot from LostWinds (2008)..................................................................................184 6-3 Screenshot from Little Big Planet (2008)........................................................................184 6-4 Screenshot from Super Columbine Massacre RPG (2005).............................................185 7


Abstract of Dissertation Pres ented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy A TALE OF TWO PLEASURES?: PLAYING VIDEOGAME NARRATIVES By Sean Fenty December 2008 Chair: Donald Ault Major: English This study examines what kinds of narrative c ontent gets incorporated into videogames, and how the tensions that arise when trying to combine narrative and ga me are resolved. The underlying axiom of this text is that we can and should see many videogames as simultaneously narratives and games, because a proper understa nding of either quality in narrative-driven videogames necessitates a consideration of both. Th e overarching thesis of this text is that for the tensions between the demands of a game and th e demands of a narrative to be resolved, their underlying structures must be harmonized by ali gning the restrictions an d requirements of both forms. When these tensions are resolved, the result is a videogame narrativea videogame in which narrative and game elements are integrated at the level of their pr oduction with the intent of simultaneously evoking both narra tive scripts and setting up the artificial conflicts that form the basis of game-play. This work examines how various types of videogame narratives balance the competing demands of narrative and game on players, and how they succeed in engaging players in the dual pleasures of being a part of a na rrative and playing a game. 8


CHAPTER 1 THE VIDEOGAME AS A NARRATIVE MEDIUM The Growing Appeal of Videogames The first time I played a videogame was in 1981. I was four years old. I remember going to my neighbors house, a boy a little older than me, who asked if I wanted to play Pong. I asked him what Pong was, and he showed me a plastic box with wood paneling connected to the television. I am not sure which of the many Pong systems it was, but my best guess now is that it was a five year old Tele-Games Super PONG m achine. The system did not have a slot for cartridges. It did not need one, because it only played one game Pong. I was very excited about playing it, but when he booted it up, it di d not look very impressivejust a vertical line down the center of the screen, one shorter line on the far left, a nd another on the far right. He gave me one of two detachable controllers w ith a knob on it, explained that I could move the paddle on the right up and down by turning th e knob on my controller to block the square ball that bounced across the screen, and proceeded to crush me at several games, before I got bored of losing and the tedious blippi ng sound and wanted to go outside. Videogames have come a long way since th en. In 2005, video and computer games grossed over $7 billion in the United States. Taki ng into account hardware as well as software sales, this figure rises to a staggering $10.5 billion for vi deogames alone, and another $1.4 billion for computer game sales and subscription services (NPD). Remarkable numbers, to be sure, but no longer shocking to most people. While their sales figures are more impressive than they were a couple of decades ago, videogames (whi ch I will use as the umbrella term for all console, PC, and handheld games from here on out) 1 have been big business for years. Today, 1 Though there are important differences between games played on home consoles, games played on handheld devices, and games played on PCs, throughout this work, I have chosen to use the term videogame to refer to games played on all platforms. Some writers prefer computer game as the more inclusive term that rightly emphasizes the 9


one need only visit a major retail store to see not only children but adult men and women enthralled in play at videogame kiosks occupying videogame retail spaces that are growing in size every year. By now, even people who do not play videogames understand that they are a hugely popular and culturall y significant form of entertainment. Most people recognize that videogames are popular, but many do not understand why they are so popular. What is it about videogames that makes them compelling? Why have they grown from a relative niche mark et of young male gamers to a ma rket where the average gamer is now 33 years old and women 18 and over repr esent a greater portion of the gaming population (30%) than boys 17 or younger (23 %) (ESA)? Certainly, such an expansion and diversification of the gaming demographic has not stemmed solely from the much discusse d visceral appeal of controlling brutal and increasingl y naturalistic violent actions, as anti-gaming crusaders would have us believe. 2 Many videogames contain violent content, as do other entertainment media. But it is not just, nor even prim arily, primal button-mashing equaling on-screen eye-gashing that compels the ever-expanding gaming audience to open their hearts and their wallets to play and pay again and again. The main reason videogames have maintained and extended their popularity over the last couple of decades has b een the continued expansion and refinement of the medium, which has gone hand in hand with stronger, more compelling narrative content. A Tale of Two Pleasures? Playing Videogame Narratives examines what kind of narrative content number-crunching aspect of the technology, but videogame is the more widely used inclusive term in the industry, popular press, and among scholars. For most, including me, this is less a conscious semantic choice than it is an acknowledgement of that fact that game software on cons oles dominates the gaming industry as a whole, outselling their PC/Mac and handheld counterparts by wide margins. 2 This is not to suggest that controlling violent situations is not one of the healthy pleasures videogames afford players. As Gerard Jones ef fectively argues in his book Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence, playing violent videogames is very often a therapeutic way of dealing with the lack of control and power that we have in our everyday lives (165-182). 10


gets incorporated into videogames, and how the tensions that arise when trying to combine narrative and game are resolved. Though it could be argued that we are still in a nascent stage of videogame evolution, there is no denying that videogame s have already developed a great deal in a short amount of time. Continued advances in technology have given developers the ability to represent objects in increasing detail. The days of my first Pong experience are long gone. Gone is the square monochrome block bouncing with no sound or monotone blips off of monochrome lines (Figure 1-1). In its place, we have the high definition naturalism of Rockstars 3 Table Tennis in which you can see the sweat pouring down the highly detailed faces of the players, hear their grunts and the cheers of the crowd, and feel the ball hitting the paddle through vibrations in the controller (Figure 1-2). Over the years, videogames ha ve progressed from a necessarily abstract and simplistic representational medium to an in creasingly naturalistic a nd sophisticated one. It is amazing how far videogame technology ha s progressed over the course of a couple of decades, but perhaps just as amazing is that a growing number of play ers have access to the most state-of-the-art videogames right in their homes. Pushed in no small part by the gaming industry itself, home computer technology has advanced rapidly, shifting videogames from the public spaces of arcades into millions of homes across the country. This movement from public into private spaces is the most significant factor in the expansion of videogames. Its success is proven by the gaudy sales numbers already outlined and the near extinction of the once thriving arcade business. One of the major reasons for the success of th e home videogame business is the increased versatility the transition into the home allows. Fr om a technological stand point, one of the main 3 Yes, the same Rockstar that makes the infamous Grand Theft Auto series. In fact, the engine the powers their Table Tennis game will be used to power GTA IV 11


advantages of home video cons oles, dating back as early as the 1976 release of the Fairchild Channel F, is the ability of one piece of hardware to play many games purchased separately. This enables publishers to put out as many games as they think people will buy, at a relatively small cost in relation to the initial hardware pur chase. While this means that many arcade style games can be played on a single console in livin g rooms and bedrooms across the country, it has also led to the development and refinement of new videogame genres. Game publishers have sought to expand thei r market by providing videogame players with a broader range of play experiences. On ce home consoles established themselves, game developers quickly realized that they did not need to optimize thei r games to be played in short, exciting episodes of play fitted to the insertion of more quarters, and for keeping the attention of adolescents standing in front of one game machine while surrounded by the sights and sounds of dozens of other competing machines. Videogames we re developed that could engage players for longer periods of time than were possible in th e loud, frantic, quarter-pop ping atmosphere of the arcade. One of the main ways this was accomp lished was through the development of longer, stronger, more central, narratives in videogames. Though most videogames have always had, even in the arcade era, narrative elements, the shift from arcades into homes allowed for much greater narrative refinement in videogames. The combination of ludic and narrative desires proved compelling indeed, and gave the home market an increased edge over its arcad e counterpart. Home videogame consoles have been around for about as long as arcades. Ho wever, videogames in the home eventually caught up and surpassed their arcade counterparts in popular ity in large part due to the ab ility to play both games like Ms. Pac-Man and Donkey Kong and the ability to play new, more complex, narrative-driven games like The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy, which would have been impractical in an arcade 12


setting, where players are surrounded by the distr acting sounds of players playing other games around them and would be uncomfortable standing fo r long periods of time without being able to pause the game to go to the bathroom or eat. In what has been a gradual process of esta blishing conventions and innovating them over time, several videogame genresadventure, action, and role-playing games among the most prominenthave emerged that frequently offer compelling narratives at the core of their experiences. The extent of the importance of having a compelling narrative in a videogame varies across and even within genres, but overall, the ability to play videogames in environments without the distractions of the ar cade and the ability to save ones progress in the game has led to narrative taking a more central role in videogames. From an i ndustry standpoint, this move is hardly surprising. The potential profitability of combining our tw o most ubiquitous and ancient forms of entertainment and enculturation ma kes mixing stories and games inevitable. The move seems to have paid off for both the industry and for consumers, but it has also led to consternation among many in the videogame industry who must grapple with how exactly to intertwine game and narrative elements in new, more engaging ways. Both games and narratives tap into deep and powerful desires for meaning, control, and progress, but they do so in different ways and combining them effectiv ely is difficult. Some videogame and literary scholars question whether it is worth the effort, and argue over what ex tent mixing games with stories is pleasurable and ultimately possible. Its a Duck! Its a Rabbit! Combining a narrative with a game is no easy task. For many, the undertaking is perceived to be as difficult and desirable as br eeding a duck and a rabbit. For instance, Greg Costikyan, a game designer and theorist, has stated that [t]here is a di rect, immediate conflict between the demands of a story and the demands of a game. Divergence from a storys path is 13


likely to make for a less satisfactor y story; restricting a players freedom of action is likely to make for a less satisfying game (Costikyan 44). There is no denying that successfully integrating a story and a game is difficult, and for various reasons, some are highly critical of the endeavor. Despite strong mark et indicators showing the desire for videogame narratives, criticism of combining game and story elements c ontinues to come from in dustry insiders as well as game scholars and literary scholars. Ironically, both game and narrative purists see the combination as a bad one for their side. On the side of game developers, often th e difficulties and limitations of combining narrative and game elements are seen as more trouble than they are worth. John Carmack, cofounder of Id Software, and lead programmer of Id games such as Wolfenstein 3D Quake and Doom and their sequels, has said that a story in a game is like a story in a porn movie; its expected to be there, but its not that important (Kushner 128). This sentiment is reflected in the level of narrative development in Ids fi rst person shooter games, which are typically unsurpassed from a technical st andpoint and offer non-stop, adre naline pumping action, but do not bother much with coherent plot s. Ids shooters were fantasti cally popular in the 1990s. Their more recent games, however, have not fared quite as well, suggesting diminishing interest in games with minimal story elements. The 1998 release of Half-Life raised the bar in terms of play er expectations for a story in a single player FPS. Half-Life was wildly successful and unive rsally praised by critics and players alike in large part because of the unprecedented consistency and coherency of its engaging and immersive narrative (F igure 1-3). The FPS genre, wh ich is dominated by violence and fast-paced action, does not alwa ys need to have a strong narrative. 4 However, a case for 4 While a strong narrative with a compelling plot and intere sting characters is a deciding factor in the success of single-player progress oriented games, it plays less of a role in determining the success of multiplayer games where 14


integrating narrative and game, as difficult a task as it may be, is made with the success of narrative-driven FPSs. Sales figures in the twen ty-first century suggest that even when the primary action required of players involves shoot ing others, players prefer performing these actions in a detailed, coherent fictional wo rld where their character s move through a plot. 5 Some people feel that this success, however, is based on little more than novelty. Former game design author Chris Crawford has long held the belief that trying to provide a compelling narrative experience within the confines of a vi deogame is a severely limiting and ultimately unfulfilling proposition. His alternat ive, an interactive storytelling system he calls Storytronics, has been in development for over 15 years, w ith no tangible product yet available to the public (Murdey). In the meantime, videogame players have had to content themselves with playing hundreds of videogames that center around rich, engaging stories. But Crawford is not alone is his criticism of the shallowness and ineffectiven ess of combining narrative and game elements. Videogame scholar Steven Poole points out that most videogames that incorporate a synchronic story do so through cut-scenes, and the player of such games then becomes merely a passive watcher rather than an active participant. 6 As Poole puts it, [cutscenes] signal a discontinuous break between game playing, which has no story to speak of, and watching, which bears all the narrative load. In general the player runs around fighting, solv ing puzzles and exploring new areas, and once a certain amount of game-play is completed, he is rewarded with a narrative the emphasis is on level design, weaponry, and balance of forces. Like a well designed board game, such as Chess, these games succeed because of their replayability, not th eir dependence on evoking na rrative desires for plot progression. Perhaps the best example of this is Counter-Strike which, for years, was the most widely played first person shooter in the world. It maintained an avid following for years because it offers a compelling multiplayer experience, not because it has a compelling narrative (ironically, it began as a total conversion modification of HalfLife which is often cited as redefining the FPS an d raising the bar on narrative quality for FPSs). 5 Peter Brooks, in Reading for the Plot puts forth a compelling argument that the desire for plot progression is the primary trait of texts that compels readers to continue to read. 6 The synchronic story for Poole is the now of the storythe story that progresses as you play the gameand is contrasted with the back-story or diachronic story. 15


sequence that is set in stone by the designer (9 6). Poole asserts that the connection between these elements is arbitrary: it is as if you we re reading a novel and forced by some jocund imp at the end of each chapter to win a game of table tennis before being allowed to get back to the story[or] its the other way around: you really want a good exciting game of Ping-Pong, but you have to read every time you win a game (96) There are game players who would agree with Poole, especially when they play videogame s that do little more than oscillate between a game and a story, as some games continue to do even today after innovations in the medium have shown that more is possible. Some vide ogames do little more than what Poole describes, because doing more requires more effort. Howe ver, as I shall explore in this work, many videogames do integrate narrative and game to th e point where players feel they are playing through a story. The extent to which videogames succeed in combining a narrative experience with the interactive qualities of a game is precisely w hy many literary scholars ra il against videogames. There are those who detest the idea of giving authorial control over to players, and shudder at what they think of as the dehumanization of th e storytelling process. For years, neo-luddites such as Sven Birkerts have lamented the fate of fiction in the computer age. Many literary scholars and bibliophiles continue to express their eschatological fears of videogames, viewing them with a mixture of bemusement, disgust, and fear, plaintive about the degradation of culture and the fine art of literary narrative as many far too many they would sayare spending more time with videogames and less time with books. Th ey express these fears, interestingly, despite continued strong book sale numbers which indica te that videogames are not killing off the printed word. 16


Most of the criticism and a nxiety surrounding the combinati ons of narrative and game elements in videogames boils down to matters of perspective and contro l. From an industry standpoint, the debate often revolves around who should have control over the narrative content in a game, how best to integrate the narrativ e with the game-play, and how meaningful the narrative is to the end products sales. From a scholarly standpoint, for many, it comes down to the questions of who should study, how they should study, and to what ends should they study videogames. For years, the heart of this latter debate manifested itself as a contentious contest between narratologists and ludologists. 7 Narratologists see videoga mes as narrative objects and want to study them using tools developed for the analysis of othe r narrative media while ludologists see videogames as games with minor or no significant narrative el ements and want to develop new tools to study them as distinct from narrative objects. Game scholar Markku Eskelinen has gone so far as to staunchly insists that [i]t should be self -evident that we cant apply print narratology, hypertext theory, film or theater and drama studies directly to computer games (Eskelinen 36). Many scholars on both si des are now conceding, how ever, that this is not really an either or proposition. New media scholar Nick Monfort says of the definitional back and forth has gone on between narratologists and ludologists that [ a]sking whether a new media artifact is a story or a game is like as king of a poem: Which is it? Narrative or metrical?...a dichotomy distracti ng with its false opposition (Monfor t 310). Just like the famous duck-rabbit optical illusion, a vide ogame can be seen as both a narrative and a game. The trick is, can we see it as both at the same time? 7 The ludologists are a group calling for the establishment of an independent field of game studies ludology Though evidence of the term can be trace d back farther, in its present usage in games studies, the term was coined by Gonzalo Frasca in his essay: Lud ology Meets Narratology: Similitude an d Differences Between (Video)Games and Narrative. 17


The underlying axiom of this text is that we can and should see many videogames as comprised of or oriented by both narrative (sto ry) and non-narrative (game) elements, because a proper understanding of either quality in narrative-driven videogames necessitates a consideration of both. That is no t to say that we could not, if we wished, extract the narrative of a videogame from its proper play context and read it as we would a script of a movie or play. In fact, for those videogames that rely primarily on pre-scripted narrative content, officially released and fan generated scripts are readily av ailable online. For some games, we could go one step further and take out all the cut-scenes of a game, stitch them together, and watch them as we would a movie. The critically acclaimed videogame Metal Gear Solid 3: Substinence includes a bonus disc with the game that does just that (though watching this patchwork movie is a far different experience than playi ng the game itself). Doing this would make things easier for narrative theorists and game theori sts alike since the narrative coul d be analyzed separately from the game, and such an analysis would, perhaps, no t be without merit. In fact, such an approach is taken in many literature classrooms where plays such as Shakespeares Hamlet are read silently just as one would read a prose fiction narrative. This is not, however, the analytical strategy taken in this text. This text examines what it means to play a videogame narrative. This requires dealing with the tension between the narr ative and the game that often doe s exist. Addressing this tension is at the core of A Tale of Two Pleasures? Playing Videogame Narratives as is obvious from the title. I argue that while it is fair to say that the narrative of a videogame is sometimes distinct from or even at odds with the play elements of that game, it is often more accurate to describe their relationship as a cooperative one in whic h both narrative and game-play contribute to the overall pleasure of the experience for players. Narrative and game may no t always be a perfect 18


marriage, but their union can be a fulfilling and harmonious one if game designers and game players wish for it to be. The results of such a union are playful a nd engaging narrative experiences that are different from those offered in other narrative me dia. This makes studying videogame narratives important for two main reasons. First, as cognitive psychologist Gavriel Salomon puts it, media are our cultural apparatus fo r selecting, gathering, storing, and conveying knowledge in representational forms (Salomon 3). Second, as Johann Huzinga reminded us about games and Jean-Franois Lyotard has pointed out about narrative, both games and narratives are fundamentally important to how we know and experience the world. 8 Narratives provide a context within which we live and games allow us to safely practice being in and stepping out of this context; both games and narratives are vehicles of ideology, tools of education, and universal forms of entertainment. Narrative is, as Barthe s has said, everywhere: [ it] is international, transhistorical, transcultural: it is simply there, like life itself (Barthes 79). The same can be said for games. Therefore, understanding how na rrative and game come to gether in the medium of the videogame is crucial to our understanding of who we ar e and how we express ourselves. As already suggested, the combination of narra tive and game is one of the main reasons why the videogame is one of the largest growing entertainment media worldwide. The inclusive, recombinatory nature of videogames is emblema tic of the sort of changes wrought by digital media in general to our transmittal of knowle dge in representational forms. The cultural significance of videogames extends far beyond the bounda ries of the many studies of the effects of media violence on todays youth. They are not simply or even most importantly vehicles of violent content, nor are they a novelty or passi ng fad. They are an ever-growing cultural force 8 The word narrative comes from the Latin gnarus which means knowing or to know. For a more extensive examination of this subject see Jean-Francois Lyotards The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge 19


that needs to be taken seriously and studied thor oughly. Part of this study needs to involve how many videogames are both games and narratives si multaneously, and that is the central goal of this text. The Game Plan My goals for this project are simple to stat e, but difficult to achieve. I aim to analyze videogame narratives in unprecedented scope and detail. Of course, no text can offer an exhaustive or definitive study of videogame narratives, and this im possible task is not promised in the pages that follow. A Tale of Two Pleasures? Playing Videogame Narratives does not cover all of the elements of narrative in all types of videogames, but it does attempt to provide a thorough introduction to what I identify as videogame narratives Videogame narratives are videogames in which narrative and game elements are integrated at the level of their production with the intent of simultaneously evoking both narrative scripts and setting up the artificial conflicts that form the basis of game-play; furt hermore, videogame narratives must be capable of achieving this intent at the level of their r eception. Though narrative elements are present in nearly all genres of videogames, in many cases the narrative is encountered by the player primarily before play begins and remains at th e periphery of the overall play experience. In many other cases, however, a narrative is purpos efully and thoughtfully crafted within the structure of the game, and playing through such a game can feel as though one is playing through a narrative experience that drives the game forward. Examining these interactive narrative experiences is the aim of this te xt, but doing so is no small task. It requires several methods. Because this is a humanities based project, my primary methods involve various levels of textual analysis. That is, my focus is primarily on the texts themselves, rather than on the senders and receivers of the texts. However, no study of videogames can ignore how they are produced and played, so I also address game ma kers and players in th is analysis. A thorough 20


examination of game development and a research -based study of atypical play behaviors are beyond the scope of this text; however, fundamental developmental strategies and ideal player types are necessarily considered in our examination of videogame narratives as textual objects. Analyzing videogame narratives as simultane ously narratives and games requires taking into account traditional narrative theory as well as emerging game theory. To date, attempting this dual perspective has been a tricky propositio n, as scholars from various fields attempt to understand and synthesize each others work in an effort to explore new aspects of videogame narrative. Many texts on the subj ect of videogame narrative tend to speak past or ignore each other with the result that much of the early work in the field of establishi ng basic definitions and parameters of study gets duplicat ed, leaving us with a patchy, insecure foundation upon which to build further research. There has not been much consistency in the approaches taken on the subject, and many significant avenue s of inquiry have yet to be e xplored. This is not surprising considering that this is a ne w area of study dealing with a nascent technology still growing and changing rapidly. Very recently, however, texts are emerging that take into account a wider scope of previous research. This text follows such a path. My approach, which relies on traditional narrative, genre, and media theory, as well as emerging game theory, will, I hope, offer a clear introduction to videogame narratives as well as a platform for further study on the subject. The aims, methods, and conclusions of various treatments of videogame narratives are diverse and diffuse. I hope to bring together usef ul components of various studies and fill in the gaps of what has been said so far so that al l parties interested in videogame narratives can understand what videogame narratives are, how they are similar and different from other narratives in other media, and how they vary from genre to genre. 21


I analyze how the videogame operates as a na rrative medium by identifying aspects of the medium as a whole, and by examining how narrative and game combine to form new types of narrative experiences. I also compare the videog ame to other narrative media, so we can see how videogames as narratives fit within the larger multimedia landscape of narratives. Finally, because what we call videogames is such a diverse array of forms, a general study of videogame narratives can only take us so far. No thorough study of videogame narratives can be complete without considering how narrative operates differently in different videogame genres. What we find is that many of the often discusse d tensions between the a lleged restrictions of narrative and the alleged freedoms of game-play are in most cases resolved by matching the structure of the rules-based game system with the highly formulaic stru cture of popular fiction genres in clever and organic wa ys, so that the limitations of both the narrative and the game overlap. Therefore, this text analyzes how videoga me narratives function both on their own terms and in the context of other narrative media, and it also analyzes how videogames incorporate popular fiction themes, formulas, and iconography in obvious but overlooked ways that resolve the tensions inherent in combining narrative and game. At th e broadest level, my methodology is primarily based in what Marie-Laure Ry an has called narrative media studies or transmedial narratologythe st udy of narrative across media ( 35). My examination of how narrative operates within videogames is founded on the premise that there are things we can say about narrative across media, and there are things about a specific medium that shape narrative. Because of this, there are concepts that we can apply from narratological models developed for literature and film to the study of videogames, a nd there are concepts that we need to develop that are specific to the field of game studies. Examining a medium as multidimensional as the 22


videogame requires a diverse set of analytical tools. I will not be abandoning a structuralist narratological approach; rather, I will supplem ent traditional structur alist narratology with videogame theory, cognitive psychology, genre theo ry, and popular fiction and popular culture theory with the hope that by doing so, I will be ab le to provide new insights into how videogame narratives work. While many studies addressi ng videogames recognize that they are popular cultural artifacts, and some current works mention in passing that, thematically, many games follow popular fiction formulas, no work to date has de alt with videogames extensively from a genrebased perspective and at the same time with a mixed media analyt ical approach that fully takes into account the interactive and play ful nature of the medium. This is what I aim to do here. The chapters that follow cover the subject of videogame narratives in general terms that can be applied to several game genres, but also remind us of the multiplicity and complexity of the medium, exploring aspects of videogame narrative that do not fit neatly into the generalizations we can make about the medium as a whole, or even into specific genres. I explore fundamental questions about the nature of the videogame as a narrative medium. That which is new about them, that which continues to adapt within them at a frantic pace can be overwhelming to deal with without a context. Luckil y, their novelty, their i nnovation, is only a small part of the whole that we can analyze when we examine the familiar foundation on which they build. This is my aim. It is not a new approach. Examining how medium and genre affect textual creation and reception is at least as old as Aristotle, so even though much of what follows is uncharted territory, there are well established methods for us to map out this new terrain. A Walkthrough The remaining chapters in this text share the general aim of examining how videogame narratives work. Chapters 2 and 3 examine videoga me narratives in the br oad context of media 23


analysis, breaking down the major elements of narra tive as they exist in videogames. Chapter 4 then builds on what we know about videogame narratives, and puts this in perspective by comparing the videogame to other narrative media. Chapters 5 takes a more narrow approach, focusing on how specific genres and formulas operate in videogames, and how narrative formulas operate differently within each game genre. Finally, Chapter 6 concludes this text by looking forward to the future of videogame narratives. 9 The paragraphs below provide a more thorough breakdown of what to expect from each chapter that follows. Chapter 2: Games, Narratives, and Computer Mediation defines the key terms we need to know for us to delineate the parameters of this study and provide a clear basis on which to continue in more detail. It also supplie s a general introduction to the videogame as an interactive narrative medium, illustrating how game and narrative elements combine in videogame narratives. Chapter 3: Whos in Control?: The Roles of Makers and Players in the Development of Evocative Videogame Narratives continues by analyzing the relationships between game makers, the games they make, and the people who play the games. The focus in this chapter is on how each of these entities plays a role in the formation of meaningful, evocative, interactive narrative experiences. Two main issues are addressed. The first is the issue of authorial control versus player agency in videogames. The second is the issue of balancing the player agency necessary for a pleasurable gaming experience with the empathy inherent to powerful, meaningful narrative. 9 All of these chapters employ a variety of critical ideas from media studies, cognitive psychology, and structuralist narratology in examining how videogame narratives operate. Though many structuralist theories, such as those put forth by Tsvetlan Todorov and Vladimir Propp, have come under attack in recent years, because they tend to exclude those works that push the boundar ies of narrative convention, in general, structuralist narratology is more usefully applied than poststructuralist theories when it comes to the vast majority of mainstream videogames, which are currently more often than not produ ced in much the same way as main stream Hollywood films, with the same aims of universal access and appeal. 24


Chapter 4: Videogame Remediations: 10 Connections to other Narrative Media moves on to examine videogames in relation to ot her narrative media such as the oral tradition and print texts. It focuses on the two main attr ibutes said to distinguish videogames from other narrative media: interactivity and play, and exam ines precedents for these qualities in other narrative media. Here, the issues of authorial control and player agency examined in Chapter 3 are further explored with an emphasis on how game makers embrace th e spatial nature of videogames, and draw on a history of spatial narr ative to allow for a bala nce of player freedom and plot progression in various genres of videogame narratives. Chapter 5: Genre and Formula in Videogame Narratives analyzes the problematic concept of genre in videogames. Genre is a prob lematic concept in any context, but this is particularly the case in videogames, since hybridization and cross-ove r occurs both at the level of play-mechanics and at the level of narrative. However, despite the multi-layered problems with delineating generic categories within videogame s, and recognizing the fluid and paradoxical nature of genre in any media, the premise of Ch apter 5 is that genre can still be useful to our understanding of videogames and videogame narratives. To this end, this chapter offers a specific examin ation of individual game genres and popular fiction formulas that opera te within them. It explores th ree major videogame genres that characteristically contain strong na rrative elements. Each of these game genres is paired with a popular fiction formula typi cal to it. These genre pairings are as follows : Adventure Games and Mystery, Action Games and Horror, and Role-Pla ying Games and Science Fiction/Fantasy. The three genres of videogames were chosen because they are the genres that rely most heavily on narrative for their overall experi ence, and the three popular fiction genres were chosen because 10 Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin define their concept of remediation as the formal logic by which new media refashion prior media forms (273). 25


they are the most dominant fict ion genres in videogames. Each pairing was made with purpose, but other combinations would have been possi ble. While the primary goal of each of these pairings is to examine how the chosen genre of popular fiction helps shape the particular pleasures of each type of play experience, th ey also aim to illuminate how narrative and interactivity operate together in each of the game types as a whole, and not just in games that follow the thematic formula of the chosen popular fiction genre. Finally, Chapter 6: Looking Forward: The Future of Videogame Narratives suggests new directions for the future of videogam e narrative. It will cover how technological advancements continue to drive the emergent medium of videogames and how this will likely continue to shape how narrative operates in an interactive computer-based environment. The final chapter also addresses those works on the margins that have been glossed over before. The preceding chapters focus on popular, commercia lly released videogamesthe middle ground between avant-garde and folk games. The final pages of this text wi ll address how broadband and more advanced development tools are driv ing videogame narrative in new direction on the web and in installations. Here, the broader scope of the interac tive revolution and the convergence that is already beginni ng to take place between the interactivity of computers and others screenstelevision, film, and texts that make their way from the printed page to the screenis considered. 26


Figure 1-1. Screenshot from Pong (1972). Figure 1-2. Screenshot from Table Tennis (2006). 27


Figure 1-3. Screenshot of Half-Life (1998). In Half-Life players got to talk to other characters, before they killed them. 28


CHAPTER 2 GAMES, NARRATIVES, AND COMPUTER MEDIATION Defining Videogame Narratives Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. Hannah Arendt Philosophical and scientific discourses are founded on the expression of precise definitions. They are as necessary to the conveya nce of knowledge as air and water are to life. But as political theorist Hannah Arendts quote suggests, definitions are not the only way, and perhaps not always the best way, to communi cate meaning. To the extent that they use language as a precise, scientific tool to state definitive meaning definitions are fundamentally flawed. Just like the air that we breathe, and the wate r that we drink, definitions are polluted with incidental impurities. And just as the impurities in water and air can eventually deteriorate our health, definitional impurities, analyzed with th e microscopic gaze of the critic, can undermine the core meaning that the writer or speaker is attempting to convey. No matter how hard we try to immunize c oncepts from ambiguity and imprecision, the very nature of language ensures that, inevitab ly, oxidation will occur, bodies will break down, free radicals will spread, rust will formin short, things will fall apart. This is because language is ultimately dependent on context, and, theref ore, all linguistic meaning is also dependent on context. This is especially true of broad con cepts that are used in a variety of contexts, and which are thus particularly difficult to pin down with precise definitions. Unfortunately for us, the two primary terms that we must know before we can begin a thorough analysis of videogame narratives game and narrativeare two such broad concepts. If this text were a narrative, I could avoid the pitf alls of defining these terms. Generally, storytellers show audiences events without exp licitly telling them what they mean, requiring audiences to interpret meaning on their own. Becau se of this, a story can mean many things to 29


many people; it does not need observer agreement. Narrative can represent the complexities of life without breaking them down into differentiated, quantifiable, and determinate units. The advantage of the revelatory method of narrative knowledge sharing over the more definitive scientific method of knowledge acquisition is that it can approximate rath er than stipulate. Narrative does not use language as a precise, scientific to ol to state definitive meaning, but as an imprecise, artistic tool to indi cate meaning. One could argue, as Arendt seems to do, that because narrative does not try to express meaning definitively, it does a better job of revealing meaning than philosophical and scientific communication. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to clearly demarcate the parameters of a disc ourse by establishing defi nitions, despite their limitations. This chapter attempts the precarious task of establishing definitions for the problematic key terms we need to know for us to effectivel y continue in more detail in the chapters that follow. But it does so in a way that takes Arendt s admonishment against definitions to heart. While the effort is made to define concepts as precisely as possible, it is made with an appreciation for the legitimacy of the notion that the meaning of some terms cannot be expressed clearly by simply describing their es sential properties. This is par ticularly true of concepts like game and narrative that have their essential properties so closely tied to their usage. And I will argue that this is especially true of videogame na rratives, reliant as they are for their actualization as videogame narratives on the players decision to play the videogame as both a game and a narrative. Therefore, what follows is not only an attempt to define precisely the core elements of a videogame narrative, and its constituent parts, but to approximate the qualitative aspects that I argue are equally as essential to our understanding of the concept as one that is dependent on a player for actualization. 30


