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Layers of Videogame Narrative and Interactivity Open Access


Other title
the path
content analysis
walking dead
video game
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Gee, Domini J
Supervisor and department
Gouglas, Sean (Humanities Computing)
Examining committee member and department
Rockwell, Geoffrey (Humanities Computing)
Engel, Maureen (Humanities Computing)
Humanities Computing

Date accepted
Graduation date
Master of Arts
Degree level
Narrative in videogames remains a frequently discussed topic in game studies. In 1997, two books offered differing points of view on the value of videogames as storytelling mediums: Janet Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodek and Espen Aarseth’s Cybertext. In the former, though Murray refers to the narrative content of series such as the Mario or Mortal Combat as “thin”, she recognizes videogames’ potential for “evocative theatre experience” and new expressive possibilities. She includes videogames among other digital artifacts under the term “cyberdramas”- a reinvention of storytelling through digital mediums . In the latter, Aaerseth argues for the need to work with the game-text and that play and narrative are two distinct modes of discourse. To deny that there is no difference between the two is to deny the “essential quality of both categories.” These arguments helped set the tone of early debates surrounding how to study videogames, let alone how to define game studies as a unique field. However, the videogame industry has greatly evolved since 1997, resulting in a numerous genres and approaches to game design, causing a growing overlap between narrative and ludic elements. As such, putting aside the narratology versus ludology debate, the next natural question is what makes narratives 'gamely'? How do we work with game-texts? What does it mean to interact with games from the two supposedly distinct discourses – play and narrative – if videogames are a distinct field? And, for my primary interest, what makes videogame narrative ‘gamely’ – compared to traditional narrative mediums such as novels or films – and how should we analyze it? To attempt to answer these questions, I propose a two-part framework that can be used as a guide to recognize different types of interactive elements. The first part consists of a narrative spectrum, which helps articulate the general shape of a game and how much impact the player’s actions have on the overall narrative. The second part consists of a rubric of significant, overarching interactive elements – both narrative and ludic based - in games, which is geared around different ways players directly interact with the game’s content. This is not an all-inclusive framework, nor will it account for all kinds of games, but it should act as an alternative guide for i) identifying interactive elements that appear throughout games, ii) providing an idea of how much control the player has over the game, and iii) exploring questions surrounding narrative interactivity. By analyzing how interactivity occurs, it is not only possible to identify how players interact with a game’s content but also the overall impact of their actions on the narrative and, by extension, how players create meaning.
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