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.