In Chapter 1, I attempted to define the term videogame narrative as precisely as possible while at the same time recognizing the equally as vital, but necessarily less definable, role of the player in the actualization of the concept. A videogame narrative was briefly defined as a videogame in which narrative and game elements are integrated at the level of their production with the intent of simultaneously evoking both narrative scripts and setting up the artificial conflicts that form the basis of game play; fu rthermore, a videogame narrative must be capable of achieving this intent at the level of its recep tion. This, of course, is but one of many possible definitions of the term. It is limiting, because our aim is not to analyze th e narrative elements of all videogames, but to focus on those videogames that are purposefully and thoughtfully crafted to be simultaneously computer mediated game and narrative experiences, and more specifically, those videogames that achieve thes e goals to such an extent that players can feel as though they are playing through a narrative experi ence that drives the game forward. This last stipulation is less than ideal, from a definitional standpoint, because it is qualitative, and perhaps more egregious, it is subjectiv e. What this suggests is that, regardless of intent, to qualify as a videogame narrative, as I am defining it, a videogame must not only have the elements necessary to qualify as a game and a narrative, but it must combine these elements in a computer mediated environment effectively enough that they can be experienced as a substantial combination of the tw o forms. In this way, I am proposing that videogame narratives are like cakes rather than like stews. If one is making a stew, one may put all of the ingredients into a pot haphazardly, and still come out with some thing that can rightly be called a stew. But if one is making a cake, and puts all of the ingredient s into a pan, unless they were combined in the right amounts and order, it is very unlikely that the end product will be received as a cake. What is, of course, inescapable in this formulation, is the dependence of the pl ayers attitude toward 31


the finished product in determining whether or not the experience can be termed a videogame narrative. This stipulation may be unacceptably indeterminate to some, but it rightly emphasizes videogame narratives as processes rather than products. The mean ing I am trying to express in the term videogame narrative is meaning in motion. That is to say, a videogame narrative may exist as such on its own, but in pr actical terms, it really only matte rs as an experience in action. To pull all of these stipulations together, then, for us to understand videogame narratives, we must not only understand how they are at th e same time computer mediated game and narrative experiences, but we must attempt to identify how both elements can be effectively presented and combined. Therefore, what follows is an analysis of the core properties of games, narratives, and a brief examination of how these two forms come together in the computer mediated environment of the videogame. And because a videogame narrative can so easily fall apart into its constituent pa rts, we will seek to identify what also makes for an effective combination of the two forms in a videogame narrati ve. So with that in mind, the rest of this chapter will attempt to do three things. First, it will attempt to define the term game Second, it will attempt to define the term narrative. Finally, it will attempt to show how these two concepts combine in the computer mediated spaces of vide ogames in such a way as to encourage players to play through a narrative. As part of the presentation of this information, the videogame narrative Beyond Good & Evil will be offered as an example. It is not offered as the epitome of the term, or as some ideal, but simply as an example of one way that game and narrative elements can effectively come together in a videogame. Games Defined The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein warned us that any formal definition of the term game is impossible, because the word is used t oo broadly to be able to draw clear boundaries around it (27-28). He said that t he concept game is a concept w ith blurred edges and the best 32


we can do with it is to say that the various th ings we call games share a family resemblance rather than universal, essential characterist ics (27-29). This warning has not stopped many theorists from trying to define the term game 1 Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman in their book Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals do an excellent job of assessing and synthesizing the many definitions of game from such seminal figur es in the study of play and games as Johann Huizinga, Roger Caillois, Brian Sutton-Smith, and many others to create their own definition. While it may not be possible, as Wittgenstein points out, to come up with a universally acceptable definition of such a widely use d, complicated term, Salen and Zimmermans definition strikes the right balance between in clusiveness and narrowness, and highlights the elements necessary for our understanding of games in this discourse. They define a game as a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rule s, that results in a quantifiable outcome (80). There are six key ideas in this defini tion that we need to examine system, players, artificial, conflict, rules, and quantifiable outcome. When we examine the essential characteristics of narra tives, we will see many parallels between them and the essential characteristics of games outlined below. 2 First, a game is a system A system, as defined by Sale n and Zimmerman, is a set of things that affect one another wi thin an environment to form a la rger pattern that is different from any of the individual parts (50). A ny system, including games, has four essential elements: objects, attributes, in ternal relationships, and environment (Littlejohn 41). Objects are the parts that make up a system; attributes are th e qualities of the objects that make up a system; 1 To be more precise, much critical attention has been gi ven to the central and most problematic usage of the term that of the category of what pl ayers play. Of course, other, secondary defi nitions of the term are less contested, such as the use of the word to refer to prey being hunted. 2 As we shall explore in Chapter 5, these similarities have lead to the merging of both games and narratives in the past, and their combination in new media is certainly not a new phenomenon. 33


internal relationships are the relationships among the objects that make up a system; and the environment is the context that surrounds a system (Littlejohn 41). Furthermore, a game can be framed as three interrelated systemsas a formal system, an experiential system, and a cultural system. That is, we can focus on games as a formal system of rules, or as an experiential system of inte raction between players (whether between human players, or in the case of videogames, sometimes between human players and artificial intelligences), or as a cultural sy stem that is connected to the la rger contexts of society (Salen and Zimmerman 51-52). All three framings of games as systems are important to our understanding of videogame narratives. For instan ce, it is important to understand how the rules that define how the objects within a game interact are related to the representational aspects of videogame narratives. It is also important to und erstand how players inter act with objects within the narrative space of a game world. Finally, understanding the cultural context of games is essential to our understanding of how the game world relates to the world outside of the game. One of the essential components of a game system is player(s) games require players. More specifically, a game require s a game playersomeone who int eracts with the system of a game in order to experience the play of the game (80). The concept of play is vital to our understanding of games, but we must narrow th e concept down to game play, which is the formalized interaction that occurs when player s follow the rules of a game and experience its system through play (303). This is a narrow subset of more general ludic activities, and in the broadest context, the quality of being playful. Game play is the most structured of all ludic activities and requires the most stru ctured of all l udic attitudes. The idea that playing a game requires a certain attitude is echoed by many theorists. Warren Motte, in Playtexts: Ludics in Contemporary Literature goes as far as to say that 34


Wittgensteins suggestion that games cannot be clear ly defined, but rather that they all share a family resemblance can be accounted for by the attitude with which we approach those activities, an attitude that is in varying degreeludic in char acter (Motte 14). Brian Suits coined the phrase lusory attitude to describe this state of mind; Suits wrote that to play a game, a group of players accepts the limitations of the rules because of the pleasures a game can afford (Suits 23). So entering into a game worl d, then, requires the right attitudeplayers must recognize that they are entering into a different world, governed by its own rules, and must be willing to learn those rules and play by them to enjoy the game. An important aspect of a game world, and one of the reasons why we enjoy being in it, is that it is artificial A game is delineated from the real world in the implementation of its rules and by the acceptance of th ese rules by its players. 3 This is not to suggest that outside events do not intrude on the game space. In multiplayer games especially, aspects of the outside world intrude on the fiction of the game world, breaking the frame of the game as players transgress the rules of the game and break the fictional framew ork they have taken on inside the game world. However, for our purposes, where the complexities of everyday lif e intrude on the bounded spaces of games, they do so as interlopers, disr upting the flow of the game, either stopping play entirely, or devolving the activity in to less formal levels of play. One may play in any space, but one plays games in specific, bounded spaceson a fiel d, or a court, or on a board, or within the computer generated spaces inside videogame s. Salen and Zimmerman call this clearly 3 The extent to which this is true of all games is debata ble. Some game theorists exte nd the concept of games beyond the realm of safe, bounded spaces and use the term much more broadly to apply to all so rts of social interactions including some very real, very unsafe activities. The argument is that if one treats other systems as one treats a game, approaching them with the same lusory attitude, that these activities are also games, i.e. war as a game, dating as a game, etc. For our purposes, however, while other aspects of life can be treated like systems, and people may see these systems as games, they are not really games if they cannot be bounded by clearly defined rules of play within a separate, safe, space and time. 35


differentiated game space the magic circle a specifically demarcated time and space.the space within which a game takes place. (99). Within the magic circle of a game, at the heart of it, is conflict All games have conflict. Games require players to move thro ugh them from an initial state to an end state. Games make this movement challenging. Overcoming challenges is rewarding and pleasurable to the player. As we shall see when we define narrative, th is is one of the primary areas where games and narratives overlap. As Salen and Zimmerman pu t it, game conflict provides both opportunity for narrative events and a narrative context that frames the obstacles a player must overcome (387). A player in videogames is often given an avatar to controla pr otagonist representation of the player within the game world. The activitie s of this avatar in the game world are hindered by obstacles that make the game challenging. These obstacles are often personified as antagonists, villains that stand in the players way. Game play takes on more meaning as players are motivated by this sort of narrative context. A narrative framework can also help player s understand the rules of a game, and give meaning to why they should abide by these rules. All games have rules rules provide the structure out of which play emerges, by delimitin g what the player can and cannot do (Salen and Zimmerman 80). Games are organized play, and rules provide that organization. Rules have several important characteristics that are usef ul to our discussion of videogame narratives. Specifically, rules limit player act ions, they are explic it and unambiguous, and they are fixed and binding (Salen and Zimmerman 122-124). One of the complaints many ludologists have about combining narrative with a game is that the narrative restricts the freedom inherent in the game (Costikyan 44). However, all games are inherently limited by the fixed, binding, explicit ru les of play. In fact, one of the reasons why 36


players choose to play games is because the rules of a game are unambiguous and binding. Whereas real life is filled with ambiguity and uncertainty, and people of ten dont know what to do in a given situation, in the ar tificial, controlled, bounded environment of a game, everything is controlled by the rules of play. There is something freeing in submitting to the rules of a game. Players maintain the lusory attitude needed to c ontinue abiding by arbitrary, so metimes absurdly inefficient limitationsbecause doing so, eventually, can lead to great satisfaction as a player overcomes these limitations to reach desired goals. 4 The comforting thing about a game is that everything in the game system, everything within the magic ci rcle, abides by the same rules, so if the rules are followed, players know they can achieve thei r goals. In the real world, where there are too many variables in play, this is not a certainty. In a game, the existence of an attainable goal state is a certainty. All games have quantifiable outcomes Players know that the reason they ar e playing is because there is a goal state. This may be as simple as a numerical score assigned to the players performance, or some end game scenario that clearly establishes the player as having won or lost. This quality separates games from other less formal play activities (Salen and Zimmerman 80). It also potentially separates our concept of game from many play activities that are traditionally understood as games. Two of the notable exam ples for our purposes are open-ended roleplaying games and computer simulation programs often labeled as games (Salen and Zimmerman 81-82). 4 Of course, while rules are intended to be binding, some players cheat. Some cheating is actually sanctioned by single player game designers to ensure that players of all skill levels can re ach a satisfying goal state. However, players of multiplayer games who cheat against other players are in direct violation of the game. 37


Though digital single player role-playing games such as the Final Fantasy games do have quantifiable outcomes, traditional ta ble top role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons and, more recently, massively multiplayer online role-playing games such as World of Warcraft are open-ended experiences lacking a single, welldefined outcome. Players create characters and experience campaigns by achieving micro-victorie s, but when the ultimate end of the game will occur is left open. In this way, they are mu ch like serial television shows, where a shows macro-plot elements wont be wrapped up until the show has run its course. These experiences can still be classified as games to the extent that each gaming session does have quantifiable goals, and, of course, while these play experience s are adaptable enough to stave off an ultimate, definitive, ending, players do very often play to some ultimate end that gives closure to the gaming experience. Players can also do this within comput er simulation programs. Programs like The Sims are created to give users the ability to play in a virtual sandbox. Salen and Zimmerman say that these programs are more like toys than games, but players can pl ay these toys as games. Many players decide to create their ow n rules and goal states in open-ended simulations, thus providing the essential elements of a game that may not be explicitly outlined by the game designers. For example, in The Sims a player may attempt to have a charac ter that he or she is controlling reach a certain level of wealth in a certain amount of time, or a player may try to see how long a character can surv ive without eating. 5 Likewise, just as many players play open-e nded simulations as games by creating their own goal states, other players play videogames intended to be games as toys, enjoying certain aspects of the game world without ever progressing in it to th e designer created goal states. 5 The attraction of such open-ended sandbox games is the high level of customization and the nearly complete control a player has over outcomes, which often leads to some rather cruel goal state possibilities. 38


Examples of this sort of subversive play are often called emergent game play and include when players drive around in a game like Grand Theft Auto III simply to see the scenery, or when players make their avatars act out performances that have nothing to do with the progression of the game for the purpose of creating machinima a fast growing activity in which players use film techniques to create narratives using the game engine. As these examples suggest, whether an object can ultimately be classified as a game or not depends not only on the game ma kers, but also on the game players. All that matters is that the play experience contains th e essential game elements outli ned above. This definition of game then, contains several limiting factors that allow us to differentiate games from other systems and from other, less formal play experi ences. These limiting factors weed out several things that are called videogames and that are pl ayed on computers and consoles. However, this definition is also flexible enough to allow some of these play e xperiences to be categorized as games, as long as they are played as such. Salen and Zimmerman, while attempting to determine boundaries around the concept game admit that it is a permeable concept. As they put it, sometimes the answer to the question of whether or not a game is a game rests in the eye of the beholder. Any definition of a phenomenon as complex as games is going to enc ounter instances where the application of the definition is somewhat fuzzy (82). This is likely as close as we can come to clearly defining the term game As we shall see, the concept of narra tive is equally difficult to bind definitively. Narrative Defined If asked the question, Do you know what narr ative is? most people would immediately say yes, of course. But if these same people were asked the follow up question, How would you define narrative? few of them would be able to give an answer that would be satisfactory under all circumstances. Concepts such as narrativ e that are so ubiquitous, and that we feel we 39


know intrinsically, are often the hardest to define We may even be offended that someone is asking us to define such a ba sic, well-known word, and we ma y also become annoyed, because we dont have a readily available answ er that truly encap sulates the term narrative. Here again, we return to the notion that some ideas are be st expressed imprecisely, without defining them. Most people feel they know what narrative is; mo st people could easily offer examples of it, and, if forced, could describe many of its characteris tics. But coming up with a formal definition is a more difficult task. Doing so is perhaps a fundame ntally limited undertaking. It may well be that like the term game the term narrative is too big and broad a concept for us to clearly demarcate. But just as this possibility has not stopped many from trying to define game, it has also not stopped many from attempting to define narrative. While people have written about narrative for as long as there has been writing, and it is very likely that they have talked about narrat ive for as long as there has been speech, relatively recently, there has been an explosion of narrative theory. Theorists in the twentieth and twentyfirst centuries have explored narrative from many angles and have proposed many definitions based on their particular theoretic al approach. Some of these a pproaches include existential, cognitive, aesthetic, sociological, and technical (Ryan 2). Survey ing all of the approaches taken to narrative in recent years is far beyond the needs of this chapter. But there is something that all of these approaches share: their de finitions of narrative serve their discourses. That is not to say that anyone can define narrative as anything to serve his or her needs, and indeed, most narrative theorists agree on most of the characteristics of narrative, but the perspective of narrative theorists differ, depending on their approach. Some approaches fail to acknowledge that narrative transcends media, confusing aspects of narrative with aspects of verbal communication and print technology. The approach we will use here is necessarily broader, since the premises 40


of this text are that videogames are a narrativ e medium, and that narrative is shaped by this medium. These two, simple presumptions alre ady direct us away from certain traditional conceptions of narrative. Marie-Laure Ryan in Narrative Across Media: The Languages of Storytelling insists that we must expand our concept of narrative beyond thinking about it as solely a verbal phenomenon if we really want to be able to examine narra tive across media (13). She proposes that we do this by overcoming the print-centric bi ases of many narrative theorists. She lists several pairs of terms in which the first term of the pair is the unmarked, unquestioned feature of narrative, whereas the second term is more in dispute among print-centric theorists. For our purposes, two of these pairs are particularly important: Diegetic/Mimetic and Receptive/Participatory. Because we are beginning with the premise that vide ogames can be a narrative medium, and because videogame narratives rely heavily on mimetic and participatory featur es, our definition of narrative must embrace both sides of each of these pairs. In his A Dictionary of Narratology Gerald Princes second definition of diegesis puts it in direct contrast to mimesis, which is in keeping with the tradition established by Plato and Aristotle. Prince defines diegesis in this se nse as telling, recounti ng, as opposed to showing, enacting. 6 In this formulation, diegesis places the events of a narrative in the past, and requires a narrator to narrate this past to an audience. This type of narration is the primary mode of oral and written storytelling, and, as such, diegetic narration is th e unquestioned, unmarked term in the pairno one questions that a st oryteller recounting past events to an audience is narrative. Mimetic narration, however, is an act of showing, rather than telling. It does not require a 6 Gerald Prince gives as his primary definition of diegesis a broad meaning, which does not conflict with mimesis. He states that diegesis is the (fictional) world in which the situations and events narrated occur. When the term is used in this way, it can apply to narrative of any kind in any media, and contrasts only with non-diegetic elements, such as sound effects or music in a vide ogame that is not heard by the character s in the game, but is heard by players outside the game world. 41


dramatized narrator, although su ch a figure may be present. 7 Mimetic narration is most common in the dramatic arts such as theater and movies, th ough episodes of mimetic narration can show up in diegetic dominated forms, such as when a writer uses dialogue, when the voice of the narrator disappears behind the voice of the char acter (Ryan 13). Like wise, diegetic narration can be found in moviesfor example, when a movie uses a voice-over narrator. Many theorists insist that narrative is inheren tly diegetic rather than mimetic. Because of this, as absurd as it may seem to casual observe rs who believe they know a story when they see one, some theorists do not acknowledge drama as na rrative, but maintain th at it is a separate category. Our definition of narrative cannot make such a distinction; it must accept that a narrative can be a showing of the now as well as a telling of the past, or else we cannot call a videogame a narrative. Narrative, for our purposes, is, as Prince has said, not just product, but process, an object but also an act (59). Once we accept that both diegesis and mimesis can be dominant narrative modes, we have taken our fi rst important step toward developing a definition of narrative that can contain within it the videogame as a narrative medium. But before we can propose a definition of na rrative appropriate for our understanding of videogame narrative, one other pair of terms must be reconciledReceptive/Participatory. Traditionally, outside of media analyses that at tempt to study narrative across a wide range of media, narrative has been defined as a receptive m ode. In this mode, narrative is received by an audience from a storyteller without playing an acti ve role in the story. Readers or listeners may imagine that they are witnesses to the events of the story or even empathize with the protagonist to such a degree that they feel that they are a pa rt of the story, but they have no control over how 7 Several narrative theorist have attempted to include non-lite rary narratives in print-centric definitions of narrative by extending the concept of the narrator to include undram atized narrators, such as voi ce-over narrators who are not characters in the narrative, and even, in the case of film the cameras eye that dictates what we see in a film (Lacey 113-114). 42


the story unfoldsall narrative events are enti rely pre-scripted and unchangeable. Receivers have no active role in the plot, besides the chore of processing and parsing the language used to tell the story. However, in the participatory mode as Ryan puts it, the plot is not completely pre-scripted. The recipient becomes an active ch aracter in the story, a nd through her agency she contributes to the writing of the plotIn many computer games, for instance, the user is represented in the game world through an avatar. By solving problems in the real time of the game session, she determines whether the life story of this avatar will end in success or failure or how long the avatar will live (14) Of course, any conception of the videogame as a narrative medium must have at its core an acceptance of narrative as potentially both receptive and participatory. With these two stipulations in place, we can be gin to define narrative in such a way that does not exclude mimetic and participat ory modes of expression. What an acceptance of both of these modes suggests is that we need a definition of narrative that identifie s it as having certain essential characteristics in and of itself, but which is open about the modes through which narrative meaning can be transmitted. More specifically, we need a definition of narrative which does not situate narrative identity solely at th e level of the teller, who creates narrative by recounting past events, but rather emphasizes it at the level of recipients/participants who can interpret any number of expressive modes in a given text to construct narrative meaning. Therefore, we need a definition that not only defines the formal elements of narrative, but also suggests the experiential aspects of narrative as well. Marie-Laur e Ryan lays the groundwork for such a definition by stating three requirements that a text must meet to qualify as a narrative. These requirements, truncated here, are as follows (8-9): 1. A narrative text must create a world a nd populate it with characters and objects 2. The world referred to by th e text must undergo changes 43


3. The text must allow the reconstruction of an interpretive network of goals, plans, causal relations, and psychological motivations around the narrated events The first two requirements of narrative stipulat ed above could have been drawn from just about any definition of narrative ever put forth. First, it is universal ly accepted that narrative is a system of representation in which a world is populated by ch aracters and objects. There can be no narrative without a setting, characters, and objec ts with which characters interact. Second, narrative has been defined since Aristotle as a progressive system in which events are linked casuallya narrative progresses logically from a beginning state, through a middle state, to an end state (Beaugrande and Colby 45). More recently, structuralists such as Tzvetan Todorov have been even more precise with the type of progression commonly seen in narrative. Todorov outlined five steps of narrative progression, which, in essence, identifies conflict and the resolution of conflict as the driv ing force of narrative progression. 8 Todorov asserts that narratives progress through the following stages (39): 1. A state of equilibrium at the outset 2. a disruption of the equilibrium by some action 3. a recognition of the disruption 4. an attempt to repair the disruption [this is the longest stage in a videogame narrative] 5. a reinstatement of equilibrium The final requirement of narrative put fort h by Ryan, that the text must allow the reconstruction of an interpreti ve network of goals, plans, cau sal relations and psychological motivations around the narrated events emphasizes the role of the recipient/participant in piecing together a meaningful plot. In short, it identifies as an essential component of narrative a 8 Recently, postmodern narratives, and poststructuralist theory have challenged th is classical narra tive structure, but as J. H. Miller has pointed out, narratives that do not precisely follow these steps draw their meaning from the way they play ironically against our deeply engrained expectations that all narra tives are going to be like that (77). While such a detailed breakdown of the steps of narrativ e progression may not be universally applicable to all narrative, we will find that they generally do fit videogame narratives, which tend to be highly formulaic in their narrative presentation. 44


recipient/participant in much the same way as we identified the player as an essential component of a game. Just as games need player s willing to take on the proper lusary attitude to engage in them, narratives need recipients/participants with the proper attitude to immerse themselves in them and derive meaning and pleas ure from them. This is because narratives, like games, are arbitrarily limiting, insi sting that we believe in them ev en as they put forth scenarios that tempt our doubts about their verisimilitude, and at best, offer an incomplete perspective of events. In his Biographia Literaria Samuel Coleridge called this process of poetic faith in a fictional narrative the willing suspension of disbelief (312). Drawing all of these essential elements of narrative together, we can put forth the following definition of narrative: a narrative is a progressive system of representation in which a world populated with characters and objects begins in a state of equilibrium, but is disrupted by conflict, and in which, characters strive to repair this disruption by ach ieving the goal state of restored equilibrium. 9 When we compare the key ideas in this definition of narrative with the key ideas we examined in our definition of game we see nearly universal harmony. Of the six elements we examined when we broke down the meaning of the term gamesystem, players, artificial, conflict, rules, and quantifiable outcomefive of them are implicit or have a direct corollary in our definition of th e term narrative. We have identif ied both games a nd narratives as artificial/representational systems in which recipients safely witne ss or players safely participate in conflicts in an effort to reach a desired, quantifiable outcome. This overlap leaves out only one element of a game that we have not identif ied as essential to narrativerules. Since so much has been said and written about the confli ct between narrative and game and the difficulty 9 It is worth noting that sometimes the telling of the story may begin after the disruption of equilibrium has occurred. In the case of many murder mysteries, for instance, the story begins after the crime has occurred. In these cases, the equilibrium is either left implicit or it may be flashed back to during the telling of the story. 45


of combining the two, one might think that this un matched element of games is in direct conflict with the essence of narrative, but this is not the case. In fact, as we shall explore in this chapter, and more fully in subsequent chapters, many of our most popular narratives are highly structured by well-established rules of formul a and genre that lead an antic ipating audience along a clearly marked path toward a quantifiable outcome. As I shall attempt to establish, games and narratives are often most effectively combined when game designers recognize the potential for aligning the elements of games effectively with the elements of narratives so that the limitations inherent in both are naturalized and harmonized. By understanding the essential elements of games and narratives, we can begin to understand how this can be done. However, the above defini tions only tell us the conditions that must be met for a text to qualify as a narrative or a ga me; they do not tell us how the combination of a narrative and a game captures and maintains an a udiences interest. As we explore how games and narratives are combined in the computer me diated spaces of videogames in the next section, we must also analyze how videogame narratives can engage players to the extent that they are playing through a narrative. As we shall s ee, this requires making both the game and the narrative elements of the vi deogame narrative compelling. Computer Mediation Outlined Now that we have established the core elemen ts of games and narratives, we can properly examine how these elements come together insi de the computer mediated environments of videogames. In our definition of videogame narrativ e, there was one key idea that we have left unanalyzed until nowwhat distinguishes a videogame from other games. The simple answer is computer mediation. Videogames are first and fo remost games, sharing all of the essential characteristics of games that we have already examined. What disti nguishes videogames as a clearly defined subset of games in general, however, is that videogames exist in computer 46


mediated spaces, which require human-comput er interfaces through which players input commands using game control devices and the co mputers generate visual (and nearly always auditory, and often haptic) fee dback reflecting how these commands affect the game worlds. 10 We might assume that the computerin al l its forms, representing an everything machine that drives the digital age forwardwould be a medium of infinite possibilities for the combination and transmission of game and narrative modes. In some regards, this assessment is not far off. Within the virtua l spaces generated by computers, content creators have nearly limitless options when it comes to creating worlds of increasingly graphical and physical sophistication, and populating them with nearly any sort of char acters, objects, and obstacles they like. However, as is the case with any me dium, the computer acts as a limiting factor that shapes what is possible, especia lly in terms of how players can in teract with computer generated game worlds. Computer media tion dictates the boundaries of wh at is possible in a videogame, and thus, the possible combinations of narrative and game elemen ts in a narrative game world. One of the main limiting factors of computer mediation that has helped shape the development of videogame narratives is the way in which humans a nd computers communicate with each other. At one level, this limitation manifests in the relatively limited number of control options available to vide ogame players. Most videogames are played with the standard input device of a given platform. For the deskt op or laptop computer this is typically a keyboard and mouse, for dedicated game consoles this is most often a specifically designed game control pad, and for handheld gaming devices this is the built-in control inputs for that device. Though these input devices have evolve d over the years, and a growin g number of games are using 10 The degrees and kinds of computer mediation players experience, of course, dependent on the sophistication of the hardware and software involved. Twisting a knob or pushing buttons on a game controller to play a computer mediated version of tennis or ping pong, for instance, is different from swinging a Wii remote to simulate the swinging of a racket in Wii Sports (2006). 47


dedicated peripherals that allow players to interact with game worlds in new ways, the control mechanisms of the human-computer interface ar e still a limiting factor for how players can interact with videogames. At another level, which is particularly im portant for how the computer mediates the possibilities for the types of na rrative interactions a player can experience in a videogame narrative, the limitations of the human-computer in terface manifest in the language barrier that exists between humans and computers. Computers, so far, are incapable of fully parsing natural language, except in very limited circumstances. This greatly limits the possibilities for computer mediated, single player, interact ive narrative, and has been a si gnificant factor in shaping the dominate modes of player interaction in game worlds. Because of this limitation, players interact with the game world most often by enacting physical movements in the game space, rather than through linguistic communication, and when players are given the option of communicating through language, it is usually limited to choos ing between lists of pre-scripted phrases. However, despite the limitations inherent to the technology, the development of the videogame has given rise to a wide range of new narrative and game possibilities (we will explore these more fully when we examine the conventions of specific game genres in subsequent chapters). One of the main challe nges for videogame designers is presenting these possibilities in a compelling way to an audience. Because videogames require significant effort on the part of players, they must continually entice players to keep on expending that effort. Videogame makers must overcome the limitations inherent in the medium to offer varied, compelling, experiences, or else players wont buy their products and expend the effort necessary to progress through them. When trying to create videogame narratives, game designers have the doubly difficult task of trying to in tegrate compelling game and narrative experiences 48


within the limitations of com puter mediation. The main challe nge is how to properly combine the pleasures typically derived from audiences being shown or told a story with the pleasures typically derived from an audience performing acti ons in a game. That is, how can the seemingly opposing demands of a rule-based system depende nt on player actions be balanced with a representation-based system of passive audience reception. Various game genres, and various games within these genres, deal with this problem in different ways, but in general, the solution i nvolves a combination of methods ranging from oscillating non-interactive na rrative content and non-narrative game content to more sophisticated methods that more fully integrat e game and narrative pr ogression. Crudely, we can place videogame narratives into four groups, de pending on the level of integration between narrative and game elements: 1. nearly all of the narrative takes place in non-interactive episodes such as cut-scenes 11 2. much of the narrative is expr essed through non-interactive episodes such as cut-scenes, but the narrative is also e xpressed through game play 3. some of the narrative is expr essed though non-interactive elements such cut-scenes, but much of the narrative is e xpressed through game play 4. all narrative expression takes place while the player inte racts in the game world Regardless of what category a videogame narrati ve falls into, the goal of its makers it to provide a compelling expe rience in which players are motivated to actively strive simultaneously toward narrative closure and the qua ntifiable outcome of the game. The best way to do this is to align as closely as possible th e progressive structure of the narrative with the progressive structure of the game so that actions in the game performed by the player make sense within the context of the narrativ e, making players feel as though they are helping progress the narrative forward as they overcome the challenges put fort h by the game. One way to analyze how this is 11 Cut-scenes are typically non-interactiv e narrative sequences that often incorp orate filmic techniques to present and progress the story of a game. 49


accomplished in a game is to see how the game and narrative elements of a videogame fit together structurally. When we do this, one of the potential points of congruence in the structures of compelling games and compelling narratives is the pleasu re derived from the attainment of goals. For a game to be enjoyable, it must presen t challenges to players, and it must motivate players to want to overcome th ese challenges. Likewise, in a narrative, characters are represented that overcome challenges in a way that fulfills a recipients desires and expectations for resolution (or plays with these desires) We can align these dual pleasures by allowing players to aid in the achievem ent of narrative expectations through thei r actions in the game world as represented by their control over the avat ar/protagonist. In this sense, narrative and game play elements have a symbiotic relationship where the game elements allow players to feel more involved in the progression of the plot and the narrative elements give a context for the games progression to the desired goal state, a llowing players to more accurately anticipate how best to act to reach that outcome. Since all videogames are games, however, th e progressions of videogame narratives are shaped by the rules of the game. Though different game genres draw on different sets of rules, all videogame narratives share the basic requirement of aligning the rules that govern game logic and progression with the rules that go vern story logic and progression. Robert de Beaugrande and Benjamin N. Colby in a 1979 article titled Narrative Models of Action and Interaction put forth rather presciently a model of na rrative that is useful for our understanding of narrative as a rule based repr esentational system that can effectively be integrated into a videogame experience. Their a im was to explain not just the elements of a narrative, but how these elements fit together into a story structure that makes narrative 50


compellingan endeavor that serves our analysis well, since it is vital for a videogame narrative to be received as such to be compelling as a na rrative. Beaugrande and Colby set forth a set of story-telling rules and a story comprehension process (44). They insist that the latter is completely dependent on the former. That is, we understand stories because at some level we recognize the instantiation of narrative rules (47). These rule s dictate our expectations for how the various conflicts inherent in narrative will be resolved as char acters act in a way that move them toward their desired goal states (44). Base d on the narrative imperati ve of characters to move toward a goal state, Beaugrande and Colby proposed that we can agree on the following set of story-telling rules, which we can a pply to story-telling in a videogame (45-46): Rule 1Identify at least one CHARACTER. Rule 2Create a PROBLEM STATE for the CHARACTER Rule 3Identify a GOAL ST ATE for the CHARACTER Rule4Initiate a PATHWAY from the PROBLEM STATE leading toward the GOAL STATE. Rule 5Block or postpone attainment of the GOAL STATE. Rule 6Mark one STATE TRANSITION as a TURNING POINT Rule 7Create a TERMINAL STATE which is clearly marked as MATCHING or NOT MATCHING the GOAL STATE There are some obvious parallels between this structural model of narrative rules and Todorovs stages of narrative progress. The main differences between the two are that here we have the addition of at least one character, something that coin cides with or definition of narrative, and here we have a sh ift in emphasis to the creators of narrative from the narrative itself. But these prescriptive instructions for creating compelling narratives, like so many before and after, derive from an examination of the stru ctures that have worked in the past. What we discover when we examine what has worked in vi deogame narratives is that they continue to follow the patterns set forth by this story-telling system as it has evolved in other media. Most videogame narratives are highly formulaic, following rules dictated by genre conventions. As I have suggested, this may be be cause rule-based story-telling fits so well with 51


a rule-based game world. Many critics of videogame narratives see this as a hindrance, dismissing videogame narratives precisely because th ey are so formulaic. For instance, Steven Poole in his book Trigger Happy: The Inner Life of Videogames wrote in a derogatory manner that video game narratives are more like folktales than like novelsthey ar e highly plot driven and predicated on strong actions (Poole 95-96). In his estimation, this bare ly qualifies them as proper narratives, but the f act is that the vast majority of pe ople enjoy formulaic, plot driven stories predicated on strong actions. Narrative and Game Rules in Beyond Good & Evil It is admittedly true that past and current computer mediated combinations of game and narrative are in some ways fundamentally limited. It would be fair, for instance, to say that Homers action-driven Odyssey might be adapted into a comp elling videogame narrative, but Joyces language-driven Ulysses would not. The primary strength of the videogame as a narrative medium is its ability to allow players to interact in an action-driven plot in ways that other media cannot, and its primary drawbacks are the linguistic limitations inherent to contemporary computer technology, and the insistence of games to be struct ured by clear rules of progression. If we accept these strengths and weaknesses and conceive of both narratives and games as rule-based systems of progression, we can begin to examine videogame narratives on their own terms, recognizing how the underlying stru ctures of narrative and game fit together to form a compelling videogame narrative. Let us now examine a videogame narrative to see how the narrative rules set forth by Beaugrande and Colby coincide with the rules of the game in a compelling way. The example we will use is the critic ally acclaimed, multiplatfor m 2003 action-adventure game, Beyond Good 52


