The problem with narrative

In order to better understand the relationship between narratives and games, it makes sense to take a look at a game which is meant to take on narrative undertones. Growing up, I was obsessed with the Harvest Moon series. This is a game which has a distinct storyline– you move to a town, inherit a farm, and then go through life until you grow old. I never finished the game because it became very tedious, but I was in love with the idea of being inside of the story.

http://www.hmfarm.com/ (This is a link to a website for everything Harvest Moon. It will give you an idea of what the game is like.)

It can easily be said that Harvest Moon has a story. But could one say that the game is a narrative? Originally, I would have said, “yes.” But after thinking about our discussions in class on Wednesday, I have changed my answer. I think the main distinction between games and narratives is that you can examine a narrative from the outside. It is easy to look at a text and analyse the different parts of it.

When it comes to games, one has to analyse from the inside and be a part of the environment. Watching Harvest Moon being played was a completely different experience from playing it yourself. There is a connection you make with the game play that changes the conclusions you can draw from it. With most other mediums, you can examine the text from the outside and still draw the same conclusions as those who participate in it– for example, analysing a movie or a book.

So after much deliberation, I think it is safe to say that games are not narratives. Games have stories, but they cannot be considered a narrative.

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2 Comments

  1. I’ve had the exact same experience that chinyeamanda’s had with the Harvest Moon series–it feels with a great idea, but I’ve never played one through to the end. I think I feel that way because it’s an extremely open-ended to play, but to be then forced into its time limit ending and narrative structure is frustrating. For me, at least.

    chinyeamanda–I’m not sure about your inside/outside comparison of experiencing videogames as opposed to other media forms. Are you saying that a reader is outside the novel? Your distinction reminds me of Juul’s distinction between game and story, though his was temporal, not spatial–he argued that a reader reads the events of a novel slightly after the events have taken place, whereas the game player is experiencing the immediate game world. Does that match with the distinction you have in mind?

    –MH

  2. Good question.

    I was referring to a spatial difference. Of course, temporal differences play a large part. I think to better explain where I’m coming from, you have to see Huizinga’s “magic circle” as a place, somewhere a person can go.

    In Mitchell’s “Post-Sedentary Space” essay, there is the suggestion of a fundamental difference between private space (ie. while you’re reading a book) and community or mobile space. With games, you are no longer within a personal space because everything and every character you interact with has become a part of your “magic circle.” The player relies on gathering their cues and information from within the “magic circle” rather than from reality.

    Because of this, games are distinct from narratives. When I had said that one needs to view a narrative from “the outside,” I was simply suggesting that there is no way to experience the narrative in the same way that one can experience a game– there is no “magic circle.”


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