Players tell the story in all play experiences, no matter how scripted. Their navigation though said play system is recorded cognitively over time as an experience. Their actions and the game worlds reactions build over time to create a sense of being; of doing – of infinite agency in a closed system. Even Arcade classics do this, as do pen n’ paper RPGs and FPSMMOs, and everything in between. No matter how shallow the interactivity, the gameplay. They peice together and fill in gaps to create a complete picture of the game.
Just ask anyone that has played a game “what happened?” and you will hear drastically different tales. Most probably not the one ‘penned’. The narrative is an architecture – just ask Jenkins. His “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” essay was one of the pieces of the puzzle when I wrote the “narrative designer” position for THQ in the spring of 2006, just after E3. It provides an interesting context for the understanding of how narrative functions in game systems. Working at Marsha Kinder’s Labyrinth Project on what she called “Database Narrative” deeply informed how I have come to approach interactive entertainment, more specifically games.
Database narrative is about forming a multi-dimensional array of narremes (narrative elements) that are rendered to the user according to their navigation within the rule-sets of said system. This is different than the narratological view that the reader is actively producing during the act of reading, but only in the sense that the players actions directly drive moment-to-moment action. Sure, some games fail to create the feeling of agency in a closed system, but it’s deceptively simple. You don’t need infinite systems, open worlds, 5.1 sound and photo-realistic visuals to achieve this.
This is the essence of interactive narrative design.