& Evil 12 This game has been recognized for bot h its varied, immersive game play and its sophisticated, compelling narrative. It contains some interactive elements typical to the three game genres in which we find most videogame narrativesaction games, adventure games, and role-playing games. 13 It also weaves together story elements from the three most common narrative genres found in videogamesmyster y, horror, and science fiction/fantasy. 14 In this regard, it is, if not the epitome of a videogame narrative, certainly representative of the sorts of videogame narratives we will be examining throughout this text. Let us begin examining Beyond Good & Evil by seeing if we can derive its rules from what the marketers of this game claim it to be. Here is the publishers product description for the game: For centuries, the planet Hillys has been locked in conflict with a race of relentless alien invaders. Wary of her governments promises to repel the aliens for good, a rebellious action reporter named Jade sets out to captur e the truth behind the prolonged war. Armed with her camera, Dai-Jo st aff, and fierce determin ation, Jade soon finds herself inside the jaws of a horrific conspiracy, and face to face with an evil she cannot possibly fathom. In a world where deception is the deadliest weapon of all, will Jades discoveries be enough to free her people? Features: Join the rebellion: As action-reporter Jade, capture the truth usi ng stealth, force, and wits against a government that deceived you. Stop at nothing until the perpetrators are exposed. Expose the conspiracy: enter a futuristic wo rld full of deception, where nothing is as it seems and exposing the truth is the only hope of restoring freedom. Prepare for anything: brace yourself for a j ourney through the reaches of a strange and ever-changing universe from the mind of i nnovative game creator, Michel Ancel. 12 Beyond Good & Evil represents one of the rare games developed and released across multiple platforms that became a critical success. It was released for the GameCube, Playstation 2, Xbox, and the PC. Most games released on so many platforms suffer from the publishers resources being over-extending as they spend less time and effort polishing each iteration of the game in an effort to reach as big a market as possible. 13 Mixing as many disparate game play elements as Beyond Good & Evil does is often a recipe for disastrous incoherence and frustrated pl ayer expectations. However, this game ma nages to make it work and represents a relatively new move by the industry to offer a wide variety of game play features in a single game to appeal to fans of various game genres. 14 See Chapter 6 for a more thorough anal ysis of these game and narrative genres. 53


United we fight: battle against the forces of conspiracy wi th Jades punishing Dai-Jo staff techniques, and master amazing tag-te am fighting combos with allied resistance fighters Peyj and Double H. As the product description suggests, Beyond Good & Evil promises its audience a narrative rife with social and political commentary and a fun, interactive game experience all in one package. It suggests to players that they will be able to perf orm many actions in a provocative game world filled with narrative intrigue and game play challenges. For such a combination to work well, the rules of the game should all coincide with the patterns of behavior of characters and objects as we imagine they should act in the narrative in which the game puts its players. And according to the vast majority of reviews by professional game reviewers and game players, which almost universally cite how well the game give s players logical interactive challenges within the context of a comp elling, coherent narrative, Beyond Good & Evil is successful in doing this. If we return to the story-telling ru les put forth by Beaugra nde and Colby, we can examine how this game harmonizes the rules of it s game elements with the rules of its story. Rule 1 says that we must identify at l east one character. The main character in Beyond Good & Evil is Jade, a young female reporter who the player controls. In our definition of game, we identified rules as clear, explicit restrictions th at dictate how players can interact in the game world. If we must identify a main character as cr ucial to a narrative, we must fit that character within the structured, rule-based environment of the game. In Beyond Good & Evils game world, Jade is limited by her assigned game attribut es, all of which are logi cal in the context of her narrative character (Figure 2-1). She is a young, physically fit reporter with a mechanic for an uncle, and a network of friends sympathetic and helpful to her, first in her role as a foster mother to children orphaned by the war who needs to take pictures of exotic animals to pay for their care, and later in her quest to reveal the truth about the war. Players are limited within the 54


game world, because they are controlling Jade, w ho has a defined, limited set of abilities. Jade has realistically proportioned stre ngth, speed, resilience, and a complement of objects (i.e. her camera, her staff, and her hovercraft). Her char acter harmonizes the rules of the story with the rules of the game. Controlling her allows players to perform a variety of actions in the game, but all of these actions have reasonable limitations consistent with Jade s character. This consistency makes learning the rule s of the game easier for player s, because Jades limitations are intuitive. Once a character in a videogame narrative is identified and described, players understand what is and is not possible while controlling such a character. 15 Rule 2 dictates that a narrative must create a problem state for the character. There are many micro-level problem states created in this game for Jade to overcome, but the initial problem state is that Jades life and th e lives of the people that she ca res about are being increasingly adversely affected by the ongoing war raging around he r. This situation logically leads to the fulfillment of Rule 3, which states that a narrative must also have a goal state that the character must strive to reach. Again, at a micro-level, many goal states are identified to give players more instant game and narrative grat ification, but at the macro-leve l, the overarching goal state of Beyond Good & Evil is for Jade to try to discover the truth about the war and possibly end the suffering she sees around her. The next rule of story-telling, Rule 4, is that there must be a pathwa y from the problem state leading toward the goal state. The makers of Beyond Good & Evil provide such a pathway, giving the player clues that lead Jade to IRIS, an unde rground network that has been broadcasting damaging information that they ha ve uncovered about the Alpha Sections elite 15 As an example of how other characters in the game are also logically constrained by the rules that govern the narrative and the game, Jades anthropomorphized pig-like uncle, Peyj, is slower than Jade, but compensates for this with a pair of jet boots, and uses his wrench to fight off foes. 55


military who allegedly defend the planet of Hilly s from the invading alien army, the DomZ. IRIS gives Jade missions that may lead to Jade unc overing the ultimate truth behind the war, which she can then give to IRIS to broadcast over pi rated airwaves to the people of Hillys. This involves players embarking on a series of missions where they overcome the challenges of the game, which follows Rule 5that there must be objects that attempt to block or postpone the attainment of this goal state. In this game, these obstacles are embodied primarily by the military who seek to stop IRIS and stop th e public from knowing the truth, which would lead to rebellion. The player, as Jade, must overcome these obsta cles throughout the game, which simultaneously fulfill rules that govern game and plot progressio n. Some examples of the type of player-driven actions in the game are fight sequences against the military agents who are trying to stop Jade from uncovering the truth, puzzles that she must solve to progress on to another stage in her quest for the truth, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles that the player can only overcome through careful planning and strategizing. The ov erarching problem driving the player forward is the eventual attainment of the games winni ng goal state, which will also provide narrative closureuncovering and disseminating the truth about the military to all of Hillys, and trying to stop the forces injuring Hilly s and its inhabitants. Rule 6 says there must be a marked turni ng point in the narratives progress. In Beyond Good & Evil the biggest turning point is when, through the players efforts, Jade uncovers the terrible truth about the military, and the fate of those captured by the DomZ invaders. From this point, the game moves to the enac tment of Rule 7the terminal state which is clearly marked as matching or not matching the goal state (45-46). This, of course, fits perfectly within the structure of a game, which ends in loss or some level of victory. Throughout the game, if the player missteps significantly in terms of strategy or reflexes, the game will end with Jades death 56


or capture, but as we have established, the real driving pleasure of games, and of formulaic narratives, is the promise of the possibility th at the goal state will be reached. With enough effort, the player of Beyond Good & Evil does reach a terminal st ate that matches the goal statethe truth is uncovered (see the footnote for plot and game spoilers). 16 As Beyond Good & Evil illustrates, a successful videogame narrative integrates narrative and game elements within a computer mediated space, so that player s feel as though their actions are driving the narrative forward. To do this, the game must first and foremost compel players to continue expending the effort involved to play the game. But it must also accomplish this by connecting the game play to a narrative the player s want to continue participating in. This is primarily accomplished by tapping into players de sires for sustained engagement and eventual closuretwo things that both good ga mes and good stories offer. This chapter has attempted to show what a videogame narrative is, and how the seemingly opposing natures of narrative and game can be brought together to form a unified entertainment experience. With rough definitions in place for the key elements of study, and a brief examination of some of the ways these elements are brought together put fo rth, the chapters that follow aim at elucidating more thoroughly th e characteristics of videogame narratives. 16 The Alpha Elite military force is actually controlled by the invading DomZ, which are using the inhabitant of Hillys as a food source, kidnapping them with the aide of the military to be drained of their life force. The player, through Jade, has helped uncover this truth and has gone one step further to also help defeat the DomZ forces. 57


Figure 2-1. Screenshot of Beyond Good & Evil (2003). Jade hides with her camera from the Alpha Section guard. 58


CHAPTER 3 WHOS IN CONTROL?: THE ROLES OF MAKERS AND PLAYERS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF EVOCATIVE VIDEOGAME NARRATIVES Meaningful Play or a Waste of a Day? As an undergraduate, I was once cajoled by a co mely coed to attend a presentation by a visiting mathematics professor who promised in his provocative flyer to pr ovide irrefutable proof of the existence of God. It tu rned out to be a two hour long se t up to a centuries old premise there has to be an uncaused cause, something that set all the dominoes in motion. By the end of it, many who had come, agnostic and believer al ike, were left thoroughly unsatisfied. The professor seemed quite pleased with his presentation, but the grumbled response of the shrunken crowd was a collective, exasperate d, and? I could not help but speak up and ask, if we accept your argument, where does it leave us? If we can only know that something started it all, do we really know anything more than we did before? An uncaused cause or infinite regressionit is just one incomprehensible concept replacing another. The professor seemed perplexed by my underwhelmed response. Perhaps we were bei ng unfair, but most of us were expecting something a bit more specific. We came in expec ting to be wowed by proof of the existence of a much more particular and complex entitythe omnipresent being represented in most major religions. Instead, we got a fairly straightforwar d case for the existence of a faceless, speechless, unseen creatoran absent gardener No one walked away feeling any different than they did before. The show did not live up to the billing. Years later, whenever I attend panels at conf erences, or read articles and blogs where the narrative and artistic mer it of videogames is debated, I often f eel as though I am back at the longwinded and flawed proof of the existence of God presentation. I look back on that presentation and find myself feeling remorseful about my reaction to the mathematics professor, because now I understand what it means to be on the other side of a collective l ook of and? Much of 59


the early scholarship in videogames incorporated apologetic justifications for why we should study games beyond their corrupting potential on young minds. Almost every presentation (including my first few) on videogames at a c onference not solely dedicated to videogames began with a preamble justifying the presentation and explaining that videogames are worthy of studying alongside texts from other, more established narrative media. After attending dozens of such presentations, experienced audiences members began to feel about them as we all do about the FBI warnings against video piracy that we are forced to watch before getting to the movie on a DVDoh, why cant we fa st forward past this? 1 Like the mathematic professors presenta tion, these preambles did little to shift opinionsthose who already believed in the artistic merit and potential of the medium were left looking at their watches and thos e who did not were left thinking, And? Even if we accept your argument, where does that leave us? So you have shown that some games look pretty and some games include some story elements, what does that tell us about the nature of videogame narrative? Attempting to prove that interactiv e narratives, and more specifically videogame narratives exist, it turns out, is very much like trying to prove to someone that God exists. In the end, if that is all you do, you arent actually accomplishing much. People have very specific and complex notions of what narrative is, and in pr actical terms, the debate about videogames as narratives is not ontological but qualitative. It isnt enough to pr ovide evidence that videogame narratives exist, because existence alone is not a compelling case for why we should care. It isnt even enough to point out that the cultural significance of vi deogames is growing every year, 1 This is not to suggest that using the relatively public forum of a multi-disciplinary conference as a platform to preach about the merits of videogames is without justification. Many who study the medium worry about its portrayal in other contexts as at best useless and at worst dangerous to young minds. Attempting to sway public opinions about videogames with every chance given is a desperate move to stave off the growing support for increased censorship of videogame contenta move that may stunt the growth of the videogame as a narrative and artistic medium. 60


with more and more people engaging with the interactive worlds they provide. Skeptics will see this as a cultish phenomenonjust because everyone else is drinking the Kool-Aid doesnt mean we all should. The real issue at hand about whether videogames matter enough to warrant attention from the non-believers is whether a videogame can be a vehicle of profound ideas and moving emotional experiences. Those who lambaste ga mes, and think them the worst of low-brow culture tend to dismiss not only current games, but the medium as a whole as incapable of significant artistic worth. What leaves many writing off videogames as inherently inferior as a medium of narrative and artistic e xpression is the fact that they ar e games. Many critics point to the choices inherent to players in games as a fundamental limitation of the videogame as a storytelling medium. It is true that videogame narratives are as much processes as products, designed by game makers to give players the ability to engage in the artificial conflicts of game play within an immersive, narrative-driven game space. While it is crucial that videogame narrative makers carefully create the conditions c onducive to immersive narrative-dr iven game play, game players play an equally important role in the actualization of videogame narratives. But couldnt the same be said for other narrative media? Without a reader, what is a text? Without a spectator, what is a spectacle of film and television? St ill, many believe the inherently active role of players in videogames is different; so different in fact that they claim the game maker/game player relationship challenges l ong established ideas about the re lationships between authors, readers, and texts. Because of this, many will not accept the changes produced by player involvement as a valid developm ent of narrative possibilities. 61


One such curmudgeon is well known film critic Roger Ebert who is infamous within the gaming community for his claims that videogames are inherently inferior to film and literature, and are essentially wastes of time best avoide d by discerning consumers. In late 2005, when many watershed videogame narrativ es had already been released, Ebert wrote of videogames: I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art. To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of compar ison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composersfor most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have avai lable to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic. Ebert identified what he meant by the nature of the medium when he said that theres a structural reason for [videogames inferiority]: Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control. Eberts comments incited a flurry of responses by game players and game makers. Tim Schafer, a videogame designer acc laimed for creating witty, engaging, narrativedriven videogames such as The Secret of Monkey Island (1990), Grim Fandango (1998), and Psychonauts (2005) was quick to defend the potential ar tistic merit of videogames, saying that Games are art. If Marcel Ducham p can stick a urinal in a gallery and say its art, then Im going to go out on a limb and say Okami is too 2 (Ochalla 2). Schafer is also one of many who are perplexed by Eberts assertion that interactivity is what keeps games from being art: Ebert says that games can never be art because theyre inte ractive. Huh? So when youre watching a play, and its one of those plays where they interact with the audience, does it stop being art at that moment? Is that one, partic ular play not art, but th e rest are? (Ochalla 2). 2 Okami is an action-adventure game released on the Playstation 2 platform. It has garnered awards and critical praise because of its emotional appeal and beauty. 62


Eberts criticisms of videogames garnered him negative attention from the gaming community, but as we briefly covered in Chapter 1, he is merely expressing what many feel that games and stories just do not mix well. Eb ert, a film critic by trad e, and someone weaned entirely on more established narrative media, na turally favors narrative as the vehicle of culture, civilization, and empathy while dismissing videogames as trivial wastes of times. He bases his opinion, like many similarly minded colleagues, so lely on hearsay and the perception of what it must mean for a narratives artistic integrity when an audience is a llowed to participate in it. He admits that he does not play videogames. His limited understanding of their interactive properties is enough for him to make sweeping judgments about their artistic merit. 3 Of course, proponents of games would be qui ck to point out, as Johan Huizinga and others have before, that regardle ss of their narrative content, games of all kinds play an important role in every culture, and play is vital to our ma turation as individuals and as a society. Far from seeing it as a limiting pairing, many consider vi deogame narratives as potentially the ultimate form of artistic expression. Denis Dyack, founder and president of Silicon Knightsa videogame development studio renowned fo r producing games with highly compelling narrativesgives a very different opinion from Eb ert about the artistic merit of the videogame medium: I feel video games are probably the most a dvanced form of art thus far in human history. Not only do video games encompass many of the traditional forms of art (text, sound, video, imagery), but they al so uniquely tie these art forms together with interactivity. This allows the art form of video games to create something 3 Ebert restated his criticism of videogames on his blog on July 21, 2007. Responding to Clive Barkers defense of the medium as art against Eberts ear lier comments, Ebert once again insisted that a medium that invites audience input cannot be art, or at least high art as he now qualif ies it. At the very most, for Ebert, who continues to admit he does not play videogames, the medium can only rise to the level of enjoyable trashy entertainment. It is a fundamentally flawed medium, because it a llows players to meddle in it. If you change it, you become the artists, says Ebert. And we are not qualified to be artists, or so Ebert suggests. Only the select few geniuses of the world are qualified to make high art. He goes on to say art seeks to lead you to an inevitable conclusion, not a smorgasbord of choices. (Ebert). 63


unique, beyond all other forms of media. Simply expressed, you can put a movie in a video game but you cannot put a vide o game in a movie. Video games are the ultimate form of art as we know it. Dyacks claims may seem equally extreme as Eber ts. In this chapter, which explores the relationship between game makers and game player s, our goal is not to support Dyacks claims as much as show that Eberts claims are misguide d. While it may not be th e be all and end all of artistic expression, as we shall see, the combin ation of interactivity a nd narrative can work to create profoundly moving artist ic experiences. Even in this early stage of the mediums development, there are, despite Roger Eberts assertions to the contrary, examples of videogame narratives that are intellectually and emotionally rewarding experiences, worthy of our attention, praise, and consideration. Videogames not only tell stories, but th ey can do so in an emotionally moving and thought-provoking way. While videogames are a revolutionary form that does challenge our notions of authoria l control and the flow of meani ng from sender to receiver, the core elements that are essential to narrative co mmunication still exist in a form that allows for artistic expression for game makers and profound narrative experien ces for players. The Role of Game Makers Our ability to enjoy and learn from narrativ e hinges on our ability to empathize with others. Empathy is the engine the drives meani ngful narrative experiences. Storytelling allows authors to share their perspectives on the world, the people in it, and the various situations people face in the world. It is a way for authors to share with their a udiences thoughts and feelings best shared through trying to put thei r audiences in other places and in different frames of mindso they can see the world with new eyes, and unde rstand its complexities in new ways. On the other hand, games are essentially experiential. Whereas narrative allows an audience to see and feel what others do, games insist on involvement. The heart of a game is player agencyplayers 64


experience a game not just by seeing it, or even by being in it, but by doing in it. 4 The skillful combination of these two elementsempathy and agencyon the part of game makers 5 is what makes for a compelling, artful videogame narrative It is through this combination that profound ideas and powerful emotions manifest in videogame narratives. In his book, Pause & Effect: The Art of Interactive Narrativ e, Mark Meadows says that all authors, regardless of medium, have one thing in commontheir desire to share with others a different perspective on the world. Meadows sa ys this is why narra tive exists: to convey perspective (2). Like Dyack, Meadows sees grea t potential for the combination of interactivity and narrative, but also great challenges. Int eractive narrative says Meadows, is the most ambitious art form existing today because it comb ines traditional narrative with visual art and interactivity (2). He defines interactive narra tive as a narrative form th at allows someone other than the author to affect, choose, or change the pl ot. The author, in writi ng this narrative, allows the reader to interact with the st ory (2). He also points out th at this changes the role of the author; it changes what an author does (2). I ndeed, for content creators seeking to express themselves through storytelling, the videogame presents some unusual challenges. At the forefront is the challeng e of how to allow players to in teract with the story of the game while maintaining the intended meaning and em otional impact of the story. Or to put it in 4 Of course, in their own way, games are just as important as narratives to the enculturatio n process of a society, but they teach people in a different way. Narratives teach us about ourselves an d the world we live in by showing us other people and other places that are both the same and different from the people we know and the situations we face in our daily lives. Games teach us about ourselves and our world by allowing us to play safely within rule-based systems that often parallel the more complex rules of social interactions in our society. 5 I use the term game makers instead of writers or game designers, because videogames, like films, are commonly created by a team effort. Though it is easier for academics to identify a particular work as the vision of a singleminda lone writer using pen and paper or a keyboard to express his or her dreams to the world, or an auteur film maker using all of the tools of film production as a means to produce his or her singular, personal visionthe fact is, most new media works are efforts of collaboration. And even though there is often a lead game designer/director at the helm, orchestrating the team to the end results, to refer to game makers by a specific term that refers to this team leader, or to the lead writer, would be to minimi ze the collaborative process of videogame creation. 65


Meadows terms, how can authors convey their perspective when they are allowing players to change that perspective? After all, that is what critics like Ebert claim is impossiblea videogame maker cannot at the same time make players empathize with a character, and the thoughts and actions of that charac ter, when players have agency over that character. The charge here is that players cannot be fully put in anot her persons shoes when th ey are able to control that person and influence the environment that person is in. And since empathy is such an important aspect of evocative narrative, if players cannot empath ize with characters in a game, then videogames can never be as culturally useful and compelling as true works of narrative art. Therefore, one of the primary challenges that ar tistically inclined videogame designers face is how to allow players to empathize with the char acters of a game, while allowing players choices and control within the game world. Ironically, Will Wright, one the most commercially successful videogame designers in the world, and someone responsible for making ga mes that give players the highest amount of narrative freedom available in the medium, agrees with Ebert on the issue of the importance of empathy in meaningful narratives, and tries to illicit empathy in his videogames (Wright xxxixxxii). Wright, the legendary designer of the in credibly popular Sim games, such as the many versions of SimCity (1989) and The Sims (2000) (which we will return to shortly), believes strongly in the game makers responsibility to co mbine the agency inherent in videogames with the empathy that makes narrative such a pr ofoundly effective and important means of communication. Will Wrights Sim games are evid ence that even in games with seemingly the most extreme limitations on authoria l control, it is possible to gui de player actions and evoke a wide gamut of feelings in play ers, including the most essential emotion for narrativeempathy. As we shall see, even in his games, which allow for such an extreme level of player freedom in 66


terms of the development of a story, it is possibl e for compelling, evocative, narratives to emerge that are subtly, but fundamentally guide d by the game makers perspective. Although we will examine how evocative narr ative emerges even in the most player controlled game environments, they represent only one type of narrative experience in gaming. The development of emotionally evocative narr atives in games did not happen overnight, nor does it take place in only one game genre. Much of the bias against videogames is rooted in critics not recognizing the great diversity of videogames and the evolution of the medium into an ever-expanding number of constantly developing genres. Ask non-gamers what a videogame is, and the most common responses will involve visc eral pleasures, fast action, and a reliance on twitch responses rather than re flective thoughtful processes. It is true, that most early videogames and many videogames today fit this de scription, but as the industry has grown, and the demand for videogames has grown, the types of player experiences offered by the medium have developed as well. Wright likens this evolution of the industry to the evolution of hu manity: the earliest games appealed primarily to our more primitive instincts. These instincts originate in the central portion of our brain, our so-calle d reptilian brain stem. Over time, the emotional palette of games has broadened beyond instinctive issues of survival and aggression to include the more subtle mechanisms of empathy, nurturing, and crea tivity. (xxxi-xxxii). He suggests, as games have developed, so have gamers tastes. Just as we still have within us the primal urges and desires of our ancestors, many videogames still cater to these urges and desires. But just as we have grown as a species, so too have vi deogames and their audiences. Videogames are increasingly allowing for both the pleasures of the fast action, re flex-based control that tickles 67


our reptilian core, and the more intellectually and emotionally complex, cerebral and reflective aspects of our nature. Videogames offer both types of pleasures in various degrees and ratios across a variety of genres. And the increased emphasis on narrative acr oss a wide range of genres is reflective of narratives long standing role in developing the more cerebral aspe cts of our nature. However, the type of narrative pleasures enjoyed in videogames varies de pending on the level of control players have on the narrative content in a game. At one end of the narrative spectrum are games that allow players to fundamentally shape or infl uence major plot points, while at the other end of the spectrum, many other game types exist th at are much more restrictive in how much players can affect the course of the narrative. At both extremes, and at every point in between, game makers face different challenges in their effo rts to give players as much agency as possible while making them feel as much empathy as possible. Types of Videogame Narratives Emergent Games Videogame makers have developed an increasi ngly wide array of games that focus on the pleasures of narrative-driven, empathetic-based game play. We can place videogames with inherent narrativity on a continuum based on th e amount of control players are given in the development of narrative content. 6 On the one extreme are those games that allow a maximum amount of player agency within a created game space in terms of the flow and development of 6 Narrativity is the term narrative and media theorist Marie-Laure Ryan has given texts or situations that can evoke narrative scripts. She says of narrativity in Narrative Across Media: The Language of Storytelling that in addition to life itself, pictures, music, or dance can have narrativity without being narratives in the literal sensethe fullest form of narrativity occurs when the text is both intended as narrative and possesses sufficient narrativity to be constructed as such (9). My focus is on videogames with a high degree of narrativitythat is, those games both intended and received as narratives. 68


narrative. 7 Games on this end of the spectrum are commonly referred to in academic circles as emphasizing emergent game play. In the industry, they are sometimes referred to as god games, because of the extreme control players ha ve over the game world and its inhabitants, and they are also sometimes referred to as sandbox games, because players can play freely within them without worrying about game makers forci ng them forward through the narrative. These games most often focus on giving players a world filled with narrative possibilities rather than narrative inevitabilities. Because they allow for such a wide array of narrative choices, these games most often do not emphasize pre-scripted dialogue or pre-re ndered cut-scenes. Most or all narrative emerges in the game in real time as the player moves through the game world. Henry Jenkins says of emergent narrative el ements in videogames that they are not prestructured or preprogrammedyet they are not as unstructured, ch aotic, and frustrating as life itself (128). The most popular god/sandbox ga mes are Will Wrights virtual world simulators (and their many clones), like the mo re macro-structured focused SimCity (1989), which focuses on building and managing a city, and th e more micro-structured focused The Sims (2000), which focuses on building and managing one avatars li fe. In these games, players are given a high degree of narrative agency. The appeal of these games is that players are given the opportunity to create their own unique narrative-gaming expe riences. Jenkins says of these games that players can define their own goa ls and write their own stories (128). This sort of freedom represents the highest degree of player control in a game pos sessing narrativity, and thus the most radical break with other narrative media in terms of the type of control exerted by an audience. But even here, the auth or is not completely absent. 7 Note that games on this end of the spectrum do not necess arily give players more control in the game overall; the distinction here simply focuses on agency in terms of the direction of narrative content. Games at the other end of the spectrum restrict the development of plot elements, but may give as much or more control to the player in the ways they interact with the game world in ways that do not alter the direction of the narrative progression. 69


Even in these games, which represent the ultimat e in player control, there are choices that the game designers make that influence the type s of narrative experiences that can emerge. Game designers still choose the overall look and f eel of the game world; they choose what sort of characters can populate that game world and what sort of actions can and cannot be performed in that world. There are also built in consequences for player ac tions that encourage them to act in one way and not another. In short, even in the most opened-ended simulation games, the author of the game is present, subtly controlli ng the flow of the game. For instance, in Will Wrights games, players are given the option to manipulate the game space in profound ways, but the feedback from the games avatars to a la rge degree determines what the player does. In The Sims for instance, players can take on the role of a malevolent or benevolent god. If players choose to be cruel, they can create a space for th eir avatars that will cause them perceived pain and suffering. They can make a house without a bathroom, or kitchen, or bedroom; they can choose not to manage the avat ars cleanliness, fi nancial worth, and possessions, causing chaos and misery for the avatar. This lowers the avat ars various stats, incl uding its fun level bar, making it depressed. In this scenario, the player acts very much like God in The Book of Job, seeing how much misery the players avatar can take. Just like Job though, no matter how depressed an avatar gets, it will not take its own life. But players can kill their avatars in more indirect ways. They can starve them to death. They can cause them to die of disease by not cleaning up the avatars environment. They can also treat their avatars so badly that the avatars may leave and not come back. Some players enjoy doing these things, genera lly because these freedoms are so rare in the medium (most narrative driven games are mu ch more tightly and ove rtly controlled by the games authors), but even in god game s, this freedom is limited. Avatars in The Sims have a 70


certain amount of free will. There are some th ings you cannot make an avatar do in the game world (like commit suicide). While many players explore their dark side by treating their avatars badly, this sort of play style becomes boring qui ckly, as a depressed avatar leaves a rather uneventful life. It is also far easier for a player to treat an avatar poorly, or simply ignore it, than to guide it toward happiness and success. As play ers explore the game world more, the intent of the game becomes clearthe challenge of the ga me, if players choose to treat the program as such, is to make the avatars successful a nd happy. This requires a great deal of micromanagement by players, who must ensure th eir avatars are clean, healthy, and financially secure. Because having avatars succeed is the most challenging aspect of the program, players wishing to play the program as a game that ch allenges them, eventually learn to steer toward creating an environment where the ch aracters in the game thrive. Players of The Sims often treat the simulation as a ga me, with the winning goal state the sustained happiness of the playe rs avatar (Figure 3-1). Making the players avatar happy involves sending the avatars to wo rk, interacting with computer c ontrolled non-player characters (NPCs), and acquiring new possessions for the avat ars. This increases the avatars fun level bar and makes for an overall more pleasant play experience for players, since severe avatar depression increasingly limits the players control over the avatars and the variety of actions the avatars can perform. In essen ce, the more players help their avatars be happy, the more freedom they have when controlling their avatars. New challenges emerge, and the game slowly develops a higher degree of narrativity. Happy and health y avatars can get married and adopt children or pets. Players can also have their avatars do immo ral things, like try to seduce a neighbors wife or husband, but this most often has negative conse quences. In short, play ers are encouraged to develop their avatars into su ccess stories by acting morally. 71


Positive goal states in the game require mora l actions and the acquisition of resources and possessions. It all amounts to players striving to achieve Wrights version of the American dream of success and well-being in a capitalist society. The resu lt is that players can put hundreds of hours into their char acters, investing not only huge amounts of time into the game, but a lot of emotion too. Player s often feel happy when their avatars are successful, and upset when their avatars fail. Players are encouraged to act helpfully toward their avatars, and are shown the consequences of not acting responsib ly. Although at first it may seem as though the players choices prohibit authorial control, players are actually rather limited in the actions they can take in these games, and they are encouraged to develop successful avatars by acting morally (defined by the very clear models of behavior im plicit in the games sociopolitical worldview). The program may appear to allow for a tremend ous amount of player freedom, but the players actions are constrained, and when players engage in the program as a videogame narrative, the moral and message is clear. The result is emer gent narrative content th at clearly embodies the game makers messages, and also can have a profound emotional impact on players. These games are like twenty-first century Horatio Alger tales, inspiring new gene rations to work hard and achieve happiness through mora lly obtained financial success. 8 Progression Games While games that give players such a high degree of freedom are attractive to many gamers, they can be frustrating for game makers who want greater control over the development 8 Using Horatio Alger as a point of comparison with thes e videogames is perhaps a strategic blunder, since critics like Ebert would hardly consider Alger a narrative artist. However, I defend the comparison on two fronts: 1. Alger rivaled Mark Twain in popularity as a late-ninetee nth century writer, and while Twains wit and perspective has proven to be far more enduring than Algers simplisti c, nave meritocracy driven pulp, Alger nonetheless made as many young minds of his time think and feel. 2. I will concede that games on this end of the spectrum, which allow for the most player freedom in determining the cour se and outcome of the games narrative, are generally the most artistically uneven videogame narratives, but they still can be thought-provoking, emotionally engaging narrative experiences. 72


of more specific narratives. Games like The Sims can define the conditions necessary for narratives to develop along certain general paths, but they cannot guarantee that narratives will develop in the ways the game makers intend, nor can they allow for the storytelling nuances that are available when game makers use more tight ly controlled storytelli ng techniques typical to other narrative media. If game makers want to tell a specific story rather than allow for specific kinds of stories to develop in their games, then they generally create games that more closely resemble their narrative cousins in other media. These games, at the opposite end of the gaming spectrum from emergent games, are what ludologist Jesper Juul calls progression games. As we shall see, despite Eberts assumptions, many games do not allow players to drastically affect key plot points. These games funnel pl ayers along pre-determined plotline s, and try to compensate by giving players agency in ways that do not alter the course of the narrative. In progression games, says Juul, the player has to perform a predefined set of actions in order to complete the game (5). Progressi on games give game makers more control over the presentation and progression of narrative content, as Juul points out: t he progression structure yields strong control to the ga me designer: Since the designer controls the sequence of events, this is also where we find the games with cinematic or storytelling ambitions (5). Juuls term and definition provide us with a useful contrast to emergent games; how ever, his segregation of narrative content into on ly progression games runs counter to our previous examination of how emergent videogame narrative works. Juul al so focuses his discussi on of progression games almost exclusively on one game genreadvent ure games. Progression games are a relatively new type of game, according to Juul, with the fi rst examples of the game type arising with computer generated adventure games (71-73). 73


