Non-Narrative Games and the Gamer’s Creation of Narrative Value

The question of whether or not games are narratives remains unanswered in Jesper Juul’s “Games Telling Stories: A Brief Note on Games and Narratives”. His essay focuses on the considerations for and against games being examined as narratives, but he does not truly seem to take a position. Though I would classify myself as a non-gamer, especially during school, I do still have experience playing a number of different games, some with actual characters/actors, and some without. With my experiences in mind, I think that most games do not qualify as narratives.

My main reason for asserting that most games do not seem to qualify as narratives is because I agree with many of the arguments against games as narrative in Juul’s essay. The point about how many games do not involve explicit characters especially intrigued me because I do not believe a narrative can exist without a character. This point also brought to mind references to puzzle video games. He mentioned Tetris as an example of games that do not involve actual characters, but there are many other puzzle, logic, or hidden object games that are similar in that they do not use characters, and certainly do not have any discernible story lines. Minesweeper (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6i9Ld4vz4Fk) is one such example. For games that fall under these genres there are only game objectives, but no game stories, and Jesper Juul did mention that research and critique needed to account for the contrasting game genres.

As well, many other games may appear to fit the requirements of a narrative, but even if the games were designed with a backstory, or with a story line implemented, do gamers always engage with the story? It would seem to me that for video games to be treated as a narrative is up to the gamer. Some gamers may be actively invested in certain games because they are enthralled with the story and want to play it out until its conclusion. However, other gamers may not view the game as a whole activity, and may treat each game objective and achievement as separate events that are not given narrative value. It is my opinion that it is up to the gamer to play a game out as a narrative or not. The gamer gives the game narrative value. Therefore the question of whether or not a video game can be examined as a narrative will always have subjective responses.

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3 Comments

  1. I think that it is very true that it is up to the gamer whether to ‘partake’ in a narrative associated with a game. I had not considered this perspective before. We can invest ourselves in the plot in the Mario World games… where Mario and Luigi rescuing Princess Peach from Bowser. But we can also just play the game level after level. It really does not impact game play if we ignore the plot. But I think that having a back story makes a game more plausible. It adds to the “magic circle” elements that absorb the players. Maybe games are not narratives in themselves, but maybe instead a major component or addition to a game is the associated narrative. The story gives context and motivation to a game. And like turning pages gets you farther in a book’s story, playing a game furthers the story that comes with a game.

  2. I agree with the points saying that most games would not be considered narratives. As I brought up in my presentation, I feel as though we can go back to the narrative vs database argument, and I think that most games definitely fall into the database category. This becomes especially evident in games such a minesweeper, as you mentioned, and other puzzle games. They are essentially a database full of different puzzles in which the player goes through and solves them one by one. I feel as though this can also be extended to most games which have levels you must get through. Again, like the database, the observer can put their own story to the pieces, and in the case of video games, there is a suggested, or implied story in which the player can follow. I like the idea you bring up about the gamer giving the game the narrative value, and I totally agree. I think that’s a good way of explaining why you cant definitely classify games as narratives or not.

  3. Games that focus primarily on puzzle elements are usually minimal in terms of narrative, but there are exceptions; the Puzzle Quest series, for example (http://www.puzzle-quest.com/) has achieved some acclaim for its combination of RPG-like storyline and matching gameplay.

    Question: If we accept that video games allow the user to decide whether they are narratives or not, are they the only form of media that grant the user this agency? Or are there other digital media (or media in general) that allow this choice, to some degree? And if not, what is it about games that enable this choice?

    MH


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