Narrative and Dialogue in Games
Storytelling is fundamental to the ways in which humans communicate and experience our world. Our appreciation and reliance on storytelling for relating to one another has existed across time and cultures (Gottschall xi). Narrative structures and dialogue are two mechanics for storytelling that are deeply embedded throughout the media we consume. As Roland Barthes wrote, “like life itself, it is there, international, trans-historical, trans-cultural (Barthes 237)." These are the foundational tenents for Theme 2: Narrative and Dialogue in Games, in which IMMERSe researchers explore narrative and dialogue in relation to immersion.
In the second IMMERSe theme, Narrative and Dialogue in Games, researchers participated in an in-depth study of narrative including the different narrative types, the role of player content creation, and the ways in which stories can be translated from one media to another. The theme led to investigations into the role of game writers and the way in which they operate within the overall games industry. Research in the Narrative and Dialogue in Games theme varies in approach and in scope; the research in this theme can consider a single game, a whole genre of games, or even the overall culture of gaming. Questions then reflect back on immersion to address gaps in the literature, such as:
How can we better use narrative techniques/tools and theories/methodologies to improve gaming experiences? How do story genres and dialogue systems work as narrative systems in games?
The theme leader was Darren Wershler, an Associate Professor of English at Concordia University. He is a member of Concordia's Technology, Art and Games (TAG) Initiative, a cross-faculty, interdisciplinary research team which explores the relationship between art and contemporary digital culture (“Darren Wershler, PhD”). Researchers in Narrative and Dialogue in Games predominantly came from Humanities disciplines: English, Digital Media Studies, Performance Studies, and Fine Arts. Collectively, they have explored game narratives, story adaptations, the effects of social factors on a players’ gaming experience, and particular narrative tropes, such as the woman warrior figure.
An interesting application of narrative in games can be found in Alternate Reality (ARG), a form of narrative that uses the real world as a platform. Unlike traditional storytelling, narrative information isn’t confined to one area but instead takes place across multiple digital platforms. This variety of transmedia storytelling can also be altered by the ideas and actions of the participating players (“Alternate reality games”). In “Alternate reality games, narrative disbursement, and canon: the lost experience,” IMMERSe researcher Kent Aardse provides an in-depth analysis of ARG storytelling. He compiles a list of the existing literature on ARG and examines the genre through an analysis of “the Lost Experience,” an ARG game designed by the writers of the television drama Lost. Aardse contends that, as a genre, ARG games tend to be completed in a group using a technique called “collective intelligence.” Distributed fiction is much more collaborative than the conventional narrative form and it also make use of hyper-attention, something that Aardse contends, signifies a “shift in cognition associated with “new” digital media” (Aardse 110-111).
The unique medium of ARG is a good reminder that not all narratives exist within the game world. There are also narratives linked with videogame culture that become embedded in our everyday life. In “Fighting the Good Fight”: Gamer----, NotYourShield, and Neo-facism” IMMERse researchers reported on Gamer----, describing it as “a response to the entry of videogame discourse and culture into the mainstream, and the resulting tensions between a more privileged group of veteran “gamers,” and the perceived “newcomers,” including those who have been criticizing the status quo perpetuated by the game industry.” They contend that at its core, the Gamer---- group is a conservative, right wing, reactionary movement, linking otherness with the loss of the “gamer” identity (Jong 1).
Both examples cited above exemplify how this theme looks both within and without games: narratives exist inside a game, as well as in the culture beyond the game itself. IMMERSe researchers consider how narratives and dialogues in games reflect or construct narrative and dialogues outside games. For instance, narratives of the loss of the “Gamer Identity” which, researchers contend, is often likened to a form of militarized masculinity (Jong). It is a good reminder that there are all kinds of narratives that affect a gamer’s playing experience, even those that exist outside the game world.
Aardse, Kent. “Alternate Reality Games, Narrative Disbursement, and Canon: the LOST Experience.” fan CULTure: Essays on Participatory Fandom in the 21st Century. McFarland & Company Inc., 2014.
“Alternate Reality Games.” Wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternate_reality_game
“Darren Wershler, PhD.” Concordia. www.concordia.ca/artsci/english/faculty.html?fpid=darren-wershler
Gottschall, Jonathan. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.
Barthes, Roland. “Introduction to the structural analysis of narratives.” New Literary History. Vol. 6, No. 2, John Hopkins University Press, 1975.
Jong, Carolyn. “Fighting the Good Fight”: Gamer----, NotYourShield, and Neo-facism.” Dec. 2014, pp. 1-10. Academia academia.edu/10100661/_Fighting_the_Good_Fight_Gamer----_NotYourShield_and_Neo-fascism