Juul uses the term in a highly restrictive and pejorative sense, contrasting the rich, ancient history of emergent games, which are complex and open-ended, with the severely limited in form and content progressive games that he identifies as being temporally and spatially linear, and, thematically, traditionally deriva tive of the fantasy conventions of J.R. Tolkien. (71). He does identify two additional game typeshybrids of emergent and progressive game play. The first is the progressive game with emergent component s and the second is the emergent game with progressive components (71-72). In general, Juul focuses his work on emergent games, as do most ludologists. The bias is understandable, since ludologists tend to favor player-centered games, and they often label progressive games as creator-centered. They al so align progressive games more closely with other narrative media, and see the development of progressive games as game makers pretending to be filmmakers. While it is true that ga mes that emphasize progression through a narrative do allow game makers to have a level of authoria l control that we are us ed to seeing in other narrative media, dismissing games with a strong progressive focus as less game-like and less focused on the desires of gamers is misguided. First, as we established in Chapter 2, all games are in some basic respects inherently progressivethe rule based progression toward goal states is what separates games from unstructured play. Second, to suggest that ga me makers who make progressive games are indulging in their desires to be f ilm makers at the expense of pl ayers is to ignore the commercial success of these games and the enjoyment player s report in playing them. Finally, as Juul himself points out by introducing the notion of tw o emergent-progressive hybrids, most games are not one or the other; they contain both em ergent and progressive elementsan arrangement determined not just by game makers, but by player demands and inst itutional pressures. 74


However, since our current analysis is on contras ting the roles of game makers at extreme ends of the spectrum, let us examine the sorts of ga mes game makers develop when they want the most control over the sequencing of a narrativeprogression games. Although Juul identifies advent ure games as the only pure progression games, several game genres are now dominated by narrative-driven progressive game play. The most popular and pronounced progressive narrative-driven genr e is the console (or Japanese) role-playing game. 9 The primary appeal of console role-playing games is generally strong, author controlled storytelling, combined with intere sting, strategy-based battle system s that pit the players against antagonists that try to stop their avatars progre ssion in the games story. As we shall explore more thoroughly in Chapter 5, Juul is correct in his assessment that progression games such as these typically borrow heavily from fantasy and science fiction themes and generally follow the prototypical quest narr ative structure as outlined by theo rists such as Vladimir Propp in Morphology of the Folk Tale ; however, out assessment of these games will not begin by assuming this is an inherent liability to thei r artistic merits as narratives, games, or gamenarratives. Since their birth on the Nintendo Entertainment System with games such as Dragon Warrior (1986) and Final Fantasy (1987), console role-p laying games have become increasingly epic in scale and complexity, managing to innova te even as they conform to strict genre conventions. It is true that they are, traditionally, tightly controlled narrative-based gaming experiences that involve a lot of cut-scenes and in-game dialogue and story development. In 9 The distinction between PC and console role-playing games, sometimes also contrasted by the monikers Western and Japanese role-playing games (which may be a more accurate distinction now that many PC role-playing games are making their way to consoles, especially the Xbox an d Xbox 360) involves fundamentally different attitudes toward the balance between player agency and authorial control. PC role-playing games are generally far more open ended and nonlinear, emphasizing emergent narrative elements whereas console role-playing games are far more linear and author controlled, emphasizing progressive narrative elements. The distinction is more thoroughly discussed in the role-playing games section of Chapter 5. 75


fact, it is not uncommon for a si ngle cinematic in recent console role-playing games to last as long as a sit-com or the printed script length to exceed the word count of a Harry Potter novel. 10 In this, they represent a stark contrast from the more open-ende d, emergent simulation games at the other end of the spectrum that we have already briefly touched on, and are even quite different from the more open-ende d role-playing games typically developed in the United States and Europe for the PC. In tradit ional console role-playing games, players have very little control over the direction and development of the plot. Players may influence minor plot points and may shift a story arc along a few branching paths, but by and large, in these games, players do not coauthor the narrative as much as enact predetermine d narrative scripts. The extent to which we can call these games interactive narratives as it is defined by Mark Meadows and others is debatable, since players cannot alter the narr ative content in profound ways beyond failing to progress along the predetermined paths set forth. However, what is unde niable is the popularity of these games and the enjoyment players get from overcoming the challenges put forth by the game as they progress along these predetermined narrative paths. Perhaps because game makers working in the genre can use many of the narrative techniques of film, novels, and comics, console role-playing games are fr equently identified by game players and game critics alike as havi ng the most complex and emotionally engaging narratives. In one survey of 535 gamers about th e role of emotion in gaming titled Videogames Make you Cry?, single player role-playing games ranked as th e most emotionally powerful by 10 For many game writers and lead designers, the evolution of videogames as a narrative medium means a move away from other media, which means a move away from cu t-scenes and single narrative paths. Peter Molyneux is one game writer/designer who believes videogame narratives should have fewer cut-scenes and more choices. This has meant that while the first Fable game had about 20,000 lines of dialogue, Fable 2 is projected to have about 250,000 lines of dialogue. Because of the current limita tions of language AI programs and the limited resources of most development teams, the extent to which such a move toward more narrative freedom in videogame is feasible is still very much in debate (Mitchell). 76


a wide margin (Bowen). 11 The primary reason cited for the high emotional involvement in RPGs is the depth and breadth of the stories, which typically expand over several dozens of hours of game play. 12 Whereas the main challenge for emergent videogame makers is how to subtly direct the general direc tion of narrative possibilities, th e main challenge for progression videogame makers is attempting to integrate th e game play and narrative elements effectively enough to keep players compelled to follow a relati vely restrictive narrative path for dozens or hundreds of hours, over many play sessions, without becoming so bored and frustrated by the lack of explorative possibilities th at they stop playing the game. One of the ways this is accomplished in console role-playing games is through the integration of an interesting battle system th at challenges players and gives them a narrative motivation to fight foes and overcome obstacles with in the game world. As noted earlier, this is typically done by setting up the narrative with an opening cut-scene or a pr inted back-story that identifies to players the reason their avatars are embarking on their particular quest and why the quest matters in the game world. If this is done effectively, players will grow more and more invested in trying to overcome the challenges put in front of them to ensure their avatars continue in the story toward the desired goal state, whether that be the rest oration of peace, the saving of a family member or group, or any number of plot devices typical to the quest stories that dominate fantasy and science fiction liter ature, film, and comics. 11 Interestingly, Massively-multiplayer role-playing game s, which are growing in popularity and scholarly buzz ranked almost as the bottom of the list, behind shoote rs, action, adventure, fighting, and sport games. The implication from these findings is that the focus of these online games is less on story than level grinding and social interactions at this stage in their development (Bowen). 12 Role-playing games are, as a w hole, the longest single-player progressive games, with some games taking hundreds of hours to complete. As a point of comparison, a single play through of a typical adventure or action game takes 10-15 hours for most players to complete. 77


The appeal of these games for players is the promise of a rich, engaging, epic storyline, and fun game play that makes players feel th ey are contributing to the game characters overcoming of obstacles. Players expect an emoti onal payoff in the form of eventual success for the characters they have helped along a long, ard uous journey. Generally, this involves players defeating monsters and villains vanquishing them or killi ng them, depending on the target market for the game, but early in the genres deve lopment, rarely did players face genuine loss. Because of this, one of the most shocking moment s in videogame narrative history occurs in the watershed console role-playing game for the Playstation, Final Fantasy VII (1997), widely considered to be one of the best videogame na rratives ever made. In the aforementioned survey of 535 gamers about emotion and gaming, by far th e single most frequently mentioned moment was the death of Aeris in Final Fantasy VII (Bowen). In a genre driven by a sense of player accomplishment and joy in defeating the bad guys, and in a franchise that came to define the genre, for the first time, many gamers experienced a sense of true loss in a game. The scene is widely cited by gamers of the time as being the first time a videogame made them cry in response to the story of the game. Death has always been commonplace in vi deogames, but for the most part, the experience of death does not regi ster with much emotional char ge for players. Death in videogames very often occurs to beings almost en tirely Other to players. Those that die in videogames are most often objectified, flat, villains characters that are as often as not aliens, monsters, or humans safely demarcated as evil, such as Nazis or murders. Or else, they are merely set pieces, not fleshed out at allch aracters that have little to no humanizing characteristics. 13 But Aeris is different. Her character is carefully cultivated by the games 13 The dehumanization of enemies in videogames has at times sparked debate and controversy in and out of the gaming community. The most recent game to have given rise to concern over this tendency is not due for release 78


writers, the games character designers, and the ga mes lead designer to i llicit strong feelings of protectiveness from the player. First, Aeris is given charming, f lirtatious, witty lines of dialogue. She is also designed to be the most innocent looking companion and a lly in the players fight against the evil megacorporation/de facto government Shinra, which is destroying the world by mining from its core what becomes the game wo rlds primary power supplymako. 14 Her character is introduced as a flower peddler, with no fighting skill, wearing a modest pink dressed that contrasts with the edgy clothing of the other fe male main character, Tifa, who wears a short miniskirt and who is an expert in martial arts. Aeris appears nave and helpless when the player first meets her in the game, with the player bein g called on to defend her the first time they meet. After the initial battle, she as ks the players avatar to be her bodyguard. But as the story progresses, her background reveals th at she has a noble history and is to play an important part in battles to come. As the story pr ogresses, the player learns how im portant Aeris is to everyone in the game. She is being pursued by the enemy rele ntlessly, and much of the game play early in the game revolves around protecting Aeris, or saving her from capture. until late 2008Resident Evil 5 The Resident Evil series is the most su ccessful franchise in the survival horror subgenre. The enemies in all of the games are primarily highly aggressive, soulless, infected zombies for whom players feel little remorse as they shoot them in self-defense. However, the early videos for Resident Evil 5 have sparked debate among gamers about the negative impact of the dehumanization typical to videogame villains. The videos show a white protagonist gunning down infected African villagers. Bonnie Ruberg, in an article for The Village Voice, points out several disturbing aspects of the scenes. Not the least of her concerns are that people become zombies by being infected by as little as a single drop of blood, which he notes echoes the fears we have over HIV/AIDS spreading from Africa, and also parallels th e fears over racial impurity in the slavery and Jim Crow era in the United States (Ruberg). All of this merely hi ghlights the sometimes disturbingly evocative power of the medium. 14 Mako is a substance extracted from the earth in a highly destructive manner, and on which the world has become almost entirely dependentboth as an en ergy source for their machiner y, and, in a refined state called materia, as a means of imbuing individuals with superhuman powers. Shinra uses materia to make an army of super soldiers and takes over the world. The players character and his allies, including Aeris, are part of an eco-terrorist group called AVALANCHE, who tries to stop Shinra before they unwittingly deplete the planet of all its life essence, which would mean the end of all life on the planet. 79


Compelled to learn an ancient sp ell that will save the planet which is both being depleted of its life essence and being threaten even more urgently by the main antagonist of the game (Sephiroth), 15 she goes off on her own. This selfless and daring act does not go unpunished as she is soon discovered by Sephiroth, whose own ambitions for god-like power require that he stop Aeris and ultimately destroy the planet. Th e players avatar, the mercenary Cloud Strife, who is the main protagonist of the Final Fantasy VII soon appears on the scene, but he cannot stop Sephiroth, who after a failed attempt to us e mind control to force Cloud to kill Aeris, shockingly stabs Aeris through the back with his sw ord (Figure 3-2). Play ers cannot intervene in this death scene. Control is ripped from them at the most crucial moment. It is a pre-scripted event that cannot be averted. Not un til it is over is contro l given back to the player so players can attempt to enact revenge on Aeris killer, who su mmons a creature to fight for him as he escapes, delaying the gratificatio n of revenge, and driving players onward in the game with renewed vigor. Many players became deeply upset by Aeris death when the game was first released. The level of care and skill given to the development of Aeris as an innocent, noble young woman was with few precedents. The character was slowly developed in the game over many hours of play time. At the point of he r murder, the player had spent ma ny hours growing attached to her as a valuable ally and as a witty, humorous char acter. Until this point in the game, every time Aeris had been threatened, the play er could help save he r. It quickly became a convention of the 15 While Shinra is the primary antagonist at the beginning of the game, Sephiroth emerges as the more pressing threat to the planet. Shinras misdeeds are driven more by blind greed and corruptions. Sephiroth, on the other hand, knows exactly what he is doing and what the consequences of his actions are. Sephiroth is also a far more emotionally engaging enemy for players because whereas Shinra is a large corporation, Sephiroth is a single character to whom players can direct th eir anger and aggression toward. Whereas the faceless hordes are dispatched with little emotion, the desire to defeat one elusive, well-developed villain is a powerful narrative motivator in the game. Chapter, level, and game endings culminating in emotionally rewarding boss ba ttles such as the one that ends Final Fantasy VII have long been a staple of the medium, because they are so effective as narrative resolution carrots driving players forward through a game. 80


game that Aeris would be threatened and the player would help save her. Her sudden, unavoidable death made for a watershed mo ment in videogame narrative history. Good writing and thoughtful character developm ent combined with the higher level of graphical and auditory fidelity made possible by new console technology in Final Fantasy VII to give many players a new perspective on the narrat ive possibilities of videogames. Players were not used to facing such a traumatic event in a game, which they could not avert, no matter how they played and what they did. No amount of pla nning or skill could alter the event, just as no amount of wanting can stop Hamlets death, or Dumbledores. Bowen quotes one player he intervieweda father who played the game w ith his two young sonswho was hit particularly hard by the moment: For months, we couldnt even listen to the musical theme without one of the boys bursting into tears (Bowen). Even years later, for some, just hearing the theme music playing in that scene is e nough to bring immediate melancholy. As these examples show, the medium of the videogame can allow videogame makers to express profound ideas and create moving emotional experiences for players in ways that are sometimes very different from and sometimes ve ry similar to other narrative media. It has proven to be an effective medium for artistic expressions of all type s, including storytelling, despite the assertions to the c ontrary of the many videogame crit ics like Roger Ebert. Ebert and like-minded critics have a nave understanding of authorial control in videogames which suggests that because videogames insist on play er input, that videogames are not controlled by their makers. The reality is that player choi ces do not necessarily minimize authorial control; they just change the nature of th at control. Interactiv ity does not destroy this aspect of narrative, and history proves that point. 81


As game designer Tim Shafer alludes to when he brings up the example of interactive stage productions, and as we sh all cover in more detail in Chapter 4, other media have long included interactivity. Videogame s are not entirely new in this regard, and there are ample precedents for authors having to adapt to an acti ve, participating audience without losing their ability to direct plot progre ssion and maintain the integrity of the messages, morals, and meanings of their texts. The fact is that vide ogame makers are still, on a whole, very much in control of videogame narratives, allowing them to express their ideas an d provide deeply moving experiences for players. The type of control, and the level of that c ontrol, however, varies, depending on what the author chooses to allow pl ayers to do, and to what extent they allow player actions to affect the pr ogression of the narrative. While these choices often conform to genre conventions that have developed in the me dium, videogame makers are still in control of their messages, and they also determine how much control they want to give to the players, and how that affects their content. The Role of Players Just as the game becomes a text for th e user at the time of playing, so, it can be argued, does the user become a text for the game, since they exchange and react to each others me ssages according to a set of codes. The game plays the user just as the user plays the game, and there is no message apart from the play. Espen Aarseth, Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature When composers write symphonies, when playwrights write plays, or when choreographers develop the steps of dances, they do so knowing that thei r efforts will not come to life for an audience until musicians play, ac tors act, and dancers dance. Composers and musicians, playwrights and actors, choreographe rs and dancersall are co-creators of art and entertainment. This relationship is not unusual, especially in the mu ltimodal worlds of new 82


media production. In fact, it is ra re today to find a form of art or entertainment that does not involve some sort of collaboration and co-creat ion. In all major entertainment multimedia, we find this collaboration, as indivi duals of different talents combin e their efforts to express their perspectives on various issues and give pleasure to others. But what happens when the audience becomes a collaborator? What happens when a player of a game is required to perform in order for a story to progress? In the previous sections of this chapter, we began to examine some ways game makers try to create experiences that are bo th fun games and compelling narratives. In this section, we will begin to examine how players co ntribute to the emergence and enactment of videogame narratives. As Espen Aarseth points out, the user, or play er, is as much played by the game as the game is played by the player. It is crucial to th e success of a videogame for players to be able to learn from the game how to play it. At its co re, then, every videogame is a learning experience and one of the primary tasks for players is to learn how to engage the elements of the game and the rules of the game-world. Th e game-world is programmed to re act to players and players are in turn conditioned to react to the game. The player and the game interface to form a feedback loop from which the gaming experience emerges. In the case of videogame narratives, this feedback loop leads to the emergen ces and/or enactment on a story. All of this interaction occu rs between the players and th e game without game makers being present to ensure this in teraction is being done the way th ey intended. Unlike a director guiding a cast of actors, videogame makers are not present with players to ensure that they are playing their parts in a speci fic way. However, they do pr ovide both explicit and implicit directions for players to follow in the hopes that their creative efforts w ill be realized by the players. As we have established, videogames are, like all games, rule-based systems of 83


representation. Some games emphasize emergent game play and rely on players to infer or create their own rules to transform the comput er mediated play-space of the program to a computer mediated game-space. Other games ar e more strictly define d and controlled by the game designers. In these games, players have le ss freedom in terms of how the game progresses, but they still play a vita l role in that progression. Regardless of whether a game emphasizes em ergent or progressive game play, however, all games, if they are to be played as such, requi re that players learn their rules. The core rules that govern a game world are typica lly explicitly spelled out to play ers in a game manual, or they are explained to players in either a game tutorial mode, or within a learning system integrated into the story of the game. But even after players familiarize themselves with the basic mechanics of a game, they are often required to continually learn new aspects of the game as they continue to play. In fact, most videogame s can be described as continual learning programs in which players are gradually given more inform ation about how to master the game world. In most types of games, this is how interest in the game world is maintained. If players had the ability and knowledge to master a game world right away, the ex perience would quickly lose its appeal. A well designed videogame is like a good parent who wants to let her child eventually beat her at the game, but plays well enough to make the game a challenge for the child, and makes sure that the child will only even tually win if the child learns how to play better. Many games have variable difficulty levels so that the game program can adapt to each player to maintain this optimum balance of fa ilure and success. But even games played on the easy setting require several levels of effort on the part of players. Videogame makers rely on players to go through the often difficult and confusing process of learning how to play the game. For gami ng novices, this process can be particularly 84


challenging, because even though much is explained in the games manual, not everything is always spelled out for players. The videogame industry is often chided from within and from those outside the gaming community for its ove r-reliance on genre conventions, formulas, and clichs. However, videogame makers continue to rely on these genre conventions, formulas, and clichs, because building on what seasoned player s already expect allows them to create more complex and rewarding games. Players are expe cted to bring to most videogames preexisting knowledge of how the game will be played, ba sed upon its affiliations with existing genres. 16 While not all players will fully know all of the ga ming conventions of a particular genre, players quickly begin to see patterns in how games are presented and patterns about what is expected from the player for the game to move forward. The challenge for any videogame maker is to make these patterns comprehensible to a player, but the particular challenge of a videoga me narrative maker is to align these game play patterns with narrative actions, and to keep player s interested in performing these actions within a narrative context. Without player interest, a game cannot go forward, so first and foremost, a game must be a compelling play experience to be successful. Butas I have repeatedly stressedto be successful as a videogame narrative, the game play must be compelling within a narrative context. Ideally, this is achieved by aligning the game play challenges with narrative actions that players want to experience as such. For instance, in Final Fantasy VII the challenges a player overcomes through game play are challenges the players avatar must overcome in the games story (Figure 3-3). Play ers are made to feel emotionally connected to the games characters, and are motivated to continue on through the game for dozens and dozens 16 The exceptions to this tendency of relying on preexisting knowledge of genre conventions are childrens games and games created within a genre to purposely appeal to a broader audience. Such games are typically not enjoyed by veteran players who find their handholding tiresome. 85


of hours of battles and puzzling obstacles, because th ey care about their part in the progression of the story, and want to see the characters jour ney through to the end. The effort exerted by players makes them care about the progress of the game even more. However, despite the efforts of game makers not all game players play their games the same way. While I have tried to show that th e videogame can be an engaging narrative medium, and while many players enjoy playing videogames because of the unique combination of play and narrative that they provide, not all players always want both a game and a narrative at the same time. And because game makers and publishers want to ensure as many sales as possible, in most games, the narrative is like a lizard s detachable tailsomething that the game can survive without if the need arises (Figure 3-4). While it is not as simple as saying that th ere are two types of videogame playersthose who care about the story and those who dontwe can say that at the most basic level, these represent the two extreme attitudes of videogame players. In any given game, depending on how interested a player is in the story of that game, he or she may switch between someone who is playing a videogame narrative to someone who is merely playing a videogame with disposable narrative content, and vice versa. But for categor ical purposes, let us put forth these two basic player typesNarrativist and Gamists/Simulationists 17 as representing the extreme ends of narrative as a play motivator in videogames. 18 17 These terms have been borrowed from the GNS Theory of Ron Edwards, but my usage of the terms does not match exactly with his. The GNS (Gamism, Narrativism, Simulationism) Theory was developed by Ron Edwards to broadly categorize the three main player types of role-playing games. While these terms as they were originally used do not fit precisely with my story-no story dichotomy, nor were they intended to be applied to player types of all game genres, these terms do fit well with most videogame narratives. Because of this, I have appropriated the terms and conflated Gamism and Simulationism to suit my needs, and to avoid needless neologisms. 18 The above scene is why many game designers are working with game writers to integrate the story elements and game play more thoroughlyusing fewer cut-scenes, giving players more options, and generally trying to more fully integrate narrative and game play. This, unfortunate ly, involves much more work for writers, but despite the 86


Gamists play a game primarily to overcome the challenges of the game in the most efficient way possible. Gamists enjoy the cha llenges of the game for their own sake, without needing to feel as though they are playing through a na rrative. The extent of their narrative involvement in a videogame narrative is just to the point at whic h understanding character motivations and plot progression helps them ove rcome the game challenges more efficiently. Where narrative content is considered superfluous to efficient game play, it is skipped over or ignored. Like gamists, simulationists treat narrativ e motivators as secondary when making game play decisions. Simulationists primary enjoyment comes from the experience of being in a simulated world in which they may explore and act with as much freedom as possible. When game progression is required, simu lationists generally treat each challenge as realistically as possible within the game setting. As is the case with gamists, this may involve considering the narrative context of the game, but simulationists do not enjoy playing a character in a story as much as they enjoy controlling an avatar in th e game world. For both gamists and simulationists, to the extent that it is possibl e in a given game, game play ta kes precedence over narrative. Gamists try to see the most efficient way to progress through a game, a nd simulationists try to see the most realistic way to progress through a ga me, or they may just enjoy exploring the game world as a virtual space. Narrativists, on the other hand, are motivated by the advancement of the games plot. Narrativists will identify with their avatars and in vest themselves emotionally in the characters motivations. These emotions will be the primar y motivators for their decisions as they progress in the game, and be the primary reason why they continue on in a game, despite its difficulty. increased workload, it is one of the main ways videogame narratives are evolving. We will explore these developments more thoroughly in Chapter 6. 87


Just as a gamist will tolerate the story of a ga me only to the extent that it proves useful to learning how to play the game more effectively, narrativists often tolerate game play only to the extent that it allows them to continue on in the story. If the game play proves too difficult or tedious, a narrativist may choose to skip over it by us ing cheat codes, if they are available, just as a gamist might choose to skip over cut-scenes a nd skip past dialogue. Idea lly, of course, both the narrative and the game play will be equally compelling and enga ging for players, but sometimes the appeal of both for the player is unbalance d. In extreme cases, a Na rrativist will plug along in a game he or she finds tedious just to advance the story. However, in a well executed videogame narrative, a player will find both story elem ents and game play elements rewarding. It must be remembered that all three of these categories are simply rough approximations of actual player types; real world players are ty pically a combination of various degrees of all three of these player types. Players may also alternate between these categories from game to game, depending on their mood, and on the strength s of the game. In the latter case, many videogames claim to be interac tive narrative experiences, but di scourage narrativist behavior by offering compelling game play challenges, or a beautiful game world filled with exploratory possibilities, but weak, poorly impl emented narrative content. It is difficult, in these games, for players to care about the charac ters in the game and about th eir avatars progressing through the plot. But again, this is not a failu re of the medium as a whole; it is simply an example of game makers either not being able to integrate na rrative content effectivel y, or not caring about integrating narrative content, becau se they are choosing to cater only to gamist and simulationist play styles. However, as the examples discus sed so far have shown, there are videogames in which narrative and game elements are integrated successfully, allowing players to experience an evocative videogame narrative. These games can be entertaining for all player types, but if 88


played by someone willing to expend the effort to play the game as a game and a story, the experience can be as moving and thought-provoki ng in its own way as any in other narrative media. Figure 3-1. A successful Sim relaxes in her Jacuzzi while her maid looks thoughtfully into the mirror. Figure 3-2. As the musical group The Monkeys put it, I saw her face, now Im a believer. Seeing Aeris face as she died in this death scene from Final Fantasy VII (1997) made many gamers into believers of th e videogame as an evocative narrative medium. 89


Figure 3-3. Cloud battles Shinra forces on his ow n this time, though he typically has allies. Figure 3-4. Penny Arcades Web-comic from October 7, 2005 titled We Were Playing The Second Digital Devil Saga highlights two opposing player styles. One is conducive to the actualization of videogame narrative and the other is not. Can you guess which is which? 90


CHAPTER 4 VIDEOGAME REMEDIATIONS: CONNECTI ONS TO OTHER NARRATIVE MEDIA Familiar Bloodlines The first generations of videogame players have grown up, and the industry has grown to keep them playing and buying their products. The market has responded to the expanding audience by increasing the ways that potential players have of playing and buying games. In addition to four major current generation videogame platforms in the home (PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wiiall of which include serv ices for players to play both newly released games and re-released classic arcade and consol e games) and dozens of other older consoles, plug and play devices, retro consoles, and arcade units, there are a variety of portable videogame platforms that have exploded in popularity in recent years. With each passing day, one is increasingly likely to see or be someone standing in line, or sitting on a bus or in a coffee shop, playing a videogame on his or her cell phone or on a dedicated portable gaming device such as the Nintendo DS or the Playstation Portable. To make all of these sometimes compe ting and sometimes complementary gaming platforms viable consumer options, hundreds of videogames are released each year for each of these gaming platforms from major videogame companies, and hundreds more are released by independent creators and homebrew hackers. As products continue to be released in a competitive but highly lucrative market, dozens of game genres and sub-genres have codified, with new genres continuing to emerge each year, all seeking to appeal to some segment of the expanding market place, or reach out to further expand the gaming audience. The videogame industry has long sought to extend its market from the avid, but re latively small demographic of adolescent males, and a confluence of events including the aforementi oned maturation of the first generations of gamers, coupled with cont inued technical advancements in both home and 91


mobile gaming, and new marketing strategies by videogame companies designed to target a wider audience (most notable among them, the in credibly successful blue ocean strategy of Nintendo) have succeeded in expanding both ga ming demographics and our notions of what a videogame is and can be. 1 Never before has there been such a diversity of videogame options, and such a diversity of videogame players. 2 With the expanding market, and the proliferation of videogame genres to fulfill the desires of the expanding market, a refreshing tren d of positive news stories has emerged. Local news media and national outlets alike have pick ed up on stories of entire communities of senior citizens playing Wii Sports or games branded as Touch Generations title s by Nintendo for their DS (games such as the wildly popular Brain Age, which are specifically priced and marketed to casual and older gamers) to help them stay physically and mentally fit. Every couple of weeks, another story about the communal fun of playing Guitar Hero III or Rock Band with friends and family emerges, along with an update on which ce lebrities have jumped on board to becoming virtual rock deities. Perhaps most surprisingl y, the news writers and news anchors seem less frequently clueless about these new games a nd new ways of playinga sure sign that videogames are finally becoming entertainment options not just for a small segment of society to be reported on, so that the rest of society can be amused and amazed by what gamers are doing, but for society as a whole, including the reporters themselves. 1 With the release of the Wii, Nintendo outlined to shareh olders what they identified as a Blue Ocean Strategy, based on the influential book of the same name. They emphasized that with the DS and the Wii, they were no longer trying to compete with their competitors, but instead sought to expand into the largely uncontested market place of casual and non-gamers. The success of the DS and the Wii is in large part a testament to the success of this strategy. 2 Nielsen Media Research data from 2007 shows an increased penetration of videogames in American households of 18%, and a greater diversity of videogame players in terms of age, gender, and ethnicity (Nielsen). 92


