Reading Response #6
1. The chapter in ROP examines a critical debate in game design – the role, function and definition of “narrative” in games.
A) Describe, from your own game playing experience, an example of what would make up the embedded narrative and the emergent narrative in a particular game.
In the Mario games, the embedded narrative is that Mario is a plumber and he’s infatuated with the Princess. He hates Bowser, who’s always trying to steal the Princess, and his mission is to save the Princess. The emergent narrative comes from the game play, how Mario goes about saving the Princess. Players choose which path to take, who to talk to, and who they battle along the way to achieve their goal. All of this is integrated into the narrative as the player chooses. The emergent narrative is based off their actions. For example, Mario decides to pair up with Watt in Paper Mario and is able to reveal hidden objects. This action is based on the player’s decision to team with Watt, and it is not necessarily something that must happen. He or she could have paired with another ally and the hidden objects wouldn’t be revealed.
A) What do you think narrative descriptors contribute to the enhancement of the game play experience?
Narrative descriptors help portray the goal of a game better and move the narrative along. They help players immerse themselves into the game. They can portray a sense of mood or urgency with either calm or fast music. With a narrative skin, they help players understand the world they’re in and what mechanics are available to them. They enhance the experience by making it more realistic and bringing the player into the world of the game so gameplay becomes more natural.
B) What do think happens when there are no narrative descriptors – describe an example of a game like this?
When there are no narrative descriptors, the game can get dull as there is less of a connection to the game. For example, tic-tac-toe has no narrative descriptor whatsoever. It’s a few lines, and X’s and O’s. The game is literally just you and your opponent’s ‘strategy’. If you’ve never played tic-tac-toe you’d also be at a loss of what to do, since there is no narrative descriptor that tells you, you want to align three of the same symbols in a row. Just from looking at or experiencing a game without narrative descriptors it is not as obvious what the point of a game is.
C) How does this concept relate to constitutive and operational rules?
Narrative descriptors can help highlight operational rules. For example if you were playing Asteroids, a narrative skin of a spaceship and asteroids makes the operational rules more obvious. You would probably blow up if you hit a rock shaped object, and if you shoot and hit a rock shaped object it would probably blow up. If this game were played without a narrative skin, and say with big circles and small circles, you would likely be at a loss of the point of having circles on the screen that move randomly. Narrative descriptors help convey the operational rules.
Narrative descriptors can also break away from constitutive rules. While underlying logic to a game can be the same, if they have different narratives, it can make the game seem completely different. For example, while there is underlying mathematical logic to Chutes and Ladders, with the narrative skin the game has nothing to do with math but more of reaching the goal at the end as fast as you can (even if it’s completely based on randomness).
A) Following the arguments in ROP – describe how cutscenes may contribute to and/or detract from a meaningful and pleasurable play experience (see the sidebar on pg 411 for the “cons”).
Cutscenes can benefit players who aren’t familiar with the story and the gameplay of a game. For example in Halo, there are multiple cutscenes in the story part of the game where they show you what you’re fighting for, and how the enemies function and what they are doing that is so detrimental to the world. Cutscenes sometime show you what you need to do and give you incentive to do it, thus giving your actions meaning and a more pleasurable play experience. (Assuming meaningful choices lead to pleasurable play.) However, to the hardcore gamer who already knows about Halo and just wants to destroy the enemy and set the record for fastest time, cutscenes don’t add anything to the game. They’re just the random movie that pops up before or after you do something amazing and save the day. For these gamers, cutscenes get in the way of their playing and may even give away hints that they didn’t want or need to beat the game. In this way, it takes away some of their choices and pleasurable play.
B) Explain your personal take on the value of cutscenes?
Personally, I love narrative and I love the extra depth cutscenes add to the game. They’re like a reward; when you do something right, you’re given a beautiful cutscene to watch. Events unfurl from the perspective of the characters and you’re allowed to sit back and see what your effort and hard work has accomplished in the game world. If cutscenes were taken away, the game would be a game with a narrative skin but it would lack the added narrative depth.