Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Narrative in Games Part 3: MMORPG and ARG

Narrative in Games: Alternate Reality Games and MMORPG:

Question: What unique experience do these types of games offer? 

To tackle this narrative project we are looking at a different genre or sub-genre of games. The massive multiplayer online role playing game represents a social gaming experience driven by a narrative game play base. What makes this different from other games is the “massive” aspect. Players from all over the world can enter a virtual world at any one time. This populates the virtual world with players and gives the feeling of a living breathing environment.  When this many players populate a game space the different personalities or alternate personalities of the players take shape and create a unique experience.  While some players may drive towards the narrative to be a good person, others may drive towards the narrative be evil or a bad person. This gives the game a sense of unpredictability. It lets players interact and create a story driven by their actions. The massive approach allows the general narrative to play out anyway the players(individually, grouped or as a whole) see fit. For me, a good player, I want to be a good warrior or knight. For the “bad” they want to stop me or do more quests for the evil side to advance their narrative.  I’ve played Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic and the narrative experience for those who are Lightside or Darkside is different and drives different story elements. Once you are complete with the narrative you can then participate in an ongoing struggle versus other real players to continue your faction's goals. It is this cycle of narrative that keeps players engaged and wanting to fight for their respective sides much like fans root for a sports team.  

 In my personal opinion, what I consider the most unique aspect of these games as narrative experiences is the social camaraderie that players feel with each other.  For a while, the stigma that represented video game players was; basement dwelling loners that were antisocial and most likely living with their parents.  I can now say with confidence that stigma is and should be changed. I would even contest video game players (more specifically, MMORPG players) have more social qualities than other players. Here is my case in point. When you go out into a social environment I am basing my opinion or assuming that you will have met with per-existing friends or in a group of social acclimated friends or friends of friends.  How often do we meet “new” people. How often do we walk up to someone that is a complete stranger and ask, “hey, can I help you with that task, or problem”. I do not have any research to back this up, but I’m guessing this does not happen too often. Now let us look at the MMO world. Everyday complete strangers from opposite ends of the world sometime meet, talk, and help each other out in an extraordinary social event where mutual trust and friendship develop in a quick time frame.  Thinking about this, to me, is pretty remarkable.  For players who have been deemed antisocial elsewhere, they are, astonishingly social in their virtual worlds.  This social aspect develops into a shared story that everyone plays a role in.  This is a major difference I take away from this narrative experience.  I think of it as a movie and everyone has a part in the lead role.

"Original post updated 3/30-
"The stereotype of gamers as anti-social loners is inaccurate, according to a new study"

Alternate Reality Games also have a large social and multiplayer theme. The difference between these games and MMORPGs are ARGs are mainly narrative driven real life quests. One way I helped describe ARGs for myself is comparing it to a Play. A play where everyone has a part in the story and plays a role to move the narrative along.  A play that could be a detective story where there is an interactive audience or a play where you simply participate for a larger goal.  What makes these unique is the real world interaction.  For example the clue to the detective narrative could be on a billboard in the middle of a city, which may look normal to everyone else, but those playing the game seeing it as a clue. This builds on social interaction, camaraderie and collaboration to transform into a real world event.  I have never played an ARG or so I thought. Run, Zombie was an iPhone app in which you logged your running times. I had no idea it was actually an ARG until I began reading about the social interaction and ARG elements it maintained. I just thought it was a fun way to keep tabs on running.

In conclusion, I feel the most unique feature for these games is the social requirement they have.  Playing together is truly an experience these two narrative genres bring to the table. To me it is a remarkable idea that does not get discussed enough when talking about video games.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Narrative in Games: Zelda and MY link to the past

For this assignment we were tasked with exploring Zelda a Link to the Past and then discuss and reflect on what is meaningful and what type of experience this type of game offers its players. I knew from playing Zelda games previously that I wanted to focus on the narrative that this type of experience offers. Below is a journey into my thoughts through this experience. The game link is below:


noun \ˈner-ə-tiv, ˈna-rə-\
: a story that is told or written

To me the best explanation of why Zelda in my mind brought narrative to the hearts of video game players is below:


