So, ‘Narrative’, what is it, and how would I define it? Narrative as defined by the oxford dictionary as ‘a spoken or written account of connected events; a story’. But I think it’s more accurately defined as a series of words of almost any length used to convey feeling, emotion or meaning.
But what about narrative in video games, is it the same as that of a book or a film? What makes a video game narrative unique? Quite a lot of questions right, so let’s answer them!
Video games have some unique properties, and the main one we need to touch on is emerging and dynamic stories, and player input. Or simply, control, and how it can be used to create even more strong and compelling stories.
Metal Gear Solid is a great example, or more accurately, MGS 4, the game is described as mediocre at best in narrative. The whole game feels slightly generic and disconnected compared to other titles, but the game’s disconnect is used as a tool, it knows you’re falling away from relating to the main character, and takes advantage of this by nearing the end of the game. One scene begins to play where our main character ‘snake’ has to crawl through a tunnel that’s killing him every step. To make the player ‘feel’ this, they have to mash ‘x’. Sounds boring right?
Despite this, this arduous scene where snake falls to his knees, and crawls, and everyone is praying that he can make it through. Something magical seems to happen, your hands start to hurt from mashing ‘x’ this whole time, a few minutes of pressing this button straight and your disconnect from this character is gone, you want him to succeed because you share a struggle, a common goal. This is something that cinema and novels struggle to use, because it’s a tool that requires the player to be in control. Control is the key to making a narrative affect a player so greatly, and it’s something you’ll only see in interactive media.
But now let’s jump over to another metal gear, one with a more linear structure, one that uses a more traditional method to ensnare the player into it’s narrative.
Metal Gear Rising : Revengeance is a fast paced action game, riddled with quick time events and cyborgs to cut up. It progresses via stages keeping with most action games, and it utilises a cutscene at the beginning and end of each stage to keep the player invested in the story, however a majority of the cutscenes keep to this interactive theme but adding Quick Time Events and to break those up it allows direct control over Raiden, our main characters blade. This direct control gives players the illusion that they are in fact a cyborg ninja defeating a really big ass robot on their own, and not just fulfilling a pre-made scenes events. It’s used to break up the QTEs and keep the player invested in such a way you can almost want to play the entire game in one sitting.
So how does this affect the narrative, and how is relating to it. Narrative in games isn’t just about the main story, it’s about the stories you get from your experience, and by allowing the player to believe they are in full control, these moments because moments we want to talk about, moments we have to share with people, a narrative to carry with us.
So we can descirbe MGRR’s story as Linear, most definitely, it’s a predefined experience that varies a little based on difficulty and player skill, but regardless it’s designed to make you feel bad ass. And that’s what makes games different, a movie can be bad-ass, but a game, can make you feel it.
A game can make the player directly feel something about themselves, a direct new opinion, a new feeling, sure a movie or a book can make you cry or be happy, but they can’t make you feel like you’ve just embarked on this quest yourself as well as game.
And to me, that’s narrative in the context of video games, it’s usually emergent and far more personal. Of course with such a varied medium it can vary per game. Some games have no set narrative, you make your own. Some are just so bad the only narrative you can garner from it is that it sucked, and that’s not really a good narrative now.