However, videogames have yet to reach such a level of ubiquity and acceptance that they are immune to the sort of fear-mongering and kne e-jerk reactionism that has dominated news media coverage, political campaign speeches, and ed itorials of the guardians of old media since videogames initial rise to cu ltural prominence in th e 1980s. Nor have they gained very much ground in more high-brow cultural circlesthe opera and art house crowds. To many of the former group, videogames remain a medium domina ted by violence and a negative influence on todays youth. 3 To many of the latter group, videogames are like a boorish nouveau riche family with poor taste moving into the media neighborh ood, drawing undue attention to themselves with garish dcor and ostentatious ac tions that distract people from a more refined, sophisticated media landscape. As highlighted in Chapter 3, some critics still insi st that not only do videogames, as a whole, cater to our basest emotions and desires, but also that they are incapable of aspiring to the levels of ar tistic and narrative expression that give other narrative media, at their best, a deeper cultu ral purpose and function. Many within the videogame community, includi ng noted videogame scholars, agree with the premise that most of the mass-marketed pr oducts that dominate stor e shelves predictably emphasize entertainment over pushing boundaries of thought and reflection in the way that only art can. However, this is typical of mass entertai nment media in general, a nd as scholars such as Ian Bogost have pointed out, this market-drive n predilection for seemingly purposeless play should not be taken as proof of the inability of vi deogames to be a medium of serious artistic or ideological expression. His most recent book, Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames examines both commercial and non-comme rcial games (which, in general, have 3 Among the many critics of videogames derogatory impact on society as a whole, and children in particular, is attorney Jack Thompson, who has made attacks on videogam es a personal crusade. Such has been his fervor, and the response to that fervor, that despite repeatedly having his lawsuits dismissed as spurious, and facing discipline from the Florida bar for what many cl aim is unethical and unprofessional beha vior, he has managed to make several guest appearances on networks such as Fox News to make his case against videogames (Game Politics). 93


more freedom to emphasize ideas that are not eas y or pleasant for player s to deal with), and makes a compelling case for the power of vi deogames as a medium capable of expressing serious arguments that can profoundly influence players through the use of procedural rhetoric that embodies new persuasive possibilities rooted in videogames ability to put players in rulebased systems that they can interact in and respond to. We will discuss the artistic possibilities of non-commercial narrative-driven games more thoroughly in chapter 6, but for now it is enough to recognize that the medium allows for the expression of ideas as well as the ability to ente rtain, and that we can find evidence of this fact even in the more mainstream, commercial titles that are the emphasis of our analysis. What is most important to remember is that there is nothing inherent in videogames that render them incapable of being profound artistic experiences for players, and th at these experiences are often deeply rooted in narrative. In fact, the narrative r oots of videogames go back far and deep, and examining these roots gives us some indications of how familiar the core aspects that seemingly make videogames unique are to na rrative media in general. As we continue to grapple with the seem ing differences between videogames and other narrative media, one irrefutable truth should remind us of the necessity of studying these connectionsvideogames are incr easingly becoming a part of our cultural literacy, and increasingly have become a part of our inner libr ary through which we filter our readings of all subsequent cultural artifacts. 4 Their influence on our cultural is undeniable, as they not only embody many of the stories we tell ourselves, but al so influence our readings of other stories in other media. This is one reason why recognizi ng and examining the bloodlines that videogames 4 Among the many illuminating ideas presented in Pierre Bayards book How to Talk About Books You Havent Read Bayard writes of the inner library we all carry with us, and which adapts to and informs all of our encounters with new books and people (72-73). For a grow ing percentage of our cultural, this inner library includes videogames. 94


share with other narrative medi a is a worthwhile endeavor. Whether one likes it or not, videogames have become just too culturally signi ficant to dismiss as simply meaningless play. While most commercially released games do aspi re first and foremost to be fun to play and to make money, the medium as a whole has s hown that it is capable of producing works that are also emotionally moving narrative experiences that can have a great impact on players. Furthermore, if we look closely at these intera ctive narrative experiences from a historical perspective, we discover that some of them clos ely resemble their media ancestors, incorporating similar mechanism of control that are vital to influencing player m ovement within an interactive, play-driven environment. In the last chapter, I attemp ted to show how, despite videogames differences from other media, the core elements that are essential to narrative communicati on can still operate in videogames in a form that allows for artistic expression for game makers and profound narrative experiences for players. This chapter aims at further examining what videogames have in common with other narrative media. Here, we w ill trace some of the bloodlines that videogames and other narrative media share. In doing so, I hope to continue to provide evidence of the absurdity of the claim that videog ames, because of the essential feat ures of interactivity and play, are incapable of sustaining profound narrative experiences. As has been emphasized before, the f undamental difference between videogame narratives and narratives in other media is the wa y in which those who engage in the narratives are allowed to participate in its development. Ho wever, while the uniqueness of player activity in videogame narratives is often taken as axiomatic there are many examples in other narrative media that push boundaries of audience participat ion in ways similar to what we find in videogame narratives. Examining how other narra tive media encourage participation in ways 95


typically associated with videogames can help us understand videogame narratives in a new, historically rooted context that challenges th e perception that videogames are unique and thus superior or inferior to other forms of narrative. This is the primary focus of the section titled Interactive Antecedents, which tr aces interactive narrative root s back to oral storytelling. However, despite what turns out to be a long hist ory of interactive narrativ e antecedents, there is another key difference between videogame narrativ es and other types of narratives. Videogames are not only interactive in ways that other types of narrative typica lly are not, but the form of that interaction is very specific and focused. Vide ogames, as the name makes clear, are games. Thus, the type of interaction play ers have with game narratives is playful. But this too is not unique in the history of narrative. In Playful Precursors I will briefly illustrate how other narrative media such as the written word emphasi ze play as fundamental to the transmission of narrative. Interactive Antecedents As we have seen in the preceding chapters, critics of videogame narratives come in all shapes and sizes. From neo-luddite literary critics such as Sven Birkerts who lament the death of the author in the digital age, to film critics such as Roger Ebert who lambaste videogames as low-brow and artless, to ludologists such as Markku Eskelinen who want to treat games as entirely separate from narratives, critics of videogame narratives are a diverse group indeed. However, by and large, they do share a common tr aita lack of historic al perspective. Longfaced literati, snobby supporters of the silver screen, and lonesome ludologists all pass judgment on what they consider a gimmick or a passing fadgames that promise players participatory narrative experiences. But there is nothing new about participator y or interactive narrative; it is as old as storytelling itself. Reader-response critics like Wolfgang Iser have pointed out that the role of the reader has always b een one of interaction with the story, filling in the gaps, making 96


mental images out of words, drawing conclusions and making meaning that transcend the story. Thus, all written narratives are interactive, sin ce the author and reader both contribute to the creation of the narrativewithout the reader, the text would be merely black marks on white pages. 4 However, interaction has, since the beginning of storytelling, operated in what is perceived by critics of videogame narrative to be a more problematic sense of the term. Our oldest narratives were not mass produced, unive rsally received, uncha nging, standard edition written stories, but dynamic oral epics and storie s developed and altered in real-time in response to the expectations and desires of listeners/participants. Giving the notion of interactive narrative the historical perspective it deserves allows us to respond to those critics who say that vide ogame narratives are shallow, artless gimmicks doomed to fall out of favor. It turns out the desi re for audience participat ion is in our narrative DNA, and the silent submission to an absent aut hor is a relatively new phenomenon, spurred by the proliferation of one-w ay media such as print, radio, a nd film. As Jon Samsel and Darryl Wimberly point out in their book Writing for Interactive Media : Only in fairly modern times have audiences been denied the authority to in some way participate in the text. The bedtime story and its antecedents offer a participatory modelit seems likely that in our narrative past we not only tolerated interruptions of our stories, we demanded them. Greek dramas now seen by passive audiences in silent theaters were once religious rites in which audiences, well versed in the narratives performed, did not think of themselves as spectators at all, but as pa rticipants in their ritually told storie s. (Samsel 102) These two traditions of oral storytellingthe bedtime story and the ancient epic drama offer different models for interaction. In the first, the child often interrupts the narrative and adds details and demands shifts in emphasis, an d in the latter, even when the basic narrative 4 In this sense, a book is even more interactive than a movie or videogame, since the reader doing the work of translating the symbols on the page into mental pictures, scenes and characters. 97


framework is well established, audiences par ticipated in the narra tives unfolding, often changing details in the process. Both models of interaction found in the oral tradition are timetested and highly successful. It is not surprising, then, that both share traits with contemporary videogame narratives. In the oral tradition, stories have frequently be en told that either a) have clearly defined plot elements but several plot el ements that can change or be to ld in varying orders and/or b) encourage or at least allow participation on the pa rt of the reader/listene r as the story unfolds. 5 In both cases, the narrative experience can be sa id to allow audience freedoms in ways similar to videogame narratives. And just as we have explored with videogame narratives, these older forms of participatory narratives are successful, because they balan ce these audience interactions and freedoms with some level of authorial control. If we exam ine how these older forms handle this task, we begin to see similarities between th e craft of oral storytelli ng and that of videogame narrative production. As we have seen with even the most open-ended, emergent videogame narratives, within the oral tradition that includes be dtime stories and perhaps the crea tion of stories as divergent as The Epic of Gilgamesh and Alice and Wonderland where listeners could directly influence the way the narrative progressed in ways still rarely s een in new media, there was a certain level of authorial control involved. Particip ants might be able to direct th e story in various ways, explore certain avenues rather than others, change certain microplot 5 developments, or even the outcome 5 Walter Ong expands on the character istics of the oral tradition of st orytelling in his excellent work, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word 5 In her book The End of Booksor Books Without End? Jane Douglas makes a useful distinction between microplot and macroplot. She describes microplot as the dilemmas easily described, pursued, and resolved within the limited time of a single television episode or comic book issue. Conversely, a macroplot extends through many episodes or issues. Interactive narrativ e computer games, which are more timeconsuming than books or films, take a cue from long oral epics and often contain both macroplots and microplots. 98


of the overall story, but this di d not mean then, nor does it mean now, that the author has no control over the story and the message s portrayed in its expression. As I have previously observed, some degree of authorial control is vital to the transmission of narrative. However, in interactive narratives, it is also essential that participants have a sense that their actions are important to the progression of the story. Whether it be a hypertext fiction, a videogame, an augmented rea lity or virtual reality experience, a bedtime story, a theme park ride, or a communally told or performed folktale or drama, an interactive narrative must both give us a sense of agency (d efined by Janet Murray as the satisfying power to take meaningful action and see the results of our decisions and choices) and provide a world in which to immerse ourselves and discover ag ency (Murray 126). And, to be effective, interactive narrative writers and designers must also, in varying degrees, overcome the limits of various media to express conflict that will engage us and to guide us through the participatory experience toward points of closure. Meeting thes e criteria is a daunting task for all interactive storytellers and is especially so for videogame writers and designers who have to deal with technical limitations and user expectations while delivering a pleasurable interactive narrative experience. They accomplish this by naturalizing the limitations of the medium and encouraging players to actively engage in the narrativ e environment that has been established. Such engagement is vital since a videogame narrative can only exist as such if players engage it as such. This engagement requires so me level of freedom and trust be granted to the players by the game creators. While, ultimately, a certain level of authorial control over how a player progresses is necessary, so too is a certain amount of free dom for player digression. Such freedom is what provides partic ipants a feeling of agency es sential to the enjoyment of interactive narrative. At the same time, this freedom must be limited not only to ensure the 99

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eventual progress of the player through the beginning, middle, and end of a story, but for practical reasons as well. As Samsel and Wimber ly point out, for ever y scrap of freedom the reader enjoys in a digital narrative, programme rs and designers sweat hours and thousands of lines of code, and producers, more importantly, sw eat the number of dig its in their outgoings columns (Samsel 164). For this reason, programmers and writers of videogame narratives limit how often and to what extent participants can alter the progression of the macroplot. These limits do have to be naturalized, as we shall see in Chapter 6, but for now we can say that this does not differ from the use of guard-fields in a h ypertext, or from techniques used in the oral tradition that guide listeners/par ticipants along an underlying lin ear narrative, while allowing them the opportunity to digress and explore vari ous avenues along the way, even to the extent that such digression may lead to alternative points of closure deemed suitable by both the storyteller and the participant. To illustrate this, let us turn to Barbara Ha yes-Roths essay Getting into the Story. Here she describes how parents who improvise st ories with their childre n are engaged in what she calls directed improvisation (Hayes-Roth 2 48). The parent has a narrative structure in mind when she begins her story, and throughout its telling directs the events toward points of closure that will provide certain moral messages, a nd yet the specifics of the story are influenced by feedback from the child. The same basic na rrative can be reworked again and again with different specifics provided by the child, and e ach time the story gives the child pleasure and reinforces the moral messages the parent wishes to convey. This is the sort of storytelling experience she imagines gave rise to Lewis Carrolls Alices Adventures in Wonderland Carroll, Hayes-Roth points out, improvised his stories around an act ively participating child (Hayes-Roth 247). Just as is the case wi th videogame narratives, Carroll immersed Alice 100

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Liddell in his narrative by making he r one of the main characters in his story. Alice entered this narrative world by following the Wh ite Rabbit, a character that functions, according to HayesRoth, as a channel for Alices autonomous im provisations along Carroll s intended plotline (247). The White Rabbit is the controlling mech anism used by Carroll to keep Alice moving within Wonderland. The White Rabbit is nece ssary because Carroll, like all good interactive storytellers, allows for, and indeed encourages, di gressions in his work. This is evident in the final print version of his tale, where Alice makes several digressions that take her away from the main plot. Hayes-Roth imagines that Alices desire to explore certain alternative adventures within Wonderland contributed to the types of digressions her character take s in the story. She also sees the character of the Cheshire Ca t as being in the story to enc ourage Alices digressions. The number of times Alice chooses to follow the Ches hire Cat, despite warnings that she should not, indicates to Hayes-Roth Alice s propensity for diversion. However, despite her many forays along alternative paths, Alice, of course, is always led back to the main plot. Carrolls handling of digression is particul arly relevant to cr eators and players of videogame narratives, for, as Bob Hughes points out in Storyspace: From the Path to the Landscape Itself, digressions are the whole poi nt of hypermedia (Hughes 212). When critics of videogames come across evidence of players di verting from the progre ssion of the story in a game, they see this as a weakness of the medium from a narrative perspective, however, as the above example illustrates, such digressions from plot progressi on are not unique to videogames, nor do they necessarily constitute a shortcoming of the medium. If we look for them, we can see these Cheshire Cat elements in videogame narrati ves, encouraging players to occasionally stop and smell the digital roses that took game designe rs so long to create. We can also find White 101

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Rabbit elements that encourage pl ayers to eventually s eek to progress through the story. To get a better feel for how these two time-tested tools of interactive narrative manifest themselves in videogame narratives, we will now examine these el ements in the critically acclaimed adventure game, The Last Express (1997). Digression and Progression in The Last Express The setting of The Last Express is the Orient Express in 1914immediately before the outbreak of World War I. The player assumes th e role of Robert Cath, an American fugitive with a mysterious past who boards the train late and in dramatic fashion, by jumping from a motorcycle being driven by a beautiful young woman as it runs parallel to the train. Cath comes to the train to visit Tyler Whitney, a friend who has summoned him for reasons unknown, only to quickly discover that Tyler has b een killed. The player, as Ca th, assumes Tylers identity, and attempts to find his murderer. But this is not a simple murder mystery. As game play continues, what unfolds is a multi-layered story of international intrigue, love and myth. All the major nationalities involved in World War I are on the train and the complex relationships between them give us some sense of why the war happened. What I just described is not merely the back-story of the game, but the synchronic narrative progression that the pl ayer uncovers both though inte ractive game play and the resulting cut-scenes. While practically ancient by videogame standards, The Last Express still holds up remarkably well as a videogame, because it offers an immersive and engaging first-rate narrative experience complete with complex charact ers, intricate plot developments, suspense, and a poignant resolution of conf lict. One of the ways Jordan Mechner, the director/co-writer, and his team pulled off this feat is through skillful writing and design that incorporates the White Rabbit and Cheshire Cat elements Hayes-Roth identifies as emblematic of the control 102

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mechanisms typical to oral storytelling. To appreciate how this is done in The Last Express, let us examine how players interact with the narrative world of the game. The players interact with the game by cont rolling the protagonist, and move through the navigable game space, piecing together the narrative as they do. Unlike in what most perceive to be a traditional narrative, the participants play an active role in the narrative progression by moving through the game space along one of the restricted trajectories set up by the game designers. The participants, like the child who infl uences the story her parent tells her, must be given the sense that they are actively participa ting in the unfolding of th e narrative and given the sense that their actions and conversations are impo rtant to the progression, or digression, of the plotline. In many ways, The Last Express is a typical adventure game (a genre that we will examine more closely in Chapter 5), and in adventure games, th e primary way players are made to feel that their in game actions matter to the progression of the plot is through puzzles that the players must solve for the game to continue. The puzzles in The Last Express are effective in preserving th e suspension of disbelief necessary for player immersion because they are all appropriate to the progression of the gamenarrative. Some perfectly enjoyable and succe ssful adventure games are poor examples of good videogame narratives, because they do not put the e ffort into relating all of the puzzles in the game to the narrative that drives the game forward. In The Last Express, however, puzzles are always related to the flow of the narrative. Fo r example, players must find out how to get into other passengers cabins, how to find clues im portant to uncovering the truth about Tylers murder, how to find and defuse a bomb on the train, or how and when to engage a terrorist that has taken over the train (Figure 4-1). During the course of play ers exploration of the game space, they may be distracted from their immedi ate goals by diversions such as overhearing other 103

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passengers conversations and acting on what they hear even though such actions dont seem to be related to finding Tylers murderer, or pi cking up a conductors sketch pad and flipping through the sketches, or simply walking about the train, admiring the scenery. These Cheshire Cat elements of the game give the player a sens e of freedom within the game space and provide a richness to the environment that makes the game more immersive. If and when players decide they want to do something to push the main plot forward, they need only to follow the White Rabbits that pop up as clues that tip off particip ants to what they should be doing next. For instance, control might be momentarily taken from the player so that the camera will focus on a particular object to emphasize its importance, or something the player as Cath overhears might overtly direct him to his next goal. Once players decide to follow a White Rabbit, they often are presented with tasks that require effort and at which they might fail. Such effort ensures that play ers are actively engaged in the progress of the story and feel a sense of accomplishment when they succeed at overcoming an obstacle. Such obstacles, ideally, are da unting enough to provide a sense of accomplishment for players, but still surmountable. To further ensure that players can and will progress through the story, multiple opportunities are often given to co mplete a task essential to the progression of the plot. It is as if the White Rabbit is waiting patiently for the player to succeed so that the player can continue to follow it. 6 The various trajectories players can follo w through the game space and through the narrative give the players a real sense that they are deciding how the narrative unfolds. However, the paths that the player may follow through th e game are not unlimited, of course. Certain 6 This metaphor becomes literal in American McGees Alice, when a nightmare version of the White Rabbit often guides the player forward and often stops and waits for players to overcome adversaries, successfully make dangerous jumps, or solve a puzzle. One might ask why I did not use Alice as my primary example for this section, but the connection is so literal with that game, that I fear ed the metaphor would be dismissed as too narrow to be applied to videogame narratives in general. 104

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restrictions must be put into place to ensure the progression of the narrative. A great deal of consideration must go into how players will inte rface with the game, and in what order they can access elements in the database or else the expe rience will not be a narrative, and the player seeking a narrative experience would become fr ustrated by unfulfilled expectations. As Lev Manovich says in his book The Language of New Media, but merely to creat e these trajectories is of course not sufficient; the author also has to control the semantics of the elements and the logic of their connection so that the resulti ng object will meet the criteria of narrative (Manovich 228). This is a daunting task for game designers a nd writers, but as we have seen, it is not without precedent. Oral storytellers like Lewis Carroll had to balance digression and exploration with plot progression. Carroll allowed Alice to digr ess without penalty w ithin the world of Wonderland by following the Cheshire Cat, but when her interaction with this character took her too far astray, Carroll would reintroduce the Wh ite Rabbit to remind her that she had someplace to go. Likewise, in The Last Express the player is allowed to di gress and explore in the gameworld but is brought back to the main story by the forward motion of the train and the moving hands of the clock. The player is forced to re turn to the needs of th e adventure through these conceits of the unalterable progression of space and time. The game occurs in real time but at a leisur ely pace: players cannot stray too far or they will miss key opportunities to progress the plot, but time is allotted for partic ipants to explore the train and the many well-developed characters on it. Much as the Cheshire Cat tempted Alice, so too do the characters in The Last Express tempt participants to sidetrack themselves from the main plot and explore the many subplots and intrigues available in this rich narrative environment. The same characters also often act as White Rabbits. If the player is lost or 105

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sidetracked, speaking with characters and overh earing conversations wi ll provide clues about how to get back on track. Playful Precursors As we have just established, pa rticipatory or interactive narra tive is as old as storytelling itself. While its popularity briefly waned duri ng a period of dominance of one-way media such as print, radio, and film, the in teractivity that comput ers allow has brought pa rticipatory narrative back as a commercially viable mass market product in the form of videogames, and as we shall see in Chapter 6, has shaped our expectations of narrative in all media. For now, let us just remind ourselves that given the evidence to whic h we have already alluded, it is clear that participation can be and has been a common featur e of narrative. While this evidence undercuts one of the major criticisms of videogame narrative, there remains the more specific compatibility issue of combining narratives with games. To show that this too is a criticism lacking historical perspective, we could once again return to the work of Lewis Ca rroll, as he structured many of his works around games, and both plays with his read ers and encourages his readers to play with his texts as if they were literary games. Howe ver, such a move might suggest that only a small percentage of literary texts are playful, when in fact, I will argue that many of them encourage not only play, but the rule-bas ed play inherent in games. 7 The sort of games that writers and readers play depends on the type of literature the writers produce and the expectations that readers br ing to the texts. In the next chapter, we will examine how popular genre fiction may be understood as a type of game that writers and players play, and look at how these sorts of games in fluence the development of the majority of 7 This work seeks only to indicate cursory connections between the sorts of play found in print literature and the sorts of play found in videogame narratives. For a more thorough exploration of the playful aspects of literature, an excellent resource is Warren Mottes From Playtexts: Ludics in Contempory Literature In it, Motte states my first axiom is that play is an essential, non-neglible dimension of literature (27). The same axiom informs this discussion, and forms a key link between videogame narratives and print literature. 106

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videogame narratives. In this section, however, we will focus on the types of games we engage in while reading literature in the most unconteste d sense of the word. We will focus on the type of literary game initiated by a writer that is accessible enough to garner the sometimes derogatory description of popular, but who is regarded highly enough for his craft and creativity to still maintain ivory-tower credibility. Umberto Eco is a well-regarded postmodern au thor and theorist who has articulated a sentiment that many noted authors (especially post modern authors) have expressedthat the acts of creating and reading narratives is often playful. 8 In his Postscript to his novel The Name of the Rose a postmodern detective story set in a medieval abbey, he puts forth many ideas about his understanding of the writing process, and the various relationships that exists between writers, their texts, and readers. Much of what he says about the way he writes and what he expects from his readers is appl icable to videogame narratives. Ecos explanation of the roles of writers and readers is very similar to the roles often played by game designers and game pl ayers. It is clear in his Postscr ipt that he sees his text as a game, and he sees his ideal readers as people w ho are willing to play his game with him. He says of his ideal reader: What model reader did I want as I was writing? An accomplice, to be sure, one who would play my game (524). That a videogame narrative is not just a game that players play by themselves or with other gamers, but also a game that players play with the game makers is an obvious, if underdeveloped idea. As has been established before, videogame makers put a great deal of effort into creati ng a world governed by rules in which players can 8 Because the postmodern move ment purposefully play s with the concept of definitions, it is of little surprise that so many have attempted to define postmodern literature without much success at achie ving a clear consensus. Attempting to define this term is outside the bounds of this work; however, one of the key characteristics often identified with postmodernism is its playful and often ironi c reworking and rethinking of modernist conventions. Since Eco himself is one of the postmodern theorists who has put forth this characteristic, it should come as no surprise that Ecos work certainly does fit this descriptio n of postmodern literature, as it often self-reflexively plays with popular genre conventions, and thus audience expectations. 107

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explore and progress. To a large extent, the succe ss of players is based on their ability to figure out how the game world created by the game de signers works, and how to progress through the game space, overcoming obstacles within the rules dictated by the game. Likewise, for Eco, his readers are playing a game of his devising, and must figure out how to navigate his text if they are to succeed in making it through the work, and figuring out some of its meanings. For Eco, his novels are games in which he and th e player are not equal, as they would be if they were engaging in a game w ith a pre-established set of rules (which, as we shall see, is an apt description of popular genre fiction). The sort of game Eco wants to play is one that he creates and which the readers must figure out how to play as they go along. He wishes to create a reading experience that is not simply an enactment of well-worn conventions and formulas, but instead plays with these conven tions, creates new ways of reading, and challenges readers to learn and adapt to the text in ways they ma y not be used to. He distinguishes between experimental fiction such as the sort he is trying to create, and fiction that strictly follows preestablished rote formulas: If there is a difference, it lies between the text that seeks to produce a new reader and the text that tr ies to fulfill the wishes of the readers already to be found on the street (523). The first kind of writing is simply te lling the same story that has been told before, the one that the public was already asking for. The second type tries to create a new audience and seeks to reveal [to it] what it should want, even if it does not know it (523). I will argue in the next chapter that the division between e xperimental literature and popular, formulaic literature is often not as clear cut as this, and that there is artistic merit, sometimes, in following (for the most part) literary conventions and fulfilling audience expectations rather than emphasizing innovation. However, for now Ecos emphasis on pushing boundaries, and 108

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pushing readers in the process, fits our purpose of establishing that literature in its most admired forms can also be understood as a game between writers and readers. 9 The game that Eco proposes, just like any game, requires a game space, a world within the magic circle of play in which readers can ex plore. In describing the creation of his novel, Eco emphasizes world creation over linguistic techni que: to tell a story, you must first of all construct a world, furnished as much as possible, down to the slightest details (512). This emphasis parallels that of game designers who mu st construct the world of a game before doing anything else. Like a game designer, Eco spen t a significant amount of his time constructing his world: the first year of work on my novel, says Eco, was devot ed to the construction of the world (513). Such effort is necessary if one takes seriously the notion, as Eco does, that a literary work is a space that readers move throug h. Eco emphasizes this point in two main ways in The Name of the Rose First, by choosing to make his novel ostensibly a detective story (although one in which very little is discovered, and the detectiv e is defeated), he not only creates a set of audience e xpectations that he can playfully unde rmine, but he also lets his readers know that his novel is meant to be a space of conjecture (525). Detective stories invite readers to jump ahead, to try to figu re out who is guilty, and what motivated the crimes. Eco says that he wanted to write his novel as a detective novel because he wanted to emphasize that readers sh ould try to figure out the logic of his world. He says of this choice: the crime novel represen ts a kind of conjectureyou have to conjecture that all the 9 It should be noted here, even though this is a concept we will return to again in Chapter 5 and in Chapter 6, that the esteem with which literary and film critics hold literary te xts and films that break free from formulas and genre conventions is arguably even more fanatical among videogam e critics and reviewers. In fact, it is very rare for a game to score exceptionally well if it does not in some way push the boundaries of its genre, or better yet, shattered perceptions about what is possible in its genre. One of the most frequent criticisms levied by game reviews is youve played this before, and one of the most powerful wo rds of praise used in game criticism is that a game is innovative. To an extent, this can be explained by the amount of time players play games, and the amount of money they spend on them. After spending $50-60 on a single game, and playing that game for 100 hours or more, many gamers do long for something new. 109

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events have a logic, the logic that the guilty pa rty has imposed on them (525). This process of conjecture involves readers trying to anticipate the movement of th e story, urges them to jump ahead to try to anticipate who-dun-it and asks them to think back to earlier parts of the text to look for clues to piece together the solution to the puzzle before it is revealed to them. The objective of this game for writers is to try to encourage this behavior with clues and false avenues toward potential solution, but keep readers interested by suggesting new possibilities, and making them continue to wonder what the ultim ate conclusion will be. Just as participatory narrative is a balancing act betw een digression and progression, so is the detective story is a balancing act between encouragi ng temporal and spatial leaps through the text, and conjecture about possible outcomes, and making sure that readers eventually come back to the now of their readings, and continue on to the ultimate conclusion on the text. Ec o sees this balancing act as a game that he and his readers play, and while he wa nts to maintain control of this game, he also says that he wanted the reader to enjoy himself, at least as mu ch as I was enjoying myself.the reader was to be diverted, but not di-v erted, distracted from problems. (526). The second way that Eco reinforces his em phasis on reader movement through the space of the text is by putting at the heart of the story a Mannerist Maze, a labyrinth in a library that the detective protagonist, William, mu st move through to discover th e truth about the murders at the abbey, and what motivated them. Of course, his readers move with William through this labyrinth, but this is merely a mise-en-abyme for the work as a whole, which Eco puts forth is also a labyrinth. As already established, Eco wanted to create a space of conjecture, and according to him, an abstract model of conjecturalit y is a labyrinth (525). Eco identifies three types of labyrinths of progressi ng complexity: the Classical Greek maze with no dead ends that is like a string when unwound, the Mannerist Maze, which when unraveled is more like a tree, 110

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with roots, and many branching paths, and whic h represents a model of trial and error, and finally, the most complicated maze of all, what Deleuze and Guattari call a rhizome space. Eco says of the rhizome: the rhizome is so c onstructed that every path can be connected with every other one. It has no center, no periphery, no exit, because it is potentially infinite. The space of conjecture is a rhizome space. (525-26). He says that the labyrinth of the library in the novel is mannerist, but the world of the nove l is a rhizome space (526). It is a story, ostensibly structured as a dete ctive novel; however, this basic st ory ramifies into so many other stories, all stories of other conj ectures, all linked with the struct ure of conjecture as such (525). So, for Eco, The Name of the Rose represents an attempt at crea ting a rhizome spacea space of infinite possibility and play for readers to explore through their read ings of his work. In this sense, Eco is echoing the work of many other playful writers such as Julio Cortzar who, with his text Hopscotch, suggests to readers many different reading paths, all of which bring forth different meanings. Many other examples of playful literature exit, and some of those are examined in Warren Motte s study of ludics in literature From Playtexts: Ludics in Contempory Literature As Motte illustrates, many authors take an equally playful approach to writing, but propose a completely different game space, with completely different rules, and completely different roles for authors and readers for the playing of these games. One of the primary reasons why I chose Eco as an example of l udics in literature is that, like many critics of videogame narratives, authorial control is essential to Eco, and highlighted in the rules he sets up for his game in The Name of the Rose As Motte says of Eco, For Eco, the writer elaborates and controls the gamewhile the reader is encouraged to play the text the writer in effect plays the reader (184). 111

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What we shall see when we examine the sorts of games writers and readers play in popular genre fiction is that in su ch works, the playing field is mo re level, and writers must adapt to readers as much as readers must adapt to wr iters, as the game is as much determined by the pre-established conventions of the genre as they are by the specific game designers of a particular game. Eco wants to give the illusion of a familiar world to his readers by calling it a detective novel, but what he really wants to do is create a new space for his readers. He does this by undermining the expectations of his readers by flouting many of the conventions of detective fiction. This is rare in videogames, but not unheard of, and in a moment we will get to an example of a videogame that parallels the sort of ga me that Eco is trying to play with his readers. However, one final point about w hy it is rare is important to our examination of the connection between playful literature and videogame narratives. Videogames are in some ways closer to novels than much of television and film. All of these media are highly focused on world creation, but in novels, as in videogames, significant effort is required to enter this imaginary space. As Umberto Eco tells us in his Postscript to The Name of the Rose a novel is first and foremost a wo rld, and entering this world requires effort. Much to the chagrin of his editors, Eco purposely made the first hundred pages of his novel difficult and demanding, because he insisted that if a reader wants to enter the world of his novel, the reader will have to accept its pace. The novel thus teach es the reader the ideal rhythm of reading it requires. Eco compares entering a n ovel to climbing a mounta in, saying that readers must learn the rhythm of respiration, acquire the pace; otherwise you stop right away (520). In short, there is a learning curve involved, and if readers do not get past it, they will never gain entry into the novel. Similarly, if players do not learn the patterns of a videogame, they will never fall into the flow of the game; they will never be fully in its world. If this happens on a 112

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large scale, many players are likely to become frustrated with playing and give up. They may sell the game quickly, hurting new game sales by putting used copies on the market, and they may tell their friends that the game is too difficult to get into and not worth the effort. For this reason, most games are very careful to balance that which is new and innovative in the game with established conventi ons of play and story. However, there are games, like Ecos novel, th at seem to be giving players what they want, when in fact, what they ar e really doing is trying to shape players into wanting what they give them. While it is a dangerous game for game designers to play from a financial standpoint, when it works, the results are videogame narratives that prove that the medium is capable of not only entertaining players, but shaping them as Eco attempts to do with his work. As we shall see, this is not the only model of play in literature that parallels the sorts of play we can find between videogame designers and players, nor is it even the dominate model. However, the way that Eco insists on creating a new world for his readers, and require s them to adapt to this world slowly so that it isnt until they are deep within th e logic of the text that they figure out that they are not in a simple, linear narrative, but a rhizome space rife with conjectural possibilities, is an excellent model with which to compare some of the most innovative and profound videogame narratives. One of those games, and the one that we will examine now, is the critically acclaimed and hauntingly beautiful game for the Playstation 2, Shadow of the Colossus (2005). 10 10 It is not by accident that Sony called the CPU in the Playstation 2 the Emotion Engine. As a game console maker and as a game publisher, Sony has always had artistic and narrative aspirations for videogames. This philosophy toward videogames is what allowed Shadow of the Colossus to be made. Lead designer Fumito Ueda gained tremendous critical acclaim, but no co mmercial success with his earlier game Ico (2001). Despite the economic failure of Ico, Sony executives believed in the artistic merit of Ico, green lighting Ueda to try his hand again as something new and challenging to players, and he delivered with what he calls the spiritual successor and prequel to Ico Despite it being just as new to players as Ico was, this time Sony Computer Entertainment put forth significant advertising money to push the game. The result is that Shadow of the Colossus became not only a critical success, but also a popular title, achieving Greatest Hits status in A ugust of 2006 for Sony, meaning that it had sold at least 250, 000 copies in the U.S in less than a year. 113

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Creating a New Player in Shadow of the Colossus Right from the start of the game, players realize that Shadow of the Colossus is not a typical action-adventure game. When it was firs t released, television commercials for the game gave the indication that it would be an actio n-packed sequence of battles with fantastically enormous creatures. The game does eventually deliver on this promise. However, the game opens with a long, slow moving, cinematic seque nce (about 15 minutes long) in which not a word is spoken for the first seven minutes, and significant portions of the game that follows involves long, solitary wandering. During this time, players are impressed by the beauty of the landscape and of the musical score, and given a sense of scale for th e land that they have entered and continue to travel through. The first exposure to this landscape comes in that opening cinematic, where we discover that the land is accessible onl y by an extremely long bridge, which a seemingly lone figure slowly crosses on his horse. This bridge leads to a temple into which this figure goes, down a long spiral staircase to a shrine. There, th e character dismounts his horse, and removes what appeared to be just a blanket. In removing the blanket, a limp body of a woman is revealed, whom the main character places on an altar. Here, finally, a narration begins, in a language created just for the game (it is subtitled in English), which Ueda describes as sounding like a Romanization of Japanese (Bettenhausen 1) The narration is by a wooden totem that materializes from a mist, which we later discover is Lord Emon. He introduces us to on origin myth of light and dark, and speak s of an ancient being who can re surrect the dead, but resides in a Forbidden Land. This nameless character (whos e ironic name, Wander, we only find in the credits) has come to the Forbidden Land to find this being and have it resurrect the woman he brought (again, named only in the credits as Mono ). After the player is told this, Lord Emon 114