A Link to the Past is a prequel to the original The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.[11][12][13] At the beginning of the game, a young boy named Link is awakened by a telepathic message from Princess Zelda, who says that she is locked in the dungeon of nearby Hyrule Castle. As the message closes, Link finds his uncle ready for battle, telling Link to remain in bed. After his uncle leaves, however, Link ignores his uncle's command and follows him to the dungeons under Hyrule Castle. When he arrives, he finds his uncle mortally wounded. Link's uncle tells Link to rescue Princess Zelda from her prison, giving him his sword and shield. Link navigates the castle and rescues Zelda from her cell, and the two escape into a secret passage through the sewers that leads to a sanctuary.[14]
Link is told by a man in the sanctuary that Agahnim, a wizard who has usurped the throne, is planning to break a seal made hundreds of years ago by the Seven Sages. The seal was placed to imprison a dark wizard named Ganon in the Dark World, a near-mirror of Hyrule which was once known as the Sacred Realm before Ganon invaded it, obtained the legendary Triforce held there, and used its power to turn the realm into a land of darkness. Agahnim intends to break the seal by sending the descendants of the Seven Sages who made the seal into the Dark World. The only thing that can defeat Agahnim is the Master Sword, a sword forged to combat evil. To prove that he is worthy to wield it, Link needs three magic pendants, hidden in dungeons guarded by mythical defenders. On his way to retrieve the first, he meets an elder, Sahasrahla, who becomes Link's mentor offering hints and advice at key stages of the journey. After retrieving the pendants, Link takes them to the resting place of the Master Sword. As Link draws the sword from its pedestal, Zelda telepathically calls him to the Sanctuary, informing him that soldiers of Hyrule Castle have arrived. Link arrives at the Sanctuary moments after the soldiers have vacated, where he learns from the dying Sanctuary keeper that Zelda has been taken to Hyrule Castle. Link goes to rescue her but arrives too late; Agahnim sends Zelda to the Dark World. Link then faces Agahnim in battle and defeats him, but Agahnim's last act is to send Link to the Dark World as well.[14]
To save Hyrule, Link is required to rescue the seven descendants of the Seven Sages from dungeons scattered across the Dark World. Once the seven maidens are freed, they use their power to break the barrier around Ganon's Tower, where Link faces Agahnim, who creates two ghostly specters each as powerful as he is. After Link defeats Agahnim for a second time, Ganon rises up from Agahnim's body, turns into a bat, and flies away. Link chases him, finally confronting him inside the Pyramid of Power at the center of the Dark World. After a battle resulting in Ganon's demise, Link touches the Triforce and restores both the Dark World and Hyrule to their state before Ganon intervened.[14]

It would be hard to argue the power of storytelling is not on full display in Zelda games. It would be equally hard to argue the story of Link and Zelda is one of the most adoring features Zelda games have produced over the many years. In the honor of full disclosure you should know I am partial to Zelda. It was the first game I ever completed and felt a sense of accomplishment and emotion over. The story had me. It had me from the beginning to the end. You see, I was Link.. That’s right, I Jason Marconi, played Zelda and became Link. I would play during my fathers allotted times for game play (snow storms, rainy days, or a few select lucky moments as me and my sister saw it). When I was not allowed to play, I was adventuring up and down the creek across from our house and under the bridge that allowed me to cross spruce lane undetected. From there I entered the Lost Woods (recurring area in Zelda games) and into the vast forest between the road I grew up on and state route 309. I look at that forest now and it seems so small, but I can remember taking my red “rambo” bow and arrow  and traveling through those woods for hours, as Link in search for adventure.  That is how much the narrative of Zelda meant to me, it was my childhood for a while. Where I grew up we had a small neighborhood, and the majority of children in the neighborhood where at different ages. Pretending to be Link saving Princess Zelda was my play.  It was my greatest adventure, I saved orange salamanders, hid from futuristic cars passing on the road, threw rocks at snakes that stood between me and  Princess Zelda, and ruined A LOT of clothes. My real life imagination took me somewhere  the narrative and gameplay of Zelda created.

