At GDC 2018, I was hurrying through the convention center (frazzled, no doubt, about my upcoming talk about designing Frog Fractions 2’s narrative and alternate reality game) when an unobtrusive flyer on a table caught my attention. “Get on board the early hype train for the new Narrative Interactive Fiction Adventure Games Convention” it read, and I was intrigued.
On February 9, 2019, I interviewed Johnnemann Nordhagen of Dim Bulb Games about his game Where The Water Tastes Like Wine, the role of storytelling and narrative in interactive media, the politics of representation in video games and America as a national myth. The interview was conducted as part of my doctoral dissertation research at the University of Southern California, and can be heard at the Red Pages Podcast website.
On January 31, 2019, I interviewed Jeff Kaplan of Activision-Blizzard’s Overwatch team about his time in the video games industry and creative insights into the craft of making games. The interview was conducted as part of my doctoral dissertation research at the University of Southern California, and can be heard at the Red Pages Podcast website.
Emergent Meaning and Narrative in the Digital Space
Addressing Tensions in Games and Game-like Media
“Most people want to be told a story. Leaving it up to a random number generator is dicey.” – Ed Del Castillo, Producer, Command & Conquer
Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of entertainment in human culture. Throughout the centuries we as a species have invented many ways to tell ourselves stories, and continue to do so. In recent years, games have become one of the most popular formats for delivering narrative, but as a new form of storytelling, narrative games face several critical issues. Although the problems facing this burgeoning medium are not insurmountable, they are uniquely twisted by the fact that games are, by their nature, a participatory endeavor – a transaction between the designers and players where the contact is far more direct than it is in other forms of popular storytelling. Although as an industry games are growing and are doing much better than older, more established mediums in the marketplace, critical thinking about games, and especially how narratives in games are constructed, is still in its infancy. There are at least two fundamental unresolved questions in games criticism –, “how do games mean?” and “how do games tell compelling stories?” Answering both of these questions is a much larger task than I am capable of achieving in this essay, but by the end I hope to provide a potential framework for how games mean and from there briefly propose a solution to the narrative question.
In this essay, I discuss the evolution of epistolary fiction from its early days in novels through modern incarnations in video games.
“The human mind seldom arrives at truth upon any subject, till it has first reached the extremity of error.” – Benjamin Rush, Essays, Literary, Moral & Philosophical (147)
The above quote was written in 1798 by one of the newly-founded United States’ leading citizens. Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphia physician, educator, politician and reformer was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and founded Dickinson College. I cite him now for his medical reputation. One of the premier physicians of his day, he founded the American psychiatry tradition, publishing the first textbook on the subject. His contributions to the field of medical science are still influential to this day.