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fades and the camera pans out to reveal shadow crea tures rise from stone floor to attack Wander. Wander quickly vanquishes them all by simply holding up a magic sword of light. This feat prompts the disembodied voice of Dormin to speak, commenting on the swords power. Wander asks the voice from the sky if he is in fact the Dormin of legend who can control souls and resurrect his slain companion. Dormin tells hi m that he can resurrect the woman, but Wander must first travel the Forbidden Land seeking out the Colossi, which we later discover contain parts of Dormins spirit, and destroy them. Only the sword of light can find and defeat these creatures. Its light guides the player to the mammoth creature lik e a beacon when it is held up to the sun, and it is the only weapon that can defeat the Colossi. Wander is warned that if he completes this task, he will pay a heavy price, but he does not care, and neither does the players that know that the game require s them to defeat the Colossi. What the players do not yet realize, however is how lonely the journey will be. The game is missing much of what most gamers have come to expect from an action-adventure game. It has no towns, cities, or dungeons for players to explore, or non-player characters for the players to interact with as the game progresses, and no hordes of minor enemies to defeat as the player moves from climatic boss battle to climatic boss battle. It cuts out all of that, leaving just the players avatar, Wander, his tr usty horse, Argo, and the 16 Colossi that he must battle in the game. The entire experience is stripped of most of the conceits typical to the genre, leaving only the barest of narrative skelet ons, and beyond the opening cinema tic, virtually no dialogue to progress the story (Figure 4-2). The story doesnt need dialogue to progress, though. Almost all of the emotion of the narrative, all of its mean ing, is expressed in the wordless interactions the player has with the game world (a feat critics such as Steven Poole claim is not possible). Players know what they must dothey must defeat the Colossi to save Mono. What these acts 115

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mean slowly reveal themselves, victory after vi ctory, hour after hour, until players realize that they are being affected by thei r actions is surprising ways. Players are compelled forward on this unusua l journey by their desire to solve the narrative and game play puzzles they are pres ented. Although players know little about Mono, or why Wander wants to save her so desperatel y, players are motivated to find out more about the story by the passion they see in Wander that c ontinues to drive him and them deeper into the game. They want to know more about Mono, an d why she is important to Wander, and what will happen when all of the Colossi are defeated. They are also driven by the challenge of defeating the Colossi. Each represents a puzzle that must be figured out. Each has unique weaknesses that must be exploited for the player to be able to defeat them, and these weaknesses become increasingly difficult to find a nd exploit as the game progresses. Just when players believe they have the Colo ssi figured out, just wh en they believe they have discovered a pattern, the game surprises them, and insists that they take nothing for granted. For instance, the first couple of Colossi have their weak point on their heads; however, this changes as the game goes on. Players may begin to think that each Colossi will be larger than the last, but just as they do, th ey are faced with a smaller, more nimble adversary. Players quickly learn that they must use their environment to defeat the Colossi, but then they are faced with an environment that works against them and is not an aide at all in th eir efforts. In short, the game keeps players guessing, on their toes, and the one constant lesson players learn is that they must continue to adapt, because there is no easily derived pattern to follow, and when they think they have figured out the game, they realize they havent figured it out at all. The ever-changing patterns of Shadow of the Colossus is unusual for a videogame. The pleasure of playing many videogames is to a larg e extent derived from players figuring out its 116

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patterns, its rhythms, its rules, and becoming better at the game because of this knowledge. One can play Ms. Pac-Man for instance, without realizing th at each of the ghosts has its own personalityits own pattern of movement of pursuit and retr eatbut playing it well requires such a realization. If a player doe s not learn these patterns, the play er will not be able to continue deep into the game. However, once they learn this pa ttern, they are able to apply it throughout the game. Here, however, players cannot get comfor table, they cannot get lost into a flow, and while the challenge represented by each Colossi is exhilarating, the overall affect of not being able to derive an overall pattern that will ensure success creates an underlining feeling of unease. Instead, of falling into a rote pattern, like a machine, players are continually asked to think about what they are doing. Eventually, players begin to see the Colossi, and themselves, differently, and begin to wonder if they are the hero of this story, or the villain. Another aspect of the game that makes players think about what they are doing is the increased amount of time they must spend looki ng for the Colossi, as they become increasingly difficult to find. While the light from the magi c sword guides players, they soon discover that the light can be imprecise, bent from mountains, and lead them down false paths. Each journey from the center of the game space, the altar to which Wander and players return after each battle, becomes increasingly complicated, requiring player s to frequently turn, back track, find hidden paths, and traverse difficult terr ain. What begins as simple rides on Argo, become difficult and long journeys during which Argo must sometim es be left behind, leaving only Wander, completely alone to find the Colossi, and face th em. In short, what begins as a Classic Greek maze in reverse, with the player beginning in the center and following a path that obviously and easily leads to the first Colossus, transitions to increasingly complicated Mannerist Mazes, rife with false trails and dead ends. They eventually can only lead to the one right destinationthe 117

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next puzzle that the player must figure out, the ne xt Colossus that the play er must figure out how to defeatbut the journey become s frequently frustrating, and the player is left feeling as though he is lost in a labyrinth. I had to resort several times as the game progressed to a game guide to aid me in traversing the increasingly labyrinthin e paths in the seemingly open landscape of the game and to figure out how to defeat the increasi ngly difficult adversaries that I had to face when ultimately reaching my destination. And after each victory, Wander is returned to the center, to the altar to start again so that from the seemi ngly expansive, open landscape, players begin to recognize an ever more extensive labyrinth stretchi ng from all sides from the temple to which he returns again and again, like Sisyphus rolling his rock. Players are placed in a space in which they mu st continually try to figure out what they are doing and why, a game space that becomes in creasingly difficult to traverse, where each Colossi becomes more difficult to find and def eat, and they are left wondering, with everincreasing anxiety, where their efforts will lead th em. The first indication that something is not normal about Wanders victories is that after eac h victory, the essence of the Colossi enters Wander, pierces him like a sword, knocking him out. He wakes up back at the temple each time, his grip and stamina increased making him stronger for his next fight, but the player begins to notice that his appearance changeshe becomes paler, more haggard, and more ominous. What is at one level an exhilarating feeling of acco mplishment for defeating such a massive and difficult adversary increasingly becomes tempered by a feeling of guilt that is noted by many players on message boards. In his essay Story Mechanics as Game Mechanics in Shadow of the Colossus Ben Sherman discusses this guilt: The reason this occurs is as simple as having the player do something that is morally reprehensible. The knee-jerk reaction would be to bring up Grand Theft Auto This is a game where, out of the box, the player could murder a score of prostitutes. This doesn't cause nearly as much cognitive dissonance as taking 118

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down the fifth, bird-like colossus. This colossus does not immediately attack you. You must get its attention by shooting it and only then does it fly down to get rid of youIn the story line, this is wher e the player learns that not all colossi will attack. Sometimes the player must instigate the battle. In Grand Theft Auto there is no emotional set up for the homicide. It appears as simply a mechanic. In Shadow of the Colossus it unfolds as a story wo uld, but the hand of the protagonist is synonymous with the hand of the player, so th e protagonists guilt becomes the players guilt. This guilt, which may be still ambivalent at this point for many playersafter all, the players are just doing what is expected of th em to progress in the storybecomes far more tangible when, late in the game, Wander, and by extension the player, seemingly cause the death of their only companion in the game, Argo. In th e lonely landscape of the game, most players become surprisingly attached to Argo, a beauti fully rendered, life-like horse without whom the player could not have advanced in the game. The long, lonely paths through the game would be unbearably long without Argo, and many of the ba ttles with the Colossi would be impossible without him. So at a late point in the game, after the players have spent many hours with Argo and have become used to him not only as a game-play mechanic, but as a companion through a beautiful, but desolate world, when Argo seems he sitant to cross a bri dge, the player thinks nothing of it, knowing that to continue in the ga me, the bridge must be crossed. But when the bridge begins to collapse, and it seems as though both rider and horse will fall to their death, and Argo, sensing this flings Wander forward to safety while falling to what seems to be his own death, the player feels a significant sense of loss. For some, this is a moment in the game when they realize, for the firs t time, that what they thought was a game in which they were playing a hero, Wander, seeking to save the soul of his fa llen love, Mono, turns out to be a game driven by Wanders and the players obsession to continue no matter what. First, the player is asked to kill Colossi, bi g brooding things made of rock and dirt and fur that hardly seem like living creatures. Gra dually, these creatures become more complicated, 119

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appear more beautiful, and some act less aggressive, not attacking or even running from a fight. But still the player is required to kill them, and the player con tinues on, as obsessed as Wander is to finish what has been started, and to save Mon o. Then, they player is made to force his only companion, Argo, onto a bridge which collapses, and Argo saves Wander even though Wander is the one who brought Argo to his fate. The emotiona l experience of the game totally changes, and many players realize that as they are playi ng the game, they are being played by it. If The Name of the Rose is a detective novel in which very little is discovered, and the detective is defeated, Shadow of the Colossus is an action-adventure ga me with more traveling than action, and one in which the player turns out to be as much of a villain as a hero. Both Eco and Ueda wanted to play with their audiences expectations, and put fort h a space of conjecture, an infinite space of possibility, a rhizome space. Ec o says of his novel that the labyrinth of the library in the novel is mannerist, but the world of the novel is a rhizome space (526). Likewise, in an interview about his game, Ueda says a bout his mysterious ending, which involves the revival of Mono, but the dual death of Wander and Dormin at the hands of Lord Emon, and their seeming rebirth in the form of a baby boy on the alter where Mono was revived: The essential goal of the ending was to leave it slightly vague, but also to imply a never-ending story that will be left up to the individual gamers imagination. Ye s, that was quite deliberate [in order] to keep the gamer guessing. At the end of the game, players are indeed kept guessing, as evidenced by the hundreds of fan sites and game forums that speculate abou t the meaning of the events in the game, and discuss what impact playing the game had on them What begins as a seemingly simple quest, typical of action-adventure gamesdestroy the enemy to save the girlends up as a complicated story of obsession and unintended c onsequences. What begins as an open world 120

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turns into a labyrinth of increasing complexity, until, one could argue, the space of the game, like the space of Ecos novel, has become a rhizome space, in which players are left to continually conjecture about the nature of the game and their actions in it. These structural connections between The Name of the Rose and Shadow of the Colossus are meant only to suggest that the sort of game s authors sometimes play with their readers are very much like the sorts of games game designers sometimes play with their players. As I have emphasized before, at the heart of these relati onships is the issue of controlhow does an author or game designer control their audience s experiences, and how much control do they want to give to their audiences? Both Eco and Ue da want to make their audiences think that they know how the stories they are in will unfold, but undermine t hose expectations to create a new space of conjecture for their audience to be in. Bu t as we shall see in our next chapter, flouting audience expectations is not th e only way to emotionally impact them, and profound narrative experiences can emerge from videogames that by and large follow established formulas. In fact, in some ways, players can immerse themselves em otionally more readily in game narratives that align game play conventions with narrative conventions. Figure 4-1. The Last Express: Cath is in a knife fight (1997). 121

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Figure 4-2. Wander with his only companion, his horse Argo in The Shadow of Colossus (2005). 122

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CHAPTER 5 GENRE AND FORMULA IN VIDEOGAME NARRATIVES Convention and Invention in Videogame Narratives It should be clear by now that while much ha s been made of the seemingly problematic integration of stories and games, the assertion that they are incompatible elements within videogames has been much ado about nothing. There are difficulties in creating successful participatory narratives, but doing so is possible and fulfills the desires of an audience who want, in addition to the narrative experiences we find in books, comics, television and movies, the more participatory, playful experiences found in videogame narratives. As we have come to understand, one of the primary ways in which vi deogame narrative designers overcome some of the inherent tensions that can exist between creating the most pleasurable game possible and creating the most pleasurable story possible is to overlay, as be st they can, narrative and game structures. In Chapter 4, we examined some of the ways that narrative and game structures can be harmonized. We looked at how videogames borro w techniques from the oral traditions of storytelling to maintain authorial control while gi ving players degrees of c ontrol as well, and we looked at how a videogame can provide a narrative and play experience that is unexpected and profoundly moving in ways similar to what we fi nd with inventive, postm odern fiction. In doing so, I hope I have countered some of the criticis m that videogames have received regarding the limitations of the mediums narrative potentials. Ho wever, now that it has been established that inventive, player-changing inter active narrative experiences are possible in the medium of the videogame, I will now attempt to show that vide ogame narratives are also capable of being both largely generic and formulaic, and still be equally pleasurable and meaningful. In fact, as we shall see, combining the structures of generic ga me-play with those of literary formulas is an 123

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effective way to harmonize the sometimes compe ting demands of telling a compelling story and creating an enjoyable game. To critics of videogame narratives, it may s eem like an I told you so moment to have conceded that videogame narra tives are typically hi ghly generic, formulaic, and governed by well-established game-play and li terary conventions. In fact, to most people, these terms generic, formulaic, conventionalare wholly der ogatory and used only as insults for the worst kind of popular culture trash entertainment. Howeve r, not everyone subscribes to this notion. In fact, one popular cultu re scholar, John G. Cawelti, has gone so far as to attribute significant value to popular genre and formula conventions. Cawelti proposes that all works of art, and indeed, all cultural products, contain a mixture of two kinds of elements: co nventions and inve ntions (Cawelti: Concept 732). Inventions are elements of a work that break new ground, such as new types of characters and ideas. In Chapter 4, we saw that Eco wanted to create a new kind of literature for a new kind of reader with his novel The Name of the Rose However, in doing so, he had to rely on welldefined literary-generic conventions. Cawelti defi nes conventions as those elements of a work that creators and their audience know beforehandelements such as beloved plots, stereotyped characters, and culturally accepted ideas (732). Readers of The Name of the Rose understand that the novel is inventive only because they sh are with Eco an understanding of the conventions he is playing with. His novel is proposed as a murder mystery, with recognizable conventions of the genre such as a confined setting, a classic, rational but eccentric det ective, and a cast of the usual suspects and motives. That the novel is discovered to be much more complicated and surprising to readers shifts it away from empha sizing convention toward emphasizing invention; 124

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however, again, this inventivene ss and newness is built on a foundation of well-worn, universally understood literary elements common to the detective story genre. If we examine the history of narrative in al l cultures, Cawelti sugge sts, we discover that until recently, balancing convention and invention wa s typical and expected. However, the rapid cultural changes that characte rize the twentieth and twenty-f irst centuries have led the intellectual elite who thrive on knowing new things that help them understand an ever-changing world in new ways to preference invention over conve ntion. In literature, this manifested in the admiration of radically inventive works such as James Joyces novel Finnegans Wake (1939), Samuel Becketts play Waiting for Godot (1953), and T.S. Eliots poem The Waste Land (1922). Today, such radically inventive and challenging works, which respond to the increasingly rapid cultural changes that precipitate their produc tion, are held up as th e epitomes of literary accomplishment. Yet even in these ever-changing times (and perhaps even more so because of them), most literature enjoyed by most readers today is still highly conventional and formulaic (733). Cawelti suggests that there is a reason for the continued enjoyment of conventions in literature and in life. He states that both conventions and inventions se rve different, but equally crucial cultural functions: Conventions represent familiar shared images and meanings and they assert an ongoing continuity of values; inventions c onfront us with a new perception or meaning which we have not realized beforeConventions help maintain a cultures stability while inventions help it respond to changing circumstances and provide new information about the world. (732) Thus, while inventions are what drive the rapid cultural and technical development that has taken place throughout human history, conventions keep societies (and readers) grounded, connected and comforted in the face of these changes. Therefore, a balance between invention and 125

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convention is vital to the well-be ing of a society, and the success of a literary work; invention and convention fulfill basics aspects of humans need for novel forms of order. On the one hand, people crave newness, challenges, and change; people crave danger, excitement, and unpredictability. On the othe r hand, people also crave stability, reliability, comfort, safety and security. Trying to bala nce these opposed traits is one of the oldest challenges of storytellers and game-makers alike. People enjoy hearing new stories and playing new games, but they also return, again and agai n to old stories and old games that they have experienced hundreds of times before. When c ontent creators wish to attempt to give us something new, most of the time it is best to ground it, at least at some level, in something familiar. Likewise, when conten t creators wish to reach an audi ence with a well-worn story or a recognizable game, it is often most effective if at least something is new and fresh about the product. With videogame narratives, the precarious balancing act between convention and invention occurs at multiple levels, and often resu lts in failure. This is a primary cause of the risk-adverse nature of the commercial aspect of gaming, and the ubiquity of highly generic and formulaic videogames. Audiences clamor for i nvention and innovation, but very often choose to buy games that are like games that have played before. Inventive and innovative games are praised by critics and devoted fans but like their literary counterparts, these games tend to suffer in sales. The vast majority of gamers end up buying the latest generic shooter, racing, and sports games over critically-acclaimed games that push the boundaries of genre and eschew established formulas. It is no surprise, then, that videogame publishers are wary of inventiveness in practice even though they tout it in the rhetoric of thei r advertisements. They understand that players are attracted to promises of revolutionary changes in game-play, but in practice prefer comfortable 126

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formulas that are immediately r ecognizable and do not require a steep learning curve. For this reason, far more innovation occurs in videogame s than actual invention, and with a few trailblazing exceptions, most succes sful videogame narratives strictly follow narrative and gameplay conventions. It may seem ironic that a medium so f undamentally tied to rapid technological advancement, and so steeped in the rhetoric of moremore visual detail, more immersion, and more interactive freedomwould be so dominated by slow-changing formulas and conventions. However, as we shall see, maintaining a balance between inven tion and convention in videogame narratives often nece ssitates the use of either c onventional, generic game-play elements to balance out challengi ng, inventive narrative, or more often, conventional, formulaic narrative elements to balance out challenging, inventive game-pla y. There is no better example of this than one of the most inventive videogame makers of all time, Shigeru Miyamoto. Miyamoto has been the driving creative force behind some of the most popular and enduring Nintendo game franchises for nearly three d ecades (i.e. the Donkey Kong, Mario, Zelda, Star Fox, and Pikmin games). He is a true videogame pioneer who has invented or reinvented entire genres of play, and he was also a major creativ e force behind the design of the Nintendo DS and Wii, which offer new, yet remarkably intuitive and familiar ways for players to interface with videogames. 1 Miyamoto has, in short, for decades invented conventions that hundreds of other game designers follow when creating their games. 1 Miyamotos Super Mario Bros. (1985) for the NES redefined player expectations for side scrolling platform games, and Super Mario 64 (1996) for the Nintendo 64 introduced movement through three-dimensional space into gaming, yet both games were also immediately playable, becau se they were as familiar as they were new, building on conventions of platform gaming and adding new elements onto that foundation. Likewise, the Nintendo DS, derided as a gimmick by early critics, took the intuitive touch-based interface of PDAs an d used that as a basis for game-play. Similarly, the Wiis radi cal new control scheme builds on the familiar television remote control and combines that with the functionality of the computer mouse. 127

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Yet for all of his inventiveness in terms of game-play, Miyamoto always makes sure to ground his games in something that will be familia r and comforting to players. He tries to minimize learning curves by making game-play as intuitive as possible, a nd he tries to create simple, endearing characters that players can id entify with, and immersive worlds that players can explore. His games are also known for thei r simple, fairytale-like narratives that most players consciously or unconsci ously recognize as embodying universal archetypes of the heros quest (Figure 5-1). These simple narratives allow players to easily and quickly comprehend sometimes widely inventive game-play objectives contextualized in tried and true fairytales in which a male protagonist must rescue a prin cess and/or save the world from a powerful adversary. These simple stories, rooted in bo th culturally specific formulas and universally recognized archetypes give players a comfortabl e foundation of understandi ng of the game world that requires very little cognitive effort. This allows players to devote nearly all of their attention to figuring out how best to achieve the easily understood objectives of the game while facing new types of game-play challenges. Like Eco, Miyamoto wishes to invent new types of experiences for his audiences, but grounds these experiences in familiar conventions so that they can better appreciate and adapt to what is new in his work. But balancing inventiveness is not th e only function of convention at the level of an individual game. The overwhelmi ng majority of videogame designers are not as inventive as Miyamoto; their games do not need to be grounded in something familiar so that players can focus on what is new, because there is very little that is new. Yet even the most generic and formulaic videogame narrative ca n and often does appeal to a large audience interested in playing a game very much like do zens of games they have played before and playing through a story very much like dozens they have experienced before. The very best 128

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videogames do attempt to offer at least something new for players; however, inventiveness in not a requirement for a pleasurable videogame narrative. Many players often want to simply play a game that they know the rules for without having to read any directions or learn anything new. They want to know what they are getting into and what the eventual outcome of playing will be. This is the same desire that drives the popular ity of popular fiction ge nres, and what brings people back again and again to read formulaic fiction and watch formul aic television shows and movies. Literary and movie critics admire and appla ud inventive works that eschew or transform formulaic plots and characters, because they have grown weary of them. They are like people who have been married for a long time and ar e looking for something new to spice up their relationship. They are tired of the same old game s that formula fiction plays with its audience. They dont want novels and plays and films to al ways follow the pre-established set of rules dictated by formula conventions. They want to play new games as much as possible, because they are power-consumers. They read more books and see more plays or movies in a year than most people do in ten years. It is understandable that they cherish inventiveness far more than conventionality. The larger audience also appreci ates inventiveness, but, for the most part, is perfectly content to enjoy a well-cr afted narrative that repeats in a slightly new way a story they have experienced a thousand times before, a stor y that reaffirms the va lues they hold dear, a story that gives them comfort, just as they got comfort from hearing the same bedtime story again and again from parents when they were children. The majority of videogame players also take pleasure in playing games for which they already know the rules, and participating in narratives in whic h they understand their parts and motivations. Effectively combining game genres, which are largely dictated by not only player 129

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desires, but the limited interactiv e possibilities of the medium, with narrative formulas that ideally suit the restrictions of game-play mechan ics is a practical and pl easurable solution to the problem of creating enjoyable videogame narrative s. In the sections that follow, we will examine the videogame genres in which vide ogame narratives are most commonly found, the narrative formulas most commonly used in videog ames, and finally how the structures of game genres and narrative formulas overlap to harmoni ze the combination of a pleasurable game and narrative experience. Videogame Narrative Genres Although videogames are a relatively new medi um, the videogame industry has already gone a long way in codifying generic distinctions. The videogame i ndustry, represente d by retailers, trade magazines, and online review sites has attempted for some time to develop generic categories to more easily market videogames to t hose interested in certain kinds of game-play, and to give players a better sens e of what to expect from specifi c types of videogames. The most popular of these categories have been refined to the point that videogame creators understand what is expected of them when they make a game in a particular genre, and audiences understand what to expect when they play a game market ed, for instance, as an Adventure Game or an Action Game, or a Role-Playing Game. 2 These categories, based primarily and most fundamentally (although definitely not entirely) on the primary m odes of participation in the gamei.e. shooting, hiding, puzzle solving, ju mping, flying, driving, fighting, etcwe will define as videogame genres. 2 While a majority of games do seem to fit easily within the boundaries established by a particular genre, several games, of course, also clearly break down these conventions of genre, offering players more complex, hybrid play experiences. This is not unique to videogames, and reflects the problematic nature of genre in any medium. As Derrida points out in his essay The La w of Genre, every example of a particular kind of text helps unravel the very notion that we can neatly group texts together, separating them from other texts with clear and distinct boundaries. However, such distinctions, while flawed, can be useful, which is why we are pursuing them here. 130

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Others, especially those coming from a literary pe rspective, such as television writer turned videogame writer Lee Sheldon, prefer to call these categories game types while applying the term genre only to the kinds of popular narrat ive genres found in videogames. The term genre, at least when it is preceded with the adjectiv e popular, is nearly in terchangeable with the concept of narrative formula that we will explore in the next section. However, I have chosen the term genre when discussing categories of game-play, because whereas the term formula also refers to a set of rules by which a cer tain group of texts plays, the term genre has an additional connotative emphasis on categorization and different iation, and as noted above, content creators, the industry, and audiences all use the prim ary modes of participation as the defining distinguishing characteristics when categorizing videogames. Assigning di fferent functions to these terms also has the practical benefit of allo wing us to clearly differentiate between category distinctions between game-play elements and cat egory distinctions between narrative elements. Regardless of what nomenclature is used, there are types of videogames in which narrative progression plays a significant role, and thes e videogames need to be identified and differentiated for us to have a better understand ing of how and why narra tive is often a driving force to game-play in these particular kinds of games. While we can find narrative elements in almost all genres of videogames, there are th ree main kinds of videogames in which narrative progress is typically intertwine d with game-play objectives. These three game genres are Adventure games, Action games and Role-Playing games These game genres represent broad categories, and we could further break each of them down into several sub-genres that are principally distinguished from each other within the larger category by what kind of game-play elements they borrow from the other major videogame narrative genres. For instance, many Adventure games include game-play elements common to 131

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Action games, many Action games include game-p lay elements from Adventure games, and Role-playing games often include game-play el ements from both Adventure and Action games. If there is enough merg ing of game-play elements, games are sometimes referred to as hyphenated hybrids such as Action-Adventure games, or Action-Role-Playing games. That it is difficult to clearly demarcate pure game genres is a testament to the permeability of categories in a general sense. However, it is still useful to understand the primary kinds of interaction found in videogame narratives so that we may see how narrative formulas can be overlaid onto these interactions so that the pleas ures of game and narrative progression augment each other. As a basis for our examination of these three videogame genres, we will use a classification system that digital media scholar Claus Pias de tailed in his essay Ac tion, Adventure, Desire: Interaction with PC Games. Pias breaks down computer games (and, for our purposes, by extension videogames on all platforms) into thre e basic types determined by the primary mode of interaction they require from players. Pias three game types are as follows: Action games Adventure games and Strategy games. It should be noted that all of these categories are broader than those typically asso ciated with the game genres Action, Adventure, and Strategy. Pias proposes that nearly every game genre fr om puzzle games, racing games, shooting games, stealth games and so on can be seen as embodying three basic types of effort on the part of players. Conveniently, the three game genres most associated with videogame narratives are representative of the three cate gories. The genres of Action a nd Adventure games appropriately fit within the iden tically named categories Pias sets up, wh ile Role-playing games, whose gameplay conventions have their root s in strategic table-top war game s, represent a genre of Strategy game as defined by Pias. 132

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Before we examine each of these game types and their corresponding requirements in more detail, it is important to revisit arguments I have made in the pre ceding chapters regarding the appropriateness and desirabil ity of combining games and narratives as they relate to the requirements of videogames, both as games and as computer programs, already place upon players. As we have seen, some critics of vi deogame narratives have suggested that games and narratives simply do not mix well, and that, as Gr eg Costikyan put it, forcing narrative elements into videogames restricts the freedom of player action inherent in games (44). I have already refuted that claim, but my argument bears reiter ation here in light of our examination of the specific requirements kinds of games demand of players. As we have seen, although videogame designers are not present with players as they play their games, the ability for videogame designers to create a participator y game world defined by rules allows them to play a proxy game with players in which they can dictate the progress of the game and even shape its players by requiring them to do certain acti ons to progress in the game. Likewise, in the case of games made to conform to known genres, pl ayer expectations help shape videogame designers as they craft their games. What results is the production of videogames that both require and help shape certain player behaviors and also shap e the game creators who must continue to fulfill the desires of players to interact with certain kinds of game systems in a predictable and enjoyable way. This is, as we have seen, the essence of what a game isit is a limited system, a constrained space governed by rules. Computers can allow us to do almost anything, but that freedom has no meaning without limitations. The pleasur es associated with freedoms and achievements in videogames are fu ndamentally tied to the constraints placed on players within a game-space. This is why the complaint made by ludologists that tying gameplay to narrative limits games and thus makes them less enjoyable as games is a misguided 133

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argument. Games are fundamentally limited by the players restricted position in the game system, the necessary boundaries placed on players abilities within the game space, and the physical and mental challenges pl ayers must master to overcome obstacles in the game to achieve a desired goal state. In short, a videogame, like any game, is alrea dy a restricted space that requires specific and limited actions on the part of players even without any narrative inducement. What videogame narrative creators attempt to do is provide compelling narrative motivations for game-play requirements to augment the overall pleasur e of the experience for players. Doing so without encumbering game-play is a difficult task; however, when story writers and game designers work in concert, it has proven to be possible to harmonize th e requirements of story progression with the requirements of game progression. In our next section, we will examine how three specific narrative fo rmulas (horror, mystery, and science fiction/fantasy) are particularly well suited to the task of harmonizing with the major conventions of game-play that dominate the medium. Now, we will examine in more detail the three basic types of game-play requirements found in videogame narratives. As already indicated, Pias id entifies three broad categories into which videogames can fit. 3 These three categories, again, are Action ga mes, Adventure games, and Strategy games. Each of these game types requires different types of effort on the part of players. Specifically, Action games require quick reactions, Adventur e games require thoughtful decision making, and Strategy games require careful planning. In the rema inder of this section, we will briefly expand on these actions. 3 Pias implies universal coverage with his categories, neve r explicitly conceding that other types of game actions are possible. However, although this implicit claim may be deba ted, his categories certainly cover most if not all of the types of actions required of players of videogame narratives, and so they suit our purposes well. 134

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Action Games Action games require quick player reactions based on player attentiveness and reflexes. They involve players quickly reading and res ponding to changes enacted by the videogame program. Time and timing is critical in Action games, and thus the most successful players are those that can be properly conditioned by the ga me to follow the most expedient paths through the game. This conditioning is based on a fee dback loop of action and reaction between the game system and its players. In this feedback loop, there is a continua l progression of options that vary from least expedient to most expedien t. Success in Action game s requires players to be able to quickly choose and precisely execute the most expedient acti ons in the game space (138). The key skills involved for players of Action games are attentiveness and quick reflexes. 4 Since Pias description of Action games is so broad, we can fit many industry-recognized game genres within it. For instance, racing ga mes, sports games, and shooters all require the type of player responses Pias describes. Of these, shooters are the most pertinent for our purposes, because they often incorporate narrativ e content to the extent that they can be classified as videogame narrativ es. As with all videogame na rratives, Action-based videogame narratives most often rely heavily on popular fict ion formulas such as science fiction, fantasy, and horror. In the next section, we will focus on how horror fiction conve ntions in particular mesh well with the essential game-play require ments of Action games, and especially with shooters, which often require play ers to kill hordes of enemies. We see this pairing of Action 4 This assumes that players are playing through the game for the first time. In lieu of attentiveness and reflexes, less skilled players (such as myself) can replay sections of an Action game until they learn the patterns of action required of them and advance by performing them by rote. 135

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game mechanics and the formula conventions of horror fiction in videogame narratives such as Clive Barkers Undying (2001), Silent Hill 3 (2003), and Resident Evil 4 (2005). 5 Adventure Games Unlike Action games, Adventure games do not typically require players to perform timecritical actions based on reflexes. Instead, Adventure game s require more thoughtful, timeconsuming, logic-based decisions. Pias says of Adventure games that the point is not to do something at the right time, but rather to make the right decision at a specific place, to go left or right, to use an object in a certa in way, or to say a magic word (138). The cognitive demands of Adventure games typically manifest themselves as puzzles that must be solved for the game to continue. Many different game genres have developed to inco rporate puzzles that are most commonly found in Adventure games, however, Adve nture games rely on them far more heavily than other types of games. The high level of analytical effort required of players from Adventure games combined with their more methodical pacing led to a decline in Adventure games from their height in the early 1990s to their near extinction in the early 2000s. However, recently, Adventure games have rebounded in popularity as videogame designers reme mber that the best way to motivate players to solve the puzzles inherent to Adventure games is to take more care in integrating them into a fictional world and tying them to a narrative s progression. Videogame writer Lee Sheldon says of Adventure games that they have more opportun ities to tell story buil t into them than any other type of game (337). Storytelling has always been an essential component of the Adventure game genre, and the fiction formula that fits best with the c onventions of Adventure 5 Many of the games I reference in this chapter are entrie s into well-established franch ises. As common as sequels and trilogies have become in movies, established franchises are ubiquitous in videogames. This again speaks to players enjoyment of standardization, and the industries willingness to cash in on that desire. 136

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games is the mystery. The recent renaissance of Adventure games is dominated by mystery stories. In fact, we see this pairing of Adve nture game mechanics with the formula conventions of mystery fiction in nearly ev ery Adventure game made today. Just a few of the critically praised examples of this are The Last Express (1997), Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (2007), and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (2005). Strategy Games In contrast to both Action and Adventure game s, Strategy games, in their purest form, do not rely heavily on quick reactions or a succession of thoughtful decisions based on logical deduction. Instead, Strategy games emphasize care ful configuration and reward players for effective organization and manage ment skills, and patience. Strategy games require players to regulate a configuration of values (Pias 182). Strategy games are generally positional and driven by statistical advantages set up by players to achi eve their ultimate goals. It may seem as though Strategy games, which emphasize a more global pe rspective than other ty pes of games, would not mesh well with narrative, which is essentially the representation of i ndividual perspectives. However, many Strategy games, and most especi ally Role-Playing games, incorporate extremely compelling stories that take the game-play m echanics of configuration and management and overlay them onto individual characters. In terms of game-play, Role-Playing videoga mes have their roots in tabletop gaming and war games and carry many of their conventions from this background. They are also, obviously, deeply rooted in the table top Role-Playing ca mpaigns of Dungeons & Dragons which took these conventions and incorporated storytelling elements into the play experience. As with their analogue cousins, Role-Playing videogames are almost exclusively also science fiction or fantasy stories. As we shall see in the next section, science fiction and fantasy conventions allow 137

