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Wall Scribblings - The Idea of In-game narrative

Wall Scribblings - The Idea of In-game narrative

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: jkingjam on Jan 15, 2008
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05/08/2014

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Jagabanta NingthoujamInstructor: Alex MitchellUAR 2205Word Count: 203827 November 2007
Wall Scribbling: The Idea of In-game Story Telling
 
 Narration in a game can be classified into three chronological category namely pre-game, in-game and post-game narrative. Pre-game narrative is the designer’s world and builds the motive behind the game. It is structured, linear, coherent and represents the classical story telling process.Post-game narrative is the culmination of the designer’s story and the player’s experience. Althoughit is also a product of the game, it is nonetheless linear, structured and ‘static’ - simply our own rec-ollection of what story the game was relating. However it is the in-game narrative which consti-tutes the dynamic part of story tellingin a game. The real time unfolding of events and the interac-tive framework makes the experience of certain games, a story creation process in addition to beinga story telling mechanism. In-game experience builds upon the pre-game story and forms the basisfor the post game story.In his essay ‘ Narrative, Interactivity, Play and Games: Four Naughty Concepts in Need of Dis-cipline’, Eric Zimmerman raised the question, “What if dynamic play procedures were used as the basic building blocks of storytelling?”
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. In my essay I would like to ask and answer the question“What if dynamic game procedures were used as the basic building block of the story?”. This essaywill introduce a real life multiplayer game experiment conducted within a controlled classroom en-vironment and show that spatial content and the process-intensiveness of a game, forms the cruxaround which in-game stories are related and created. 
The Project
The project was a multiplayer, non-computer, enacted game titled
The Last Stop before Ausch-witz 
and as the name suggests, the players in this games are meant to be prisoners in a Nazi Jewishconcentration camp. The objective for them is to escape in 4 days - each lasting 10 minutes in real
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Eric Zimmerman, "Narrative, Interactivity, Play and Games: Four Naughty Concepts in Need of Disci- pline", in
 First Person: New Media as Story, Performance and Game
, edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and PatHarrigan. (MIT Press, 2004). p. 154
 
time - as the prisoners are going to be transfered to Auschwitz
 
where a sure and painful death awaitsthem. In-order to insure healthy player interaction, we devised a trading and scoring mechanismusing the cigarettes as the currency and the rations as the health meter. A person unable to fulfill thehealth requirement during the daily medical check-up are to be executed. There are 5 NPC’s in total,namely the Warden, the two guards, the Medical Officer and an inmate.There are two ways inwhich they can carry out the escape. One way is to trade and earn enough cigarettes or win a gameof poker against the warden and earn the cigarettes to bribe the medical officer for a drink whichcan later be used to bribe the guards. Another way is to finish digging a tunnel - replicated as a jig-saw puzzle - while escaping the guard’s attention.Spatially, the game was structured within the classroom, where prisoners were divided intothree adjacent cells. In addition there was the warden’s room and an infirmary where the medicalcheck-ups were going to take place. There was a courtyard where construction was taking place andthe prisoners were supposed to work there. A game of Sudoku was used to replicate the constructionwork. Trading between the cells were going to be possible only during the ‘day time’ when theywere supposed to be working. ‘Night time’ was reserved for activities such as tunnel digging (solv-ing the jigsaw) and the poker game with the guards. Since each day-night sequence was timed downto 10 minutes, quick thinking, planning and collaboration became crucial. Rules were relayedthrough the Warden’s Speech at the beginning of their incarceration. But the more interesting as- pects such as those relating to the escape were informed via the wall scribbling in the 3 cells whichcarried cryptic and seemingly unconnected information on a previous escape attempt, and also theinmate NPC - who initiates the chain of events leading to the digging of tunnel in his cell.Since it is a real life game, players had relatively more freedom of action, but with this came adecrease in the designer’s control and the complexity of the rules. However, as we shall find out,the ease of interaction became the underlying factor leading to the formation of powerful narrativethrough player’s action and interaction with each other and the fictional world of the prison.
Spatial Content
When we began designing our game/project, we were faced with the problem of how to makethe game an interactive narration rather than a simple game of trading and surviving in prison. Tosolve this we turned to an embedded narrative architecture where the space of the game became our canvas. Each of the cells in the prison had wall scribbling - analogous to the cut scenes in conven-
 
tional video games - which on the surface seemed random and unrelated, but when read as a wholetold the tale of an earlier escape attempt much in consonance with the objective of the game. Thisalso served as means to convey the way in which they could plan their escape.Here, the game space has been transformed into a platform for spatial narrative where objectswithin the game world told the story. Designers in such a process, have a great deal of control over when, where and how much information is conveyed to the players. Embedded narrative thus be-comes ideal for a multi-player experience where interactivity is heightened. In addition since bitsand pieces of the narratives are distributed across the game space, it also becomes an unstated chal-lenge within the gameplay, to piece together the narratives. And as Henry Jenkins mentions, em- bedded narrative can and often does occur within contested spaces
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, players often have to overcomesome enemy or acquire new skills or complete a micro-mission to gain access to further embeddedstories. In our project, players had to engage in conversation with fellow inmates from other cell in-order to gain access to what was written on their walls during the short short duration of construc-tion work they had to do during the day. Jenkins uses the example of Half Life and says thatSuch a mixture of enacted and embedded narrative elements can allow for a balance be-tween the flexibility of interactivity and the coherence of a pre-authored narrative.
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Embedded narrative thus makes story-telling in a game an interactive experience of challenges anddiscovery. However in an ideal interactive environment simulating real life, rules becomes the onlyconstriction to what can be done and what cannot be. In such a scenario, the designer’s feed of in-formation becomes inadequate and the role of emergence narrative and games as story creation en-gine takes over.
Procedurality and Emergent Narrative
Since our project was a ‘real life’ simulation of real life condition during the war, it was in a sorta perfect interactive game save the physical believability of the environment and constricting rules.Rules , however constricting, streamlines the ways in which players can interact and in a way con-trol the chaos of real life in the game and present the possibility of creation of coherent emergent
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Henry Jenkins
,
“Game design as Narrative Architecture”, in
 First Person: New Media as Story, Perform-ance and Game
, edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan. (MIT Press, 2004)
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Ibid,

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