Do some games still have narratives?

Do games have narratives? I still think at least some of them might. I think that many games have a full narrative in them, and these stories are just expressed and experienced in a new media form. Compared to a story book, for example (which I think no one would argue is a narrative), where a reader may spend extra time on one passage, look for a long time at the pictures or disregard them completely. Maybe they will go back a reread a portion. These are all choices made by the reader and change the impact of the narration. However, it still constitutes a narration that was made before the reader read the book.

I think that a player can also do these things in a game, spending time at one obstacle, exploring the environment, or revisiting a past situation. I think that some games have a defined and preplanned story line that you cannot escape. You can only change the pace at which you experience it.  The Tomb Raider: Legend game for Xbox 360 has a distinct path, where you cannot progress in the game until you solve a puzzle or evade an obstacle. Furthermore, there are video clips between levels that push a plot through the game, and one ending (not counting the times you die and start again at the last checkpoint). Perhaps it could be argued that it is not a narrative because there is no ‘narrator’. But I would like to argue this point as well. I think that the tv screen is a narrator in itself. It tells, or rather ‘shows’, the story from distinct camera angles, lighting, music etc. This creates mood and perspective for the story.

You can learn more about Tomb Raider: Legend here:



  1. Often, when ‘narrative’ is being defined in literary contexts plot and story are the differentiating factor. It is said that plot plays on devices and all sorts of deeper levels and meaning that can come out of an artifact. It could be argued that games are in fact narratives, but lean closer to the idea of a story, acting as a shallower form of narrative. That being stated, games then be discussed in terms of the depth of the narrative within.

  2. jessicastickel is leaning towards a type of criticism which does have some support behind it in literary criticism: reader response theory. Reader response theory argues that the reader’s response to a text shapes that text to a certain extent, and in a world where a text is often part of a much larger transmedia product, I think it’s an important element to acknowledge–the reader response for the Harry Potter franchise, for example, has played a huge part in creating the meaning of the books. As sophiapelka draws out, we can also consider game’s use of narrative on the level of story, though you’ve got to be careful with whose terms you’re using. Juul, for example, in the essay we read, defines story as the part of the narrative that can be translated from one media to another and involves characters and events, which is slightly different from the way it’s being used here. (Not that either use is wrong, but the difference needs to be acknowledged.)

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