Friday, March 19, 2010

A Marriage - Narrative and Mechanics

This post is all about answering the question: Is the narrative part of the gameplay or is it merely an introduction to set the scene or wallpaper? Please note the use of narrative is from early games such as Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and Asteroids.


A question, is there a story to the game Pac-Man? Yes or No? A game like Pac-Man has no discernible story, instead it is all about the "chase" and eating. What about Pitfall!? Harry has a name but not much else that makes him stand out from a stick man. There is no actual narrative in this game either but that wouldn't stop a player from creating one for the game.

There aren't many clues in the game, Harry could be anyone but why is he in the jungle and why must he get out so quickly? If you create your own narrative, doesn't it make Harry's adventure more rewarding? A player can become more involved in the game, it is no longer a demonstration of skill, it is a quest.

You could say the same for Asteroids and Space Invaders. The game mechanics and play gives you no indication as to why saving your space ship or the world is important. They are all tests of survival.


In 1981, Donkey Kong was the 1st game to use complete narrative in a game. The typical damsel in distress story combined with challenging gameplay. Does this narrative just an excuse for play or is it part of the game?

In Donkey Kong you're given a clear story which outlines the goal of the game. Save the girl. It is a little hard to dissect the gameplay from the narrative and vice versa. Both co-exist but it can also be argued that one is supporting the other.

Haunted House offers a different side to the argument. The game's story gives you a reason for playing this game but without it the player would be clueless of their goal.

There are not enough visual clues in this screen shot to show what is the goal of this game. Which of these icons represents the player? If you weren't familiar with this game, you would not know that it was the pair of eyes.

Rags to Riches is a game about a homeless man who decides that he is going to work his way up the social ladder. The catch is, the player is the homeless man. Although there is no narrative, the player has to connect with this character and the world.

The game provides real life obstacles, the man must get a haircut if he wishes to seek employment but must also dodge the police, robbers and the IRS. This game gives the opportunity for the player to create a story for the character but one that is in the confines of the world.

Although there is a long term goal, the "story" is obviously a way to set the scene for the game. Sadly, if you do reach the goal of becoming a millionare, there is no ending. The game will still continue to play the game of life.

Case Studies:

Bentley Bear finds himself in a castle filled with monsters and witch who are out to get him so he won't walk away with large amounts of the witch's treasure. The plot of Crystal Castles provides you with background for the game. It is one of the few games that features a definite ending instead of repeating the game on a higher difficulty level.

What is the core mechanic and what genre would you call the game?

The player has to find the best way to move Bentley around the screen to collect gems and avoid enemies. Bentley also has the ability to jump on and over enemies.

Crystal Castle is a platformer with some puzzle game elements, you need to complete the level quickly but you also need to move in the environment that allows you to maxinmise your chances of survival.

Does it matter that Bentley is a bear?
Bentley the Bear provides a basis for themeing designs of collectables it doesn't really add anything to the story. You could replace the bear with just about anything from a frog to a robot without harming the story.

Consider The Legend of Zelda (1986) – does it matter that Link is a young boy? What mythos does this game call on?

The Legend of Zelda and its subsequent children showcase how a narrative intergrates into gameplay. Link's goal is to save the princess but there is also the bigger goal of saving Hyrule from Ganon.

Playing as a young boy(man in some games) helps keep the sense of high adventure prevelant in the series. The youth who is exploring unknown lands echoes the player's exploration of the game world. When Link accquires new skills and items, the player can use these to track their own progression.

Link is an archetypal hero who can be found in different forms and media. From fairytales to comic books, the hero has many forms. Joseph Cambell's book The Hero with a Thousand Faces illustrates the journey of the hero.

Looking at the diagram, you can make connections to the flow of typical RPG games.

Obviously as technology progresses, the need for more involvement from the player into the game and world grows. There is a growing number of games that focus on the narrative and use the games as a means of telling that story.

On the flipside there are still games that use the narrative as a frame for launching their game. Having a narrative enables the player(s) to participate at a deeper level, making the game more enjoyable or at the least more interactive.

No comments:

Post a Comment