Video Games: A Narrative Debate

Before reading this week’s articles I had assumed that all games contained narratives or were at least narrative based. (The Webster dictionary defines narrative as “the representation in art of an event or story”). It was my understanding that the point of most video games was to create a setting in which a plot could be carried out and accomplished by a player or players. However, after reading the various articles, I am now aware of a current debate that divides gamers. Are video games narrative or non-narrative?

In my opinion, I think that most, if not all video games have a hint of narrative within them. Most obviously as an example is the new Tomb Raider game called “A Survivor is Born”. The narrative within this game is clear; the young Lara Croft is shipwrecked on a mysterious island and must endure physical and emotional torture in order to survive. ( This link clearly shows the narrative aspects of the game as it presents it in the form of a cinematic trailer.

Another less-obvious example is the game “Space Invaders”. Juul would agree that “Space Invaders” also has a narrative aspect, although it is one that we “have to realize using skill” (383). He suggests that the narrative of this video game is one where an initial state is broken by an external evil force. The narrative is furthered as the player attempts to recreate/restore this original positive state by defeating the alien invaders (Juul, 383). (If you are unfamiliar with the game Space Invaders, you can visit the following link:

Could the game Tetris also be seen as a narrative? For example, as a player we are the protagonist whose narrative is furthered by our need/goal to reach a high score.

Do you find these arguments to be legitimate? Are all games narratives? Or am I going too far and superimposing the narrative form onto video games in order to make sense of them? (Much like Juul says everything can be presented as narratives because “we use narratives to make sense of our lives, to process information…” (383).


1 Comment

  1. Tetris is a good game to question, because it stands on the absolute edge of narrative in games. The argument in favor of Tetris as narrative comes from Janet Murray, who states that the narrative of Tetris is the common experience of the modern Westerner, as it is filled with tasks “that demand our attention and that we must somehow fit into our overcrowded schedules and clear off our desks in order to make room for the next onslaught.” The problem is that we consider this is a narrative, virtually ANY game qualifies. Let’s go with your Webster definition, that narrative is “the representation in art of an event or story.” Is there anything being represented in Tetris?


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