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Strategy game designers to have the greatest am ount of variation in terms of the types of characters they create and the types of abilit ies these characters embody, and are thus ideally suited to creative and compelling configuratio n-based game-play. Again, we see this combination frequently in Strategy games and near ly universally in Role-playing games such as the wildly popular Japanese Role-Playing Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series of games, and the equally popular Western Role-Playi ng game series, The Elder Scrolls. Videogame Narrative Formulas As mentioned in the first section of this ch apter, conventions play a significant role in maintaining a cultures stability. In our ente rtainment, this is evident in the tremendous popularity of narratives that conform to establ ished formulas. The commercial success of formula fiction is a testament to the desire for predictable patterns of repetition that people can easily understand and rely upon. We can see thes e patterns in narratives throughout recorded history, and they not only help re affirm the specific values of a pa rticular culture, but they often also embody more universal archetypes found in all cultures (Cawelti 733). For example, a Western or the spy story contai ns culturally recognized conven tional settings, characters, and lines of action, but these can also be underst ood in the broader context of embodying archetypal patterns of the heros quest (734). So while the specific conventions of formula fiction may change over time and from place to place, and some times particular popular formulas fall out of favor (like the Western), the underl ying patterns of formula fiction represent a universal need for humanity to recite and consume narratives that follow familiar rules for production and reception. In fact, in much the same way that highly in ventive, experimental works such as Ecos The Name of the Rose can be seen as a game played be tween writers and readers, the rules established by formulas can be seen as the ba sis of a game as well. Cawelti proposes this 138

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construct in his article The C oncept of Formula in the Study of Popular Literature, (1972) and again, more thoroughly, in his book Adventure, Mystery, and Roman ce: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture (1976). In his article, Cawelti says the following about formulas as games: [the] game dimension of formulas has two aspects. First, there is the patterned experience of excitement, suspense, a nd release which we associate with functions of entertainment and recreation. Second, there is the aspect of play as ego enhancement through the temporary resolution of inescapable frustrations and tensions through fantasy. (735) While both of these aspects of formulas have been criticized as base and simplistic, they serve a vital function to a societys and to individu als well being. Because of this, even the most dismissive critics of formulas, if they are honest admit that they occasionally enjoy the escapism and exhilaration of formulas. Roger Ebert, for ex ample, in his latest article insisting that videogames cannot be art, claims that he reads crime novels and horror stories and enjoys films such as many of the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, and Spiderman movies, but only as simple diversions that have little cultural relevance. Cawalti points out, however, that these simple diversions do have cultural relevance, and certainly the best examples of formula fiction have a place of social import and prominence. Cawelti emphasizes the shared ritual enjoymen t of certainty involved with formulas, and likens them to other cultural shar ed games such as organized spor ts. That people are certain of the outcome of popular works governed by well-known fo rmulas is not a drawba ck if creators of formula-driven works craft their narratives effectively. Like ga mes, formulas are goal driven. Audiences know that the story will come to a clear and predictable reso lution, and along the way, follow pre-established rules, just as they know when they watch a basketball game that both teams will play by established rules and one team will win and one team will lose. People desire this certainty and enjoy it as an escape from a far more complicated world in which things do not 139

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always work out as they should. Formulas, like games, are rarely mimetic. Instead, they exist in a world clearly different from our owna magical circle in whic h good defeats evil every time. Cawelti says of this game-space dimension of formulas that it is a cultures way of simultaneously entertai ning itself and of creating an acceptable pattern of temporary escape from the serious restrictions and limitations of human life. In formulas stories, the detective always solves the crime, the hero always determines and carries out justice, and the agent accomplishes his mission or at least preserves himself from the omni present threat of the enemy. (735) However, that does not mean that effective formul a fiction is entirely predictable. Just as with popular sports, while the rules remain the sa me, as do the possible outcomes, there is a great variety in the ways that these re sults can play out so that formul a fiction, like sporting events, at its best can remain exciting and suspenseful even when nearly everything about it is predictable (735). The best formula writers seem to continua lly give new vitality to stereotyped characters, and provide new twists on plot s or setting that do not go so far as to break the boundaries established by the conventions an audience expects a work of formula to follow (Cawelti: Adventure 10). As indicated in the first section of th is chapter, even the most conventional works benefit from a touch of inventiv eness and newness. In fact, such touches of creativity are highlighted in formulaic works. In videogame narratives that rely on popular fiction formulas, for instance, the ease with which players can und erstand highly formulaic narrative structures allows them to more quickly adapt to new, inventive twists on game-play. In this way, videogame narratives that are highly conventional in terms of their narrati ve elements can risk being a bit more inventive in terms of game-p lay mechanics, because the works are grounded in the larger cultural game content creators and audiences play with the production of formulabased videogames. When players are able to identify game elements quickly and easily as coinciding with the familiar plots, characters, and settings found in formula fiction, they are 140

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more able to enjoy new, challenging aspects of a game while still being immersed in the game world. Besides the benefits of rely ing on formula conventions that allow players to easily understand game-play goals as well-established na rrative goals, formulas are ideally suited for videogames because of their emphasis on outcomes resulting from exhilarating, action-driven plots. Formulaic stories do not attempt to portray the world as we know it, with all of its ambiguity and uncertainty, nor do they bore us with too many mundane details. Like game spaces, the worlds of most formul aic fiction are simple and orient ed by purposeful, clear lines of action. Cawelti points out that it is almost a c lich that formulaic works stress action and plot, particularly of a violent and exci ting sort[because] in order for us to temporarily forget about our own existence and enter fully into an imag inary world, we require the strongest kinds of interest and stimulus (14). In formulaic works, just as in videogames people often confront and participate in extreme acts of violence and face the excitement of the protagonists actions potentially resulting in death. However, in formula fiction as in most videogames, these experiences are both exciting and safe, free from not only the risks of real experiences, but also their uncertainties and ambiguities. Everything, in the end, is constrai ned by the limitations of the formulaic structure and the boundaries of the magic circle (16). Audi ences know that in formulaic works, things will work out in the end, just as they know when they play a videogame, if they overcome the obstacles in the game, they will eventu ally reach the desired goal state. Finally, formula fiction is ideally suited to videogames because players can more easily and quickly identify with formulaic characters th an the more realistic and complicated characters found in more mimetic narratives. Because charac ters in formulaic fic tion are often, at least 141

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superficially, based on simple, ster eotyped abstractions, they allo w players to embody them more readily. This is similar to what happens visually with more iconic representations of characters versus more naturalistic representations in comics. As Scott McCloud points out in Understanding Comics (1993), readers of comics can mo re easily identify with iconic abstractions that seem to repres ent people more universally than w ith more naturalistic ones that are more clearly different from the majority of readers (24-59). When videogames rely on formulaic conventions, players can more easily iden tify with the characters they play, as they already understand them, their actions, and how th ese actions relate to the settings they are placed in. If we understand formulas as structurally and functionally similar to games, it becomes obvious why they are ideally suited to being used in videogame narratives. In the remainder of this section, we will briefly exam ine the three most popular fiction formulas used in videogames, and identify the following narrative conventions (identified by Cawelti as the basic components of formulaic conventions) common to each: Situations Patterns of Action, Characters and Settings (80). These three formulas, which are the most commonly employed in videogame narratives, are Horror, Mystery and Science Fiction/Fantasy Then, in our final section, we will explain how each of these sets of narrative conventions ideally lend themselves to the three game genres we identified in Section 2 as those most commonly embodying videogame narratives Action Adventure and Role-Playing games. Horror If the popularity of formulas is rooted in thei r ability to allow people to escape from their everyday lives, then the success of the horror genre is certainly no surprise. One of the primary reasons for its success is the intensity of emoti ons it arouses. Horror stor ies are exhilarating and 142

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fear-inducing, and put us in a completely different frame of mind than the one most people have on a daily basis. This is vital fo r a work of escapist fiction, since according to Cawelti, the more intense our response to a work is, the more it takes us out of ourselves.[it can be] a profound experience of self-transcendence, a complete forgetting of self in the intense and momentary involvement in an external fant asy (47-48). The intensity of horror stories is maintained by a dramatic emphasis on suspense, surprise, and sh ock (Sheldon 367). This is highlighted by the common conventions of situations, pattern of acti ons, characters, and settings found in formulaic horror stories: Situations : Horror stories typically begi n with the identification of some malevolent threat. Often, this evil force is supernat ural and grotesque, adding to the frightening nature of the encounter with it. Pattern of Actions : Horror stories revolve around the pr otagonists escaping and/or defeating the evil at the root of the horrible encounter. Characters : There are two main types of characters in horror fiction: predators and prey. Predators can take on many forms, but are of ten made more horribl e by being grotesque versions of ourselves, as is the case in what is widely considered the first modern horror story, Mary Shelleys Frankenstein (1818). Vampires and Zombies are examples of such grotesque creatures made all the more horrible, because they resemble normal human beings. Predators may also be people, animals, supernat ural beings, or alien cr eatures very different from us. These predators and equally frightening because of the complete Otherness. In either case, predators seek to hurt or destroy their prey. Prey exhibit a flight or fight response. They either attempt to escape from the horrors that pursue them or they attempt to fight them. 143

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Settings : Like the creatures found in horror stories, the settings common to horror stories are varied, depending on the sub-genre, but they sh are the common trait of being threatening and dangerous to the protagonists. Like the creat ures that resemble us, some settings are frightening perversions of places we think of as safe. For example, many horror stories are set in haunted houses. Other settings are more alien, and frighten us with their unfamiliarity. Mystery Like horror stories, mystery stories emphasis the simplicity of right and wrongthere are those who commit crimes and there are those who solve crimes. Like horror stories, mystery stories also rely heavily on suspense. In f act, their popularity is based on the suspense of discovering how the mystery will be solved. It is important to note that the issue is not whether the mystery will be solved, but how it will be solv ed. As with all formulaic works, mysteries exist in a world where things are certain and orderly. Lee Shel don, a videogame writer, echoes this sentiment about mysteries, saying of them that they are windows on an orderly universe far removed from uncertainty and injustice that are a part of everyday life. In a well-constructed mystery story, clues are followed to a logica l conclusion. There are no loose ends. Good triumphs, and evil is punished (362). Audiences know that this will occur, and yet they still are suspenseful about how it will occu r. Working through toward the closure promised in a classic mystery story is very fulfilling for audiences, just as solving a good puzzle is fulfilling. (As we shall see in our final section, th ese two pleasures mesh very well together). Since the classic detective story began with Edgar Allan Poe, we w ill rely on conventions he established in stories such as The Murder in the Rue Morgue (1841) in which he introduced the world the first 144

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literary detective, C. Auguste Dupi n, in outlining the formula conven tions of situati on, pattern of action, character, and setting in classic detective stories: 6 Situations : One might argue that the classic dete ctive story typically begins after the principle action driving it has occurredthe uns olved crime. The discove ry of a crime with no one obvious culprit is the cataly st for all detective stories. Pattern of Actions : Just as it is with Poes Dupin stories, all detective stories unfold based on the detectives investigati on and solution of the crime. Characters : Poe established four main roles for th e detective story: (a) victim; (b) the criminal (c) the detective; and (d) those threatened by the crim e but incapable of solving it (Cawelti: Adventure 91). These characters may take on many forms, but we find them, in some form, in all classic detective stories. Settings : Just as in Poes detective stories, most subsequent detective st ories typically take place in isolated, limited spaces such as the de tectives apartment and/or the scene of the crime. This has the practical advantage of providing a finite and c ontrolled backdrop against which clues and suspects can be highlighted (96-97). Science Fiction and Fantasy Like the other two formulas we have briefly examined, the formulas of Science Fiction and Fantasy apply to an extremely broad range of stories. 7 However, like horror stories and mystery 6 Many theorist, such as Cawelti, distinguish between tw o main types of detective storiesclassic and hard-boiled (43). Arthur Asa Berger adds a third typethe police proceduralin his breakdown of mystery formulas in his book Popular Culture Genres: Theories and Texts (82-83). While there are important distinctions between these types of stories, they are also share a core set of conventions, dating back to the first classic detective stories written by Edgar Allan Poe. For our purposes, we will focus on these commonalities to keep the categories broad, even though we can find examples of classic, hard-boiled, and police procedural stories in videogame narratives. An extensive breakdown of each type would require far more than a single chapter, and is best left for another time. 7 As is the case with mystery stories, science fiction and fantasy are also often broken down into subcategories. At the broadest level, science fiction is typically categorized as hard or soft depending on how much attention in the work is paid to scientific information grounded in the hard sciences versus how much attention is paid to how 145

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stories, science fiction and fantasy stories, despite their variety, shar e a core set of formula traits. As with horror, science fiction and fantasy stor ies deal with alien bein gs or states, and like mystery stories, they often involve unraveli ng mysteries and uncovering truths through these encounters. The primary difference between scien ce fiction and fantasy is that fantasy stories deal with magic whereas science fiction de als with technology, although there are many narratives that mix both technology and magical el ements, and functionally, there is little difference between the use of technology and magi c in formulaic science fiction and formulaic fantasy stories. For this reason, for our purposes of showing how their basic conventions pair with those of Strategy games, these two categories can be conflated. 8 Both types of stories share the basic conventions of situations, pattern of act ions, characters, and set tings highlighted below: Situations : The principle situations at the heart of science fiction and fantasy stories are encounters with the unknown, the unusual, a nd often the presently impossible. Pattern of Actions : These encounters are typically driven by necessity as characters must deal with alien beings and situations dur ing the course of a heros journey. Characters : There are two basic types of characte rs found in science fiction and fantasy. There are, of course, characters radically different from those we encounter in mimetic fiction such as aliens or robots or orcs or elves. Because ther e is so much that is new and different in science fiction and fantasy, there ar e also typically prota gonists that are grounded in our reality, people like those we find in ot her works of fiction and in our daily lives. people respond to scientific advances emotionally and psychologically. Likewise, fantasy stories are often broken up into two main sub-categorieshigh fantasy and sword and sorcery fantasydepending on how grand the scope of the story is, and how much action is involved. 8 Some theorists even categorize science fiction, fantasy, and horror, which all do share many conventions, under the broader heading of speculative fiction. 146

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Often, the violent conflict betw een these two types of charact ers is made simpler and less problematic by the Otherness of those characte rs that can be seen as not quite human. Settings : Science fiction and fantasy st ories are typically set in wo rlds clearly different from our own. Whether the setting is outer space, other worlds, or alternative re alities, the emphasis is on place in which encounters occur that are not possible in our everyday life. Common Game Genre and Fiction Formula Pairings It may already be evident why fiction form ulas lend themselves well to videogames. However, in this final section, we will make exp licit some of the ways that game genres and fiction formulas can be integrated to form co mpelling videogame narratives. Many pairings of game-play genre and fiction formula would prove to be excellent illu strations of how the conventions of fiction formulas can be harmonized with requirements of game-play in ways that minimize the incongruities between game outco mes and narrative progression, and result in videogame experiences that are both enjoyable games and compelling, participatory narratives. However, the three pairings we will briefly examine in this section are particularly common and successful. These parings are Action games an d Horror formulas, Adventure games and Mystery formulas, and Role-Playing games and Science Fiction/Fantasy formulas. Action Games and Horror Formulas As we have established, Action games are pr imarily dependent on quick player reactions and involve time critical obstacl es. In videogames with a strong narrative component, the reactions required of players are primarily violent acts taken against aggressive adversaries. The most common action taken against these adversaries is to injure or kill th em with a variety of weapons. Players have little time to contemplate the meaning and merit of their actions in most Action games, because, again, such actions are ti ming critical. The mentality of a successful Action game player must be shoot and asks questions later, or more often, never. 147

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Because of the nature of player actions in shooting games, horror fiction conventions in particular mesh well with them for several reasons. Shooting-based action games require players to shoot computer-controlled adversaries. Very often, these adversarie s appear to be living beings put into a dramatic context to make play er actions seem more meaningful. This can be ethically problematic if the computer-controlled adversaries are playfu l puppies or doe-eyed children; however, it is far less so if these adversaries are vicious monsters set on killing your avatar. 9 For this reason, the vast majority of shoot ing games require players to shoot horrific, evil enemies such as hordes of vampires or demons or zombies. Zombies such as those found in George Romero films in particular are a very popular opponent in ho rror games, as their mindless aggression makes them both frightening a nd thrilling targets. In recent years, many games, such as the critically acclaimed and fantastically successful Resident Evil 4 (2005) have taken their cue from horror films such as 28 Days Later (2003) in introducing more intense, agile, and aggressive versions of zombies, which re quire players to react even faster to their foes, increasing the challenge and the level of adrenaline involved in defeating them. 10 Resident Evil 4 builds on the conventions of story es tablished in the ea rly entries in the Resident Evil series, but reinve nts the game-play mechanics by giving players more freedom of movement to allow them to more quickly deal w ith the faster, more aggressive enemies players must defeat in the game. The game also a llows players more freedom to manipulate camera 9 Although the vast majority of creatures killed in videog ames are designed to make players feel that they deserve killing, a notable example of a game challenging this convention and making players think about their actions is the Action-horror game Bioshock (2007). In Bioshock, players must confront little girls that seem to be evil. Players may choose to kill these little girls to harvest their energy, or to save them. It is a disturbing choice, but in the end, players who choose to save the little girls are rewarded and players who choose to destroy them are punished by not being able to achieve the games ultimate happy ending. Bioshock is set in an Ayn Rand inspired dystopia, and has been praised as a stinging in dictment of Objectivism. 10 The enemies in Resident Evil 4 are actually not zombies in the classical sense of plodding brain eaters risen from the dead. The enemies players must kill in Resident Evil 4 called Los Ganados (Spanish for herd or mob) are actually humans infected with mind-controlling parasites. As in the movie 28 Days Later who were infected with a virus, these super zombies are fa r more formidable adversaries. 148

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angles in the game to give them a better sense of what is around them, and provides laser sights on players weapons to give them better accuracy when shooting enemies. The changes in gameplay in Resident Evil 4 from earlier entries in the series are significant, and required players familiar with the franchise to learn several new things. However, the game still faithfully follows the formula of horror stories, and so grounds players in the familiar, and minimizes the amount of thought they must put into the pur pose and righteousness of their actions. As with all formulaic horror stories, Resident Evil 4 begins with the identification of an evil threat. In this case, familiar pr otagonist Leon Kennedy, the hero of Resident Evil 2 (1998), is sent on a mission to rescue the Presidents da ughter, Ashley Graham, who has been kidnapped by a mysterious cult, that is believed to have taken her to a secluded ru ral European village. Leon Kennedy travels to this secluded village only to find hordes of enemies waiting for him. The majority of these enemies are parasite infected cult foll owers serving Osmund Sadler, the leader of the cult, and the primary antagonist of the story. Sadler plans on infecting Ashley and using her to infect her father so that Saddler can control him. Once this premise is established, the action unfolds around Leon fighting or flee ing from various enemies (Figure 5-2). Besides the villagers, there are several more formidable creatures more horrifying and challenging to defeat. The predat or characters thus run the gamb it from those disturbingly like ourselves to those horrifyingly different. Leon, whom the player controls, must defeat these creatures to save and then prot ect Ashley. The players desire to defeat these creatures is heightened by having to protect Ashley who, unlike Leon, is relativ ely defenseless. The prowess Leon displays in defeating these creatures, a ugmented by his impressive array of weaponry, is quite empowering for players so used to being vi cariously frightened by such creatures as they helplessly read about them or watch them advance ominously in movies and on television. 149

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Finally, as is typica l to horror stories, Resident Evil 4 is set in an isol ated, unfamiliar place, which adds to the fear that players feel. While helper characters such as Ada Wong appear in the game to aide Leon on his quest, by and large, Le on is alone, often with limited ammunition facing hordes of frightening creature s bent on his destruction. It is a frightening and exhilarating experience. Players are made aware that the onl y thing standing between the horrors of the game and the game world at large is them, imbuing th eir actions with more meaning and purpose and thus the narrative elements of the game add to the players pleasure and sense of accomplishment in achieving the games objectives. Adventure Games and Mystery Formulas Action games typically require play ers to engage in acts of simulated violence, and thus are particularly well-suited to horror formulas that help justify these acts in the game space. Adventure games, on the other hand, typically re quire players to make slower-paced, thoughtful puzzle-solving decisions, and thus are particularly well suited to mystery formulas in which the motivations for acts of violence ar e discovered, and the solu tion to a crime is pieced together. In the early years of videogames, when the processing power require d to render real-time action made Action orientated games far less visually sophisticat ed, Adventure games enjoyed widespread popularity as much for the spect acle of beautifully rendered backgrounds and character animations as for their puzzle-based game-play. However, as computer processing power has increased and gra phic and programming technolog ies have matured, and Action games have caught up and surpassed Adventur e games visually, Adventure games have dwindled in popularity. The dema nds of puzzle solving without the adrenaline payoff found in action orientated games are pleasurable only to a small niche market. However, recently, 150

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Adventure gaming has had a bit of a resurgen ce as a result of Adventure game designers focusing on providing players with strong narrative content that helps motivate player efforts. The resurgence of Adventure games on the PC and especially on the Nintendo DS, which approximates the point and click, clue hunting interf ace of the PC, speaks to the desire of players for strong narrative motivators in their videogames. The most obvious and natural narratives for the Adventure genre is the mystery or detectiv e story. Adventure game makers recognize this convergence as indicated by the fact that the ov erwhelming majority of Adventure games rely heavily on mystery fiction formulas. In some cases, this is immediately obvious to even the nongaming public as many titles are simply adaptations of popular formulaic mystery works. Scores of games based on the adventures of Sherlock Holmes or Nancy Drew abound on store shelves, as are games based on the work of Agatha Christie, such as Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None (2005). It is with remarkable ease that formulaic mysteries can be adapted to serve Adventure game genre conventions. For instance, in the Nintendo DS Adventure game Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (2005), we find all of the elements of a cla ssic detective story (Figure 5-3). 11 As with most classic detective stories, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney begins each case with the disc overy of a crime (the player must solve five criminal cases, each progressi ng in difficulty and complexity). The titular character is a young, inexperienced defense attorney whose first cas e is presented to him by his childhood friend, Larry Butz, who has been accuse d of murder. Convinc ed of his friends innocence, Phoenix must investigate the crime to discover the true culprit, and more importantly, discover evidence that will vindicate Larry and put the real killer behind bars. The initial case, 11 Phoenix Wright was originally published in Japan under the title Gyakuten Saiban Yomigaeru Gyakuten (2001) where the comical and engaging character s proved so popular that several sequels were made, and years later, these games were adapted for American audiences. These adaptations have proven wildly successful and have sparked new games in the series to be produced and have helped reestablish the Adventure game as a commercially viable genre. 151

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as with all of the subsequent cases in the game, revolve around Phoenix first being presented with the crime, then investigating the crime, and finally presenting the evidence discovered in court. In this way, the formula is very sim ilar to that found in popul ar television courtroom mystery series such as Perry Mason and Matlock Cawelti says of mystery narratives that they all involve the isolation of clues, the making of deductions from these clues, and the attempt to place the various clues in their rational place in a complete scheme of cause and effect (43). This is obviously ideally suited to Adventure games, which primarily involve the solving of puzzles. Cawelti also says of mystery stories that inherent to them is an underlying moral fantasy that all problems ha ve a clear and rational solution (43). This fantasy, one might argue, is also a driving imperative in our desire to solve puzzles and the pleasure we de rive from doing so. In the Phoe nix Wright games, players not only get to solve puzzles, but in doing so, they ge t the added feeling of accomplishment that they are solving a crime that saves the life of one wrongly accused and ensures the punishment of the actual criminal. This combination of puzzle-solving game-play a nd murder mystery storylines plays out with all of the principle characters found in the conve ntional murder mystery. In each of the cases that the player plays through, we find all four of the main char acter roles Poe established as essential to the mystery formula: we find the victim who has been killed, the real criminal who must be discovered and brought to justice, those threatened by the crime but incapable of solving it (in the first case, this is P hoenix Wrights dear friend, Larry Butz), and finally, the detective himself, in this case, the young attorney, Phoenix Wright. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney also follows the formula conventions of setting in a mystery story. In each case, there are a limited number of locations to explore. The primary locations 152

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that the player as Phoenix are confined to ar e the scene of the crime during the investigative phase, and the court room in the revelation phase During the investigation phase, Phoenix may also visit other locations to gather informati on and clues; however, all of these locations are relatively small spaces that provide a clear, li mited backdrop against which clues and suspects can be highlighted. All of this, the familiar c onventions of situation, action, character, and setting, give players a familiar grounding that a llows them to easily understand the context for their actions within the game that makes the ga me much easier to learn how to play and much more enjoyable to play as well. Role-Playing Games and Scien ce Fiction/Fantasy Formulas Whereas Action games rely on quick reacti ons, and Adventure games rely on deductive decision making, Role-Playing games typically re quire players to manage items, configure parties of playable characters, and strategically choose match ups of skills, spells, weapons and characters that are most advantageous to the play er in a given conflict. Most role-playing games combine this strategy-based game-play with th e narrative conventions of science fiction and fantasy. This combination has proven to be so ubiquitous and commerc ially successful for several reasons. Lee Sheldon identifies five of these reasons (348): 1. Some of the first Role-playing game s were based on the stories found in Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, thus ensuring a built-in audi ence already familiar with the narrative and game-play conventions. 2. There continues to be great cross-over appeal to the (still) statistically significant demographic of adolescent males who are attr acted to science fiction and fantasy fiction. 3. These are the fiction genres game makers (pre dominately computer g eeks) prefer, and so are the most likely to be adapted to videogames. 153

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4. Both genres allow for a wide range of solu tions to fiction-breaking game problems like character death and healing. 5. The locales of both are flexible and the ru les of physics are more bendable than in mimetic fiction. All of these reasons have likely contributed to the widespread use of science fiction and fantasy in not just role-playing games, but all genres of videogame narratives. However, reasons 4 and 5 are particularly pertinent to the specifi c success of combining scie nce fiction and fantasy stories with strategy-based game-play. As Ive indicated throughout this work, the most successful videogame narratives are those in which game-play and narrative elements are integrated as naturally and fluidly as possible. The game-play requirements of strategy games seem to present a particularly difficult task in this regard, because they emphasize the management of characters, items, and positions in ways that seem to devalue the individual pieces in relation to the larger whole of the game-play objectives. For instance, in a game of chess, a player may find it more advantageous to sacrifice a key piece to gain positional superiority in the game, aiding the player in achieving ultimate victory. This is a calculating approach, and one that makes players adopt a rather callous attitude toward individual assets, in much the same that real life military leaders of ten focus on achieving tactical victories at the expense of individual soldiers. However, role-playing games are able to ove rcome, to an extent, this callousness and detachment by relying on science fiction and fa ntasy conventions. Role-playing games, like all strategy games do require players to take possessi on of a limited set of assets and manipulate those assets to achieve ultimate victory. Yet th is is accomplished while still allowing players to care about their avatar and the other related ch aracters in his or her party by naturalizing the 154

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necessary mechanisms of regeneration and resurrec tion that such game-play inevitably will lead to. It would be nearly impossibl e for players to simultaneousl y engage in global positioning, strategy-based game-play that puts their avatars at risk and often results in the avatars injury or even death and care about those ch aracters in the context of mimetic storytelling. However, in a science fiction or fantasy context, players can expend all of their resources, from ammunition to emotionally developed allies and even the player avatar itself to achiev e guilt-free victories, because of the allowable safety valves of technology and magic that ensure items can be replenished and characters can be healed or resurrected. To better illustrate this, let us examine the four conventional elements of science fic tion and fantasysituations, patterns of actions, characters, and settingsas they appear in one of th e latest incredibly popular Pokemon roleplaying games, Pokemon Diamond (2006). In Pokemon Diamond, as in all of the Pokemon games, we find an initial situation dealing with an encounter with the unknown. The player plays as either Da wn (female) or Lucas (male) as she or he sets out to discove r new, more powerful pokemon to cap ture and train in the quest to become the ultimate pokemon trainer, and to gain enough power to defeat Team Galactic and their leader Cyrus who, it is revealed, wishes to dest roy all life on the planet and then give rise to a new Eden where all of his creations will live in peaceful service to him. To achieve this ultimate goal, the player must encounter and collect various pokemon (short for pocket monsters). Many of these creatures are very much like the creatures we find in fairytales, myths, and legends, and all of them have fant astic powers that can be strengthened through battles with wild pokemon and antagonistic pokemon trainers. 155

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During the course of the heros journey, the pl ayer encounters a host of characters ranging from other pokemon trainers, some good and helpful, some bad and a hindrance, to all sorts of pokemon, many of whom are friendly and take on hu man attributes. Players are encouraged to become particularly attached to some of their pokemon through growing fond of their unique personalities and abilities and through the contin ual nurturing required to ensure their growth in strengtha necessity in the game since strong pokemon are vital to th e achievement of gameplay objectives. 12 Players are only capable of both devel oping attachments to these fantastical creatures and sending them into battle where they may be harmed by the magical powers of their adversaries by the knowledge that within the game world ther e exists technology that can rejuvenate and resurrect their fa llen allies. Trainers capture an d tame the wild pokemon with the technological marvel, the poke-ball, which shri nks down the pokemon small enough to fit into a pocket, and puts the pokemon in a state of stasis. Th is also allows trainers to recall pokemon who are injured or completely out of hit points (sin ce this is a childrens game, the pokemon are not said to be dead) and rejuvenate or resurrect the pokemon with the aide of additional technology and a pokemon nursing staff at a pokemon station. Li kewise, this conceit allows players to feel little or no guilt when they command their cute l ittle pokemon to harm or kill other cute little pokemon in the wild or even when they are be ing controlled by bad trainers (Figure 5-4). Finally, the setting of the P okemon universe allows all of these conventions to seem acceptable, as it is clearly a radically different place than our own world. It is a place where creatures such as Pokemon can exist and the technology to capture and heal them exists too. It is also a place where children are allowed to ro am the countryside for much of their childhood 12 Player success is not only determined by having high-level, battle tested pokemon, but by using these pokemon effectively in what amounts to paper-rock-scissor battles in which certain pokemon type s and certain attack types are most effective agai nst specific opponents. 156

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seeking pokemon and training them without adult supe rvision or educational requirements. It is also a place that encourages said children to en gage in dangerous, world-saving battles with evil antagonists armed with powerful ma gical creatures. Yet as absurd as it all sounds, it works in much the same way that the Harry Potter books wo rk for their target audience. The formula conventions of science fiction and fantasy mesh well with the game-play requirement of roleplaying games, allowing players to engage and immerse themselves in compelling videogame narrative experiences. As we have seen, game-play requirements can be at odds with the expectations of mimetic fiction. However, many videogame narrative designers overcome these limitations by overlapping generic game-play requirements with formula conventions in a way that effectively harmonize the sometimes competing demands of telling a compelling story and creating an enjoyable game. While both videogames and narratives that follow the conventions of a particular formula are often criticized by scholars and cultural elites, as Cawelti has pointed out, and millions of consumers have verified, generic and formulaic works that rely heavily on conventions play an important role in a culture s well being. In the medium of the videogame, without the known, safe, comforting conventions of formula fiction, many inventive game-play elements would not be possible, and many i nnovative and challengi ng games would not be enjoyable. 157

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Figure 5-1. In Donkey Kong (1981), Jumpman (later known as Ma rio) enacts a classic fairytale staple plothe must overcome obstacles put in place by a villain to rescue Pauline, a damsel in distress. Miyamotos subseque nt games have placed the damsel farther away, and made the obstacles more vari ed and challenging, but the basic story remains the same. 158

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Figure 5-2. Resident Evil 4 ( 2005), Leon Kennedy faces mobs of parasite-controlled villagers that behave very much like the aggressi ve zombies now typically found in zombie films. 159

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Figure 5-3. In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (2005), players must pres ent evidence they have found in the right order to ensure they solve the case and free their clients. 160

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Figure 5-4. In Pokemon Diamond (2006), players pit cute little fant asy creatures in battles to the death. The battles are guilt-free, however, thanks to technology th at allows them to be resurrected. 161

