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Videogames and Narrative

Narrative - Definition
• There must be, first of all, an initial situation, a
sequence leading to a change or reversal of that
situation, and a revelation made possible by the
reversal of the situation. Second, there must be
some use of personification whereby character is
created out of signs – for example, the words on
the page in a written narrative, the modulated
sounds in the air in an oral narrative. However
important plot may be, without personification
there can be no storytelling….Third, there must be
some patterning or repetition of key elements.

▫ J. Hillis Miller – “Narrative”

Narration - Example
• The barber was cutting our hair, and our eyes were closed--as
they are so likely to be. . . . Deep in a world of our own, he
heard, from far away, a voice saying goodbye. It was a
customer of the shop, leaving. 'Goodbye,' he said to the
barbers. 'Goodbye,' echoed the barbers. And without ever
returning to consciousness, or opening our eyes, or thinking,
we joined in. 'Goodbye,' we said, before we could catch
ourself. Then, all at once, the sadness of the occasion struck
us, the awful dolor of bidding farewell to someone we had
never seen. We have since wondered what he looked like,
and whether it was really goodbye.“

▫ (E.B. White, "Sadness of Parting." The New Yorker, May 4,
Narrative Theory and Videogames
• Very young
▫ 20-30 years
• Similar to theories in other media
▫ Literature
▫ Film
▫ Hypertext
• Usually two camps
▫ Games as stories
▫ Stories as games
Narrative in Videogames
• More common in Adventure games and Role-
Playing Games (RPGs)
▫ Not to say that it cannot exist in other genres
• For the genres above, the storyline usually is the
Narrative in Videogames
• How is it conveyed?
▫ Cutscenes
▫ Backstory
▫ On screen actions
▫ Dialogue
• Methods of conveyance changed along with
Narrative in Videogames
• What does it mean to the player?
Pong (1972)
Zork (1980)
Mortal Kombat (1992)
Myst (1993)
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Analysis - Dramatism
• Can use the Pentad to form a
quick analysis of the game’s
▫ Act
▫ Scene
▫ Agent
▫ Agency
▫ Purpose
Pac-Man (1980)
• Act
▫ The eating of pellets and
• Scene
▫ A maze filled with pellets
and patrolled by ghosts
• Agent
▫ Pac-Man
• Agency
▫ Moving around the maze
eating every pellet in his
• Purpose
▫ Increase the player’s score
• Narrative will always play a part in videogames.
• There will always be different ways to examine
narrative in videogames.