Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Week3: Games and Narrative


- This week's workshop starts with a session of Nancy Drew: Curse of Blackmoor Manor (BE SURE TO PLAY ON JR DETECTIVE SETTING - due to limited time). For anyone who doesn't have a terminal, we'll supply notebooks - or you can download the game onto your laptops.

- Debrief on gameplay. Thoughts about linkages to readings and this week's themes.
- Chat about this week's readings (Bizzocchi - see below)

Q: What role will narrative play in your design-a-game projects? In your playlists??

Work on Projects:
Design-a-game - finish playing through the tutorials, get started on your game/level!!! 
Playlist - should have a theme established by now. Start narrowing down your choices

This week's reading was written by Jim Bizzocchi – a prof at SFU's School of Interactive Art and Technology. I chose the article because it provides a really approachable framework for studying narrative as an integrated feature of digital games, one that can be applied to a wide variety of game types and genres. A key component of Bizzocchi's argument is the distinction he makes between narrative arc and narrative framework:

Narrative arc: is the sequence of events that make up the plot in film, books, etc. (although of course these elements are not always in the same order). He breaks down narrative arc into a series of steps, which include:

  • "the setup introduces the characters and the storyworld they inhabit 
  • the complication introduces a challenge to be overcome 
  • the development is the long phase that dominates the bulk of the storytelling, as the protagonist works towards her goal 
  • the resolution or climax is the culmination of the struggles of the development phase, often resulting in some form of victory or defeat 
  • the denouement or falling action ties up the stories loose ends, and allows the narrative experience to gracefully end" (Bizzocchi, 2006, p.3)

Bizzocchi argues that the difficulty in applying this model to digital games is that “its power depends in large part on tight control over the design and implementation of details," and that “tight control over details is precisely what the interactive process does not afford” (p.3) (I would qualify this to: or at least affords to a lesser extent).

Bizzocchi outlines what he calls a “more modest framework of limited narrative parameters” for game studies – which can include examination of the following features (although we should note here that this is still a work in progress):

  • "storyworld - what is the environment within which the game unfolds
  • character - who are the beings that populate this game world 
  • emotion - both the emotions shown by the games characters and those elicited in the player 
  • narrative interface - how are narrative sensibilities instantiated in the appearance and the functionality of the interface design 
  • micro-narrative - smaller moments of narrative flow and coherence that occur within a broader context of game play" (Bizzocchi, 2006, p.4)

The game that we're playing this week is a pretty straightforward example of narrative in games - some may even call the Nancy Drew games "interactive stories" or "interactive narratives" rather than "games" - although they do contain a ton of puzzles, hidden objects and exploration elements, which qualifies them as games in my book. That said, it will be important to think through the different ways that stories can be told through digital game design/play. Through experiential elements, or dramatization, through text or through environment, events or cut-scenes. 

Another key question for this week will be how the groups have thought about narrative in planning for the assignments. 
  • What is the role of narrative in the selection process for your Playlists? 
  • What types of narratives (if any) have you discussed incorporating into your game design experiment?

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