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CHAPTER 6 LOOKING FORWARD: THE FUTURE OF VIDEOGAME NARRATIVES Current State of the Art Once upon a time our ancestors drew on cave wa lls, and grunted out tales of wooly mammoth hunts and saber tooth tiger attacks. Once upon a time they pretended they were mammoths and saber tooth tigers and chased each other across the plains Millennia later, Sumerians regaled each other with tales of G ilgamesh and Enkidu to express feelings about friendship and immortality while the Ancient Egyp tians played Senet to pass the time when they werent building pyramids. In short, humans tell stories and play games; we always have. In fact, stories and games are so foundational to the human experien ce that a definition of our species is incomplete without their inclusion. We are Homo Narrans (tellers of tales), and we are Homo Ludens (players of games); sometimes we do both at the same time. Videogame narratives have come a long way in allowing us to do just that. Distinct modes of enculturation and entertai nment, games and stories work well on their own, but they have also shared frequent and successful collaborations. Some game theorists see game-play and storytelling as opposing fo rces that are better off separated. 1 History, however, shows us that this is not always the casenot now, and not thousands of years ago when the Sphinx was asking Oedipus riddles. It is not surprising really. In fact, the potential profitability of combining our two most ubiquitous and anci ent forms of entertainment and enculturation makes mixing stories and games a capitalistic inevitability. So in this respect, and given the historical precedents we have examined, which in dicate our inherent appetite for interactive, 1 Perhaps precisely because narrative and play are such fundamental components of every culture, the convergence of narrative and games has become a critical point of contention within the emerging field of games studies. In what has been labeled the narratology versus ludology debat e several researchers have taken sides on whether games should be studied as types of narratives. The more extreme ludologists such as Greg Costikyan and Markku Eskelinen display an anti-narrative bias in their research, creating hierarchies in which the more a game is confined by be structured like a narrative, the less like a game it becomes (Costikyan 44 and Eskelinen 36). 162

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playful narratives, once computers made them possible, videogame narratives were an evolutionary certainty. Of course, the development of videogame narratives has not been without their growing pains. Making the combination of games and narra tives work in this medium can be hit or miss and has turned out to be highly controversial both among game developers and game theorists. Many have asked, is it worth the effort, and is this what people really want? What should be clear by now is that videogame narratives are not a passing fad, or some doomed-to-fail intermediary stage in the evolut ion of videogames. Videogame narratives represent a desire for participation that has been a part of our narr ative DNA from the beginning of humanity. The computer revolution has helped show us the joys of interactive narrativ e, and there is no going backvideogame narratives are here to stay. A Tale of Two Pleasures?: Playing Videogame Narratives has sought to address the controversies surrounding the study of videogame narratives by atte mpting to show the extent to which games and narratives are fundamentally al igned, without making the mistake of conflating the two distinct forms. In this final chapter, we will further examine how games and narratives can merge and are merging in ways that are both familiar and excitingly new. In the pages that remain, we will examine how videogame narrative s, freeing to creators and players in some ways, but limiting in others, fit within the cu rrent narrative media ecology, and how videogame narratives may continue to develop in the near future. Specifically, in the two remaining sections of this work, we will examine the current state of videogame narratives and th eir possible future by looking at how they are converging with other narrative media and how they are also divergi ng as well. Political sc ientist Ithiel de Sola Pool anticipated our current era of media transition in his 1983 book Technologies of Freedom 163

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In it, he explains that the lin es between media are blurring, an d media content is increasingly going to flow across multiple media platforms, and these media platforms are increasingly becoming capable of being used in multiple ways (23). The computer is at the heart of this phenomenon, which Henry Jenkins examines as it is happening today in his 2006 book Convergence Culture Computer technologies have allowed content producers to distribute their content across multiple media platforms, and have allowed consumers to have access to content in multiple ways. Today, if people want to watc h a movie, they can watch it on their television at home, or on their PC, or download it to a por table device such as a video iPod, or a videocapable cell phone. In many ways, cell phones are the epitome of media convergence. Increasingly, cell phones have become everything machines, cap able of doing everything from making phone calls, to playing music or videos or games, to balancing a checking account and keeping track of appointments, to taking pictures or video, to giving directions with built in GPS systems, to checking email, to web-surfing, and who knows what else in the future. At the same time, more and more devices are being developed to do all of these things as well. While all of the above mentioned functions have merged into a singl e device, the cell phone, dozens of other devices MP3 players, portable movie players, GPS de vices, and portable gaming devicescontinue to saturate the market. So while screens are converging, allowing what used to be considered separate functions to be performed on one devi ce, the delivery mechan isms of media content continue to diversify and diverge. As we have learned from Mars hall McLuhan, a medium is no t just a formless carrier of content, but a vessel that shapes that content. Therefore, wh en screens converge, and narrative content that was once available through only one medium becomes available across multiple 164

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media platforms, challenges arise in ensu ring a smooth adaptation, especially when the adaptation involves moving from a non-participatory medium such as a movie theater to a participatory one such as a videogame console. Likewise, as media conten t, and in particular narrative content, expands into different media platfo rms, it must adapt itself to be best suited to that platform to ensure that it remains a viab le consumer option in a media ecology in which consumer choices are tremendously varied, and competition is thus extremely fierce. In our next section, titled S uccessful Convergences, we will examine how the medium of the videogame shapes the narratives that are ad apted to it, what sort of narratives can best be adapted to it, and how they can best be adapte d from other narrative media. The focus of Successful Convergences will be on what are by far the most frequent and financially lucrative examples of narrative convergence between vi deogames and another entertainment medium the adaptation of movies into games. We w ill examine what many videogame designers have learned the hard waythat while film and vide ogames have converged in many ways, sharing similar production and funding models, and even ma ny of the same narrative techniques, they are still fundamentally different narrativ e media, and much effort must be made to adapt stories from the silver screen to the participator y play-spaces of videogame narratives. While videogame narratives have been signi ficantly influenced by the convergence of videogames and films in terms of production, funding, and techniques of audio-visual narrative expression, the narrative possibilitie s of the medium are also expandi ng in new directions as fast as the technology is advancing. More sophisticated audio and vi sual capabilities have allowed videogames to look and sound more and more like movies. However, the continued development of the Internet and growing broadband access has allowed for both major videogame publishers and independent videogame de velopers to expand the types of videogame 165

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narratives that can be created. Focusing on how these expansions in the possibilities of production, distribution, and access ar e affecting who creates videogame narratives and to what end will be the purpose of our final section, Pos sible Divergences. What we discover, when we begin to look at the types of narratives beginning to emerge from these new avenues of production and distribution is that while videogame narratives have come a long way in terms of the types of stories being enacted in the medi um, we are still a long way from exhausting the possibilities of combining stories and game s in profoundly enjoyable and moving ways. Successful Convergences When we look at the growth of the vide ogame as a medium in general, and the development of videogame narratives in particular what we discover is th at the types of games and the types of stories that we encounter in videogames are expanding both to conform and converge with other narrative media and in the ot her direction, away from what is currently being done in other narrative media. This conve rgence is a two way street, and we could spend time examining the impact videogame narrativ es have had on television, books, comics, and especially film. 2 We could also address the difficulties movie-makers face when trying to take a videogame narrative and adapt it to the sc reen, as is increasingly becoming common. 3 However, our focus in this section is on how narrative co ntent must be adapted to the medium of the 2 Just two examples of the effects videogames are havi ng on movies is the increased usage of first-person perspective in movies, and the usage of re-playability in movies such as in Run Lola Run in which segments of the film are rewound and replayed with different conclusions. For an excellent collection of essays that examine the impact of videogames on film and film on videogames more extensively, see ScreenPlay: Cinema /Videogames/Interfaces (2002). 3 Because of the lucrative bu ilt-in audience for game-to-movie adaptations, despite some early dismal failures, such as the much maligned Super Mario Brothers (1993) and Double Dragon (1995), movie studios keep churning out videogame based movies. Practice seems to have paid off, at least at the box office, with more recent efforts not only being panned slightly less harshly by critics, but also doing much better in terms of tickets sold. The infamously untalented game-to-movie director Uwe Boll ex cluded, many more recent ad aptations have done very well on the big screen and in DVD sales, with money-makers such as the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises. Things should only improve if the videogame blockbusters such as Halo and Max Payne make it to theaters as promised. 166

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videogame, not from it, and so here we will examine how convergence between film and videogames affects how narrative co ntent created for other media is shaped in the interactive play-space of the videogame. Before we examine the specific challenges videogame makers face when trying to convert narrative content into a videogame, it is important that we understand just how prevalent media convergence of narrative content is, and how common it is to see po pular stories end up as videogame narratives. Henry Jenkins defines convergence as the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation betwee n multiple media industries, and the migratory behavior of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they want (2). Th is certainly describes contemporary corporate synergy strategies and contemporary consumer exp ectations. To illustrate the depth and breadth of media convergence, let us take, as an example, the great comic book icon, Spider-Man. Spider-Man, of course, began as a comic book ch aracter in 1962. Since his birth in that medium, however, his stories have been told on nine different animated and live action American television shows (and counting), in non-illustrated novels, as part of a theme park ride at Universal Studios, and in dozens of videogames on over a dozen different gaming platforms. In fact, Spider-Man has become so popular, and is su ch an important part of the Sony brand, that they used the Spider-Man movie font for thei r Playstation 3 logo. When a new Spider-Man movie comes out, it has become expected that a videogame will be released within a week of its theater premiere. Spider-Man is one of the most successful brands to develop in recent years, but it is by no means unusual. Today, when the gaming public sees a blockbuster movie with lots of action (lots of action is key), es pecially one directed toward a younger crowd, they know that if they wish, they are very likely to find a videoga me release related to that movie. In fact, a 167

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significant portion of the videogames released and sold each year are movie tie-ins, and many of these movies, in turn, were once books or comics. Of course, many of these movie tie-ins are li ttle more than cash-grabsbarely playable, hackneyed attempts at recycling the movies plot or poorly conceived narrative extensions built loosely on the movies script. Most of them end up as critically panned disasters bought by masses of unknowing parents for children with undiscerning gaming pala tes who just want a taste of the experience of playing a game as Superman, or swimming around as a fish from Finding Nemo or uncovering dark secrets at Hogwar ts along with Harry Potter and his followers. However, if game developers want to attempt to create a compelling videogame narrative based on a narrative created for another narrative media, and they are allowed to have the time and resources to do so (a rare occu rrence), they can produce well-received, fun-toexperience videogame narratives, as we shall see in a moment. In doing so, though, they must face and overcome significant challenges. There are serious differences between videogames and a medium like film that make translating what works in one to the other a difficult task. In fact, many of the successful adapta tions of movies to games arent really adaptations at all. Many games forego trying to tell the same story that the movie told, and instead try to put players in the same narrative world, and allow them to experience a different story. Some games certainly do simply attempt to make the movie experience an interactive, game experience; however, besides the obvious draw backs in terms of lessening th e narrative tension involved in the game narrative, there are often ot her drawbacks to consider as well. This is because some stories translate more effectively to the me dium of the videogame than others, and the right choices must be made by game designers and writers in terms of what narrative content to adapt and what narrative content needs to be re-imagined inside the 168

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interactive, narrative space of a game. Two of the most crucial things that writers and directors must face if they are to eff ectively adapt a movie into a game lie in the representational restrictions currently found in videogames: 1. In videogames, all time is spatialized, and all spaces are spaces of navigation and 2. Because game rs typically navigate in the game world as one character, perspective shifts with in game play are usually limited. As Lev Manovich observes in his book The Language of New Media new media spaces are always spaces of navigation (252). Therefor e, controlling the players navigation through the game-space is essential to the progression of the game: in Doom and Myst and in a great many other computer gamesnarrative and time itself are equated with movement through 3-D spacein contrast to modern literature, theater, and cinema, which are built around psyc hological tensions between characters and movement in psyc hological space, these computer games return us to ancient forms of narrative in which the plot is driven by the spatial movement of the main hero (245-46). In a videogame narrative, the player has an ac tive role in the narrative progression, and this progress is represented, in large part, by the move ment of the players avatar through the gamespace along one of the restricted trajectories se t up by game designers. As Manovich puts it, rather than being narrated to, the player hers elf has to perform actions to move narrative forward (247). This progression through game-sp ace toward goal states is exactly what makes videogame narratives engaging and pleasurable in teractive narrative experi ences, so it is vital that the narrative actions in a game emphasize player movement and progression toward goal states. In addition to emphasizing narrative goals that encourage player movement through game space, videogame developers must also deal with the issue of auth orial control that we have examined throughout this work. In the ca se of adaptations from film, game developers must figure out how to maintain narrative tens ion while giving up much of the control of the 169

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camera that film directors and cinematographers ha ve. In film, the role of the camera is as crucial as the role of the narrato r in books. The camera acts as the narrator in a movie, fulfilling a similar function in a different way. Seymour Chatman explores the differences between the cameras eye and the narrators voice in his essa y What Novels Can Do That Films Cant (and Vice Versa). Chatman addresses the two independe nt temporal orders of narrative: the time of the plot and the time of the presentation of the pl ot. In written works, such as a novel, the time of the plot often stops and a writer spends the time describing a scene and its characters and actions. The way in which the scene is described communicates the perspectiv es of the narrator. The camera can do the same thing differently thr ough the angle, placement, and juxtaposition of shots. The director can still express perspe ctive and opinion, just as the writer can in his description. Likewise, videogames can interject opinion within cut-s cenes that can use all of the same techniques we see in film. The difference in games, however, is that, for th e most part, directors have to give control of the camera to the players and trust the players will see what the director wants them to see. This process is one of trusttrust in the player to take the camera and not ruin the story in the process. But this is not a l eap of blind faith. Though perspective shifts are limited in games, different perspectives are possible and opinions can be expressed as the game designers guide the players through the narrative game-space. Videog ame designers just have to see their job differently. Rather than completely controlling what a player sees and does, they must guide players along certain paths. For this reason, Henry Jenkins identifies game designers not as simply story tellers, but narra tive architects who must build a narrative world around players that ensure their progression ( First Person: Jenkins 121). 170

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In Chapter 4, we examined how authors in print often also emphasi ze world building over word usage. Umberto Eco said that his job as an author is to create a narrative space for his readers. The difference, of course, in videogames is that players have more control over how they move through that narrative space. To cont rol player movement through a space in which they seemingly can do whatever th ey want, game designers rely on affordances and schemas within the narrative that naturalize the limitations for player interaction. This allows a balance between player digression and exploration on th e one hand, and the continued movement through the plot on the other. The idea of schemas, or scripts, comes from cognitive psychology and is based on our reliance on past experience in determining our ac tions in a given place or situation. In one respect, they can be thought of as deeply ingrained social conventions. For instance, when we go into a restaurant, those of us who have been to restaurants a nd learned the restaurant schema know that certain behavior is acceptable or requi red and certain behavior is not. We order from the waiter, or at a counter, but we do not strip naked and scre am loudly, because this is not appropriate to the situation. Variations, of cour se, exist, and with each new restaurant experience our schema expands and becomes more comp lex. Within the narrative framework of a videogame, designers can use schemas to reasonab ly limit or anticipate players behavior. To illustrate how this works, let us briefly examine what is widely considered the best videogame narrative based on a movie to date (in fact, it was far more well-received than the movie itself) The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay (2004). Heralded as one of the best single player actions games released in 2004, the game takes place in the narrative universe created by the movies Pitch Black (2000) and The Chronicles of Riddick (2004). Vin Diesel, an avid gamer, reprised his role as the anti-hero Richard B. Riddick, lending his voice 171

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and his likeness to the videogame protagonist. Th e game takes characters, themes, settings, and plot points from both films, but serves as a pr equel to the movies. Because most players are already familiar with the narrative elements of Ri ddicks universe, they bring to the game an understanding of who Riddick is, an d how they should act as they play him. Because the game is a single player action game experienced prim arily by the player in first person, genre conventions of the first person action game also inform player expectations as well. However, even for those players who are not familiar with the movies, or the genre conventions of first person action games, the ga mes setting, characters, and plot quickly give players a sense of what they should be doing. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay is set in Butcher Bay, a notor ious triple max security priso nthe science fiction equivalent of Alcatraz. Such contained spaces for videoga me narratives are ideal, because they help naturalize the limitations of player movement throughout the ga me. We cannot, in this triple max prison, ask our fellow prisoners if they would like to have afternoo n tea with us, nor can we, as Riddick, break out into show tunes, because there is no schema in place for this type of behavior within the narrative universe, and in a tough, dingy prison setting. Likewise, the titular character, Riddick, is not a tabula rasa, an empty shell we fill in the game, but an established, fully formed character to whom we are introduced to early in the game through events that Diesel narrates and which establis h the sort of character players are playing as in the game. Players are made to understand th at while they can control his m ovement and interaction within the limits of the navigable space of the prison, they cannot fly, or teleport, or even say things that Riddick would not say in the context of the st ory. Players are limited by the characters abilities, such as his impressive strength and st ealth and his night-vision enhanced eyes. They understand this and do not try to do things that d ont fit a prison schema, the stealth-action game 172

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schema, or things that will hinder their abilities to reach their narrative driven game objectives, which ultimately involve, as the title of the game makes clear, escaping from Butcher Bay. Another method employed by designers to na turalize gaming limitations thus adding to the illusion of freedom within the game-space is building in affordances into the game. Affordance is a term Donald Norman uses in his book The Design of Everyday Things He defines affordance as the perceived and act ual properties of the thing, primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could possibly be used (9). For example, in The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, players learn quickly that they, as Riddick, are able to move more silently if they move more slowly and crouch low to the ground, and that if they are in th e shadows, antagonist non-player characters are less likely to spot them. Therefore, players take the affordan ce of sneaking and hiding into the game world. In other words, players are given signs about what affordances they can take from the real world and apply to the game world. As long as these affordances are reasonably consistent and numerous, players allow themselves to overlook the many things they cannot do in the gamespace. Cell doors can be opened, people can be ta lked to, grates can be removed and air ducts traveled through, items can be pick ed up and used, so that is what we do, and the option to do so seems like the freedom of interactiv ity, but of course it is a very limited interaction (Figure 6-1). Players cannot do many things within the game-sp ace, but this is covered up in large part by schemas which dictate what players should expect from the game and how they should act. All of this, if done well, creates the illusion of freedom of interaction within the gamespace, covering up the gaps and missing pieces that filmmakers do not have to worry about since they always control the audiences movement through the narrative. The effectiveness of The Chronicles of Riddick: Es cape From Butcher Bay as a videogame narrative lies in the freedom it 173

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allows participants to digress and explore mu ltiple paths while keeping them moving along the main path of the narrative. The difficulties that the designers of this game dealt with successfully center on the crucial balance that must be maintained between controlling the participants enough so that they may become immersed in the narrative, and allowing them enough freedom to interact with and influence the specifics of the progression of that narrative. In so doing, the creators of this game offer the pl ayer a rich and pleasurab le interactiv e narrative experience, and provide a model for future vi deogame narratives that wish to do the same. Possible Divergences While some videogame narratives try to b ecome more like interactive movies, other videogame narratives have developed along paths that embrace the participatory nature of the medium in new ways, and further morph the roles of game makers and players. In this final section, we will briefly explore two of the main ways that vi deogame narratives are developing in new directions. First, we will explore how the corporate institutions that govern videogame production have shaped videogame narratives in th e past, and how new corporate ideologies are shaping videogames in the present and near future Then, we will turn to how an increasingly participatory culture of gamers are driving the medium forward on the Internet and challenging our notions of the relationship be tween authors and audiences in wa ys that bring to life some of the worst fears of videogame critics such as Roge r Ebert, and, at the same time, make possible some of the greatest dreams of millions of avid videogame fans. It may strike some as ironic that a medium heralded (and decried) as liberating for content creators and their audien ces is governed by institutions that are historically, and one might argue inherently, restrictiv e. Hardware makers control ev erything. They dictate not only how games are made, and how players interface with games, but they also dictate what games are made and are playable on their consoles. There is a long histor y of litigation around 174

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licensing dating back to Nintendos first generati on console, the Nintendo Entertainment System, and the console market, by and large, is a very controlled, restricted environment. The PC market is far more open, even though game make rs must ensure their products run on nearly limitless hardware configurations, but PC game sales are dwarfed by their console and handheld counterparts. Proprietary formats dominate the console market, and historically, all content outside of that which is created for the PC, and by homebrew hackers, is controlled by hardware makers through the limitations of the hardware and through the ideological restrictions the hardware companies place on third party pub lishersin the end, if Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo do not want a game released for thei r platforms, it will not become a home console game. 4 Some individuals have attempted to break the cartel-like stranglehol d that two or three companies have had on the home console market at any given time over the last two decades. Many lawsuits were filed against Atari and Nintendo in the 1980s, but they all failed to break the proprietary system that continue s to be in place (Kent 371-376). For decades now, if a game publisher wishes to produce a game that can be playable on a home videogame console, it must seek permission from the console maker and pay it a fee that now ranges up to as much as $10 million. Additionally, because the cost of develo pment for each of these proprietary platforms can be prohibitive for independent developers and smaller publishers, many videogame makers are forced into releasing their games on just one console, and many mo re are persuaded into exclusivity deals that ensure for the hardware makers market-place differentiators, but limit the potential audience for the game to those who own that particular console. 4 Many game developers have expressed frustration by the limitation of game console hardware, and the lack of support tools for third party developers. Beyond the technical restrictions of having to fit a game on one of three major consoles, from a content standpoint, a game developer is restricted by the fact th at no current major console maker will allow an Adults Only rated game to be published for use on their console. 175

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While this system, restrictive for both game makers and game players, is still in place today, recent developments have given more flexib ility to videogame developers in terms of the types of games they make and the method of their distribution. First, propelled by market demands and the ubiquity of broadband Intern et access among the gaming population, each of the three major console makers have now de veloped alternative distribution models for videogame publishers. The current generation of videogame hardwa re is advanced exponentially in terms of processing power, memory, and interface. Whereas the first videogame consoles had simple wired controllers attach ed to a console which played only one, graphically crude game, current consoles have an array of wireless control devices, some of them complicated and with many buttons, others like the Nintendo Wiis controller, a simplified motion sensor controller shaped like a television remote control that connect to hardware capable of near-photorealism, and surround sound audio. Yet, today, videogame makers need not feel compelled to make their games to fit the price point of a major videogame release ($50-$60), and the expecta tions that players have when paying that much for a game on a particular cons ole. Each of the major console makers have developed online stores which allow for the dist ribution of both older videogames, and brand new properties that are graphica lly simpler at a lower price point. These games are much cheaper to develop, and allow many developers to take risks that they would not take if they were spending tens of millions of dollars in production and distribution. From a videogame narrative perspective, this has allowed for the di stribution of many excellent story-driven games from previous console generations to whole new audiences. Serv ices such as Microsoft Xboxs Live Arcade, Sonys Online Playstation Store, and Nintendos WiiWare will also allow for the 176

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development of new, innovative videogame narratives previously unimagined, or untried for fear of a multimillion dollar flop. The first inklings of this have already o ccurred with the release of games like the WiiWare title LostWinds (2008). LostWinds is a short, simple, but beautiful game about harnessing the power of the wind with a Wii remo te. The player takes on the role of Toku, an inhabitant of the island Mistalis, who, with the aide of a wind spirit named Enril, must save his island village from the evil Balasar (Figure 6-2). While LostWinds embodies a simple story, it represents a new development and distribution model for videogame narratives that should allow for the diversification of videogame narratives in the future. At only $10, LostWinds is a videogame narrative equivalent of a short story; it takes only about 3 hours to play through the game as opposed to the dozens of hours it typical takes to play though fu lly priced releases. LostWinds represents but one of many possibl e new directions videogames can take because of the greater variations that now exist in terms of vi deogame creation and distribution. However, another shift is occurr ing in videogame production that has the potential for far greater ramifications for videogame narratives. This shift is occurring in re sponse to what Henry Jenkins calls participatory culture culture in which fans and ot her consumers are invited to actively participate in the creation and circulation of new content ( 290). This cultural shift has been driven by the increased control audiences have come to expect in the digital age. While videogames have always allowed a level of part icipation that other na rrative media seldom do, increasingly, avid fans of videogames desire to be given creation tools that allow them to extend the play possibilities of games they have enjoyed playing. A tremendous amount of academic writing about new media focuses on issues of the changing relationships between content creators and consumers. Many think these changes are 177

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for the betteran egalitarian evolution towards a more creative, globall y connected community. Others think these changes are cluttering an already overpopulated landscape of art, entertainment, and information. But whether this new wave of content and collaboration is a positive overflow of creativity and options, or an overwhelming flood of uselessness, there is no disputing that the tides are chan ging. The Internet especially has disrup ted the pre-existing institutions of production, dist ribution and consumption. Bill ions of web pages created by millions of computer users fill the Web with new information, art, and entertainment. It seems as though just about everyone with the means and a method is sharing something with someone. This desire to not just consume but to create and share new content is now finding expression in videogames. Videogame developers have increasingly attemp ted to tap into this desire by developing content creation tools that make it easier for vide ogame fans to make new content within a given game world. For years, PC gamers have b een creating modifications (Mods) of existing, commercially released videogames to create ne w gaming experiences th at build on the game engines or even the game world created by ot hers. However, for the most part, these modifications have been made by savvy players capable of changing the programming of a game at the level of code. This limited the number of people who could translat e the ideas they had to the videogame medium, and very few programme rs capable of creating good Mods were also capable or inclined to create compelling narrative content. 5 5 This does not mean, however that these modifications were not excellent games. In fact, some of them have become just as popular as the games they modified. A prime example of this is the popular modification, CounterStrike (1999), of the popular game, Half-Life (1998). Counter-Strike is so popular, in fact, that to this day, over seven years after its initial release, it is still one of th e most widely played first person shooter games online (Steam). 178

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This is changing, however, as is evidenced from the soon to be released Playstation Store game Little Big Planet (2008), which is already available as a free demo. It promises players the ability to create their own characters, objects, an d levels. Furthermore, these creations can be shared with others, and the best designs create d during the demonstratio n period, the developers say, may make it into the later, fuller commercial release of the game. So in this case, the original game makers are quite lit erally giving over authorial contro l to the players, so they in turn can become authors themselves. The promise of this game to provide easy opportunities to players to have the ability to create for themse lves and others has made the pre-release hype for this game extremely high. The developers have tapped into the creative desires of huge numbers of gamers who have shown an interest in becomi ng game makers since the earliest stages of the mediums development. And if Little Big Planet turns out to be as succes sful as many anticipate, it is sure to lead to similar games, and possibl y a greater shift toward player generated content (Figure 6-3). It isnt just a matter of how much conten t is being created an d who is creating it, however; it is the type of content that can be cr eated that is also changing with these new, easier to use development tools. As more and more people are getting access to easier to use videogame development software, the videogame ha s begun to see the rebirth of the auteur. With much of the technical work already done or simplified, it is once ag ain possible for a small group of individuals or even just one person to make graphically simple, but potentially complex and compelling videogame narratives that are easily distributed on the Internet using relatively simple creation software such as versions of Adobes multifunctional Flash program, or specifically designed software su ch as versions of RPG Maker, which includes basic templates 179

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for graphics, sounds, and interface as well as easy ways to create new graphic, sound, and game play elements. One of the most controversial videogame narrativ es born of this new era of auteur created content is Super Columbine Massacre RPG (2005). Super Columbine Massacre RPG (SCMRPG) was created with RPG Maker 2000 in 2005 by a Colorado native and selfproclaimed loner who was bullied while he was in high school, Danny LeDonne. In this videogame, the player can take on the role of ma ss murderers Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold as they plan and execute the murd ers at Columbine High School (Figure 6-4). The game, which is disturbingly similar to console RPGs of the SNES such as Final Fantasy VI uses sprite-based graphics from that era and low qua lity MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) versions of popular grunge and alternative music from the 1990s such as songs by Nirvana, Radiohead, and Smashing Pumpkins as a sound track. The game also includes digi tized photographs from Columbine High School, including pi ctures of the dead bodies of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold as they were found in the schools library. The game does not end with their death, however, but continues as they travel to hell and meet an odd assortment of real and fictitious, living and dead characters. Some of these characters are from popular videogame narrativescharacters such as Pikachu, Mario, and Megaman are all avatars from games the killers may have played growing up. Other characters were people, living or dead who may have influenced Harris or Klebold, or who represented the time of the killings. In he ll, the player meets pe ople such as John Lennon who is playing his song Imagine and Fr iedrich Nietzsche who accepts a copy of Ecce Homo from the player and praises Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor for his proclamations that God is Dead. While these people were dead when the massacre occurred, the player also meets others such as Ronald Reagan who were still alive when the Columbine massacre occurred. In the final 180

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battle of the game, after the play er as one of these real life ki llers has enacted the real life horrors, which for so long have been linked to videogame violence, the player battles Satan himself in the form of the cartoon Satan from the animated show South Park, and when Satan is defeated, he promises the killers freedom from hell if the player collects the two pieces of the Satanic Bible and brings them both back to hi m. Once this is accomplished, they are finally rewarded by Satan with a flying dr agon on which they fly out of hell. It is not surprising that this game was met with an avalanche of passionate criticism. It is one of the most controversial vi deogames ever made, and it is the only game to be nominated and then dismissed for consideration for an award at the independent game festival Slamdance (it was removed despite tremendous support from ot her independent develo pers involved with Slamdance). When news of the game hit the ma instream media outlets, it was reported on with horror and media critics critiqued its production with contemptuous out rage and disgust. Yet this contempt was not universally felt, and some pe ople even praised the game. When noted videogame scholar and Georgia Tech professor Ian Bogost disc ussed the game on the online forum Water Cooler Games, he said this: While it is a challenging subj ect, I think the effort is brave, sophisticated, and worthy of praise from those of us interested in videogames with an agenda. The purpose of this game is not to celebrate the events at Columbine, but to attempt to represent them from the pe rspective of the perpetrato rs. This is a worthwhile effort, and one truly unique to videogames as a medium. Because of this and other statements about th e game, some have called for Bogosts dismissal from Georgia Tech. Such was the fury over the game. However, unlike other similarly themed controversial games that followed SCMRPG such as the less thoughtful and more crass game based on the Virginia Tech massacre, V-Tech Rampage, many who have actually played SCMRPG have found it both disturbing and compel ling. Some say the game is both a 181

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commentary on the horrible event itself, and the soci ety in which it occurred. Others claim that it is a grim satire of traditional game conventions that ma kes players think of videogames in a disturbing, more serious light. But perhaps the most telling opinion of the game is one by a survivor of the massacre who decided to overcome his initial surprise that someone would make a game based on the events he lived through to ac tually play the game (something that most of the critics of the game have not done). Richard Castaldo, a student paralyzed from th e chest down after bei ng shot repeatedly by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold has this to say about playing the game in an interview with popular videogame blog Kotaku: It probably sounds a bit odd for someone like me to say, but I appreciate the fact at least to some degree that something lik e this was made. I think that at least it gets people talking about Columbine in a unique perspective, which is probably a good thing. Castaldos ultimate assessment of the game is mixed, noting that the game was both thoughtprovoking and informative, but also deeply distur bing to play. Castaldo is not alone in this assessment, and SCMRPG has remained as one of the more discussed and argued about videogame narratives ever made, not just because of its disturbing subject matter (the Internet and easy development tools have led to a variet y of equally disturbing games, many of which with political, religious, or ideo logical agendas), but because of the care with which it was made, and the artistry with which its deeply unsettling story is enacted by players. Ultimately, whether someone finds SCMRPG or one of the other independently created videogame narratives being produced today now th at production tools have allowed more people to express narrative content in th e medium of the videogame praise or scorn worthy is beside the point that has been central to this dissertation from the start. What videogames like SCMRPG and in a more mainstream and less controversial sense Little Big Planet indicate is that the 182

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stories that can be enacted in the medium of the videogame are becoming more varied and in some cases more profound as development tools become more accessible. This fact coupled with the ease with which new content can be ch eaply and easily distributed on the Internet is leading to a proliferation of new videogame na rratives. As a medium, videogames have come a long way, and videogame narratives have evolved significantly over the last couple of decades. However, if recent history is any indication, we have only begun to tap the potential of the videogame as a narrative medium, and there is no telling what sort of stories we will be playing tomorrow. Figure 6-1. Riddick is using a NanoMed Health Unit to replenish his health. The strategic placement of health replenishing devices is a common convention of action games, so this device carries an affordance of usage even if players did not read the player manual instructing them on its proper usage. 183

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Figure 6-2. Toku seeks help in his effo rts to defeat the evil Balasar in LostWinds (2008). Figure 6-3. In Little Big Planet (2008) players are given the tools to create their own game world and populate it with Rag Doll characters that the players themselves can design. 184

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Figure 6-4. In Super Columbine Massacre RPG (2005), there is a disturbing disconnect between the thoughts expressed by the character Eric Harris and the thought s of most players. 185

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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Sean Fenty was born in Miami, Florida, in 1977, and lived in Florida until the summer of 2007 when he moved, with his wife Nicole, to L ouisville, Kentucky. He received his B.A. in English and religious studies from the University of South Florida in 2000, and his Masters of Arts degree in English from the University of Florida in 2002. He is currently a fulltime instructor at the University of Louisville. Starting in 2009, he will become the Dual-Credit Coordinator of Composition classes at the University of Louisvill e. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, biking, and lounging around with Nicole and their dog, Blake. 194