I have recently taken too reading as much as I can about the power of narrative in games. I stumbled upon an on-going academic debate that seems to be as endless as the chicken or egg debate. I enjoy both sides of the argument (Ludologists versus Narratologists) and try to draw connections to where I should fall on this debate by referencing such experiences from my past, as well as the  limited readings I’ve done thus far.  What I shared with you above is an incredibly personal look into some of the best memories I have. The story I shared is the narrative to early chapters in my life.  In Gonzalo Frasca’s Ludologists love stories, too: Notes from a debate that never took place he quotes Rune Klevjer who in return quotes  Markku Eskelinen:

“ The Gaming Situation, Markku Eskelinen rightly points out, drawing on Espen Aarseth’s well-known typology of cybertext, that playing a game is predominantly a configurative practice, not an interpretative one like film or literature. However, the deeply problematic claim following from this is that stories “are just uninteresting ornaments or gift-wrapping to games” (Frasca, 2003)

I could be reading into that statement and claim in an unintended way, but the message is up to the receiver to interpret, and how I interpret that is, games and narratives are not considered in the same realm due to interpretive nature that games do not offer(whether through development or gameplay), or so claims this particular statement. The text claims that games are a configurative practice not an interpretive one. I am going to share some thoughts below on my interpretation of Zelda, but Rune Klevjer could have been discussing how games are configurative to create and not Interpretive.  This may have been true ten years ago, but when the production into games such as Bioshock, Gone Home, Journey, Limbo, The Stanley Parable and other artistic games were being created we can play and see the  journey of the game designers interpretation of life, love, loss and psychology. Much like an author. A great example of game designer interpretation being put into an action adventure game is 2K’s Bioschock.. In an interview with popular video game review and news website Gamespot, Creative Director of the game Ken Levine explained his interpretations of the story through the gameplay he was trying to tell. The full interview which I suggest reading through if you're interested is here:

Here is an excerpt that helps follow my thoughts:

GS: For a utopia free from religion, there are a lot of Christian religious overtones to the game (Adam, Eve, Rapture, smuggled crucifixes and bibles), but only one non-Christian thing I spotted: the Epstein the Swami machines. Were you intending to make any commentary specific to Christianity, or was that just what you thought would be most recognizable to your audience?
KL: The game is full of examples of people who have strong ideologies, whether it's Ryan or Cohen or Steinman. They all have their own religions in a way, right? Steinman's got his church of the beautiful and he said he talks to a goddess. Cohen's got his church of the aesthetic. And Ryan's got his own set of precepts that are pretty unyielding. I think that the first thing any strong ideology does, by necessity, is to crush all other ideologies and remove them because they tend to be incompatible. That is one of the reasons that religion was pushed out of Rapture.
But I think conversely, if you look at the history of a lot of religion, you see a similar approach taken there. One religion tends to take hold in a nonpluralistic society. They tend to try to push out other religions. You see that the different belief systems having incompatibilities, and if you really adhere 100 percent to any belief system without question, it's very difficult for you to accept incompatibilities of that belief system.

The gameplay and narrative of Bioshock is enjoyable, but ultimately came from a collection of interpretations. That is, in my opinion at least. I am at a disadvantage to discuss this more in depth due to natural time constraints in the ability to research this further and develop my own research backed theory. So as much as I hate to admit it, I can only offer my opinion at this point. Let us get back to Zelda and narrative below.

I took the story of Zelda and Link at a young age and turned into my own adventure. I feel that is the goal of every great story or folktale. To take the audience and transport them into the story. Zelda was that transportation for me. What is more powerful to me as I look back on this part of my life is nothing else really struck me to act out in the fantasy of a universe the way Zelda did. Not only was I interpreting the world that surrounded Zelda, but I was engaging in that world through my own imagination outside of playing the game. This active engagement is something many researchers have found to be critical in childhood development.  I’ve come to appreciate that freedom I had as a child to create these universes, maybe that is why I feel the box can still be a spaceship, even at thirty years old.  I have to disagree with Eskelinen, that playing a game is a predominantly a configurative experience.

(readers note: After boldly stating I was going to disagree with Eskelinen, I decided to read as much of his material as I could, by the end it wasn't as easy as disagreeing and feeling right, I could no longer produce the “why” I felt he was wrong other than grasping at some instances of modern games, I’ll explain below)

When I decided to disagree with Eskelinen, I decided to read more into where he was deriving his opinion. It turns out, the space between configurative and interpretive is a little more murky than how I was interpreting his writing.

Another quick look at Espen Aarseth's typology of cybertexts (Aarseth 1997, 62-65) should make us see that the dominant user function in literature, theatre and film is interpretative, but in games it is the configurative one. To generalize: in art we might have to configure in order to be able to interpret whereas in games we have to interpret in order to be able to configure, and proceed from the beginning to the winning or some other situation (3).
In literature, theatre and film everything matters or is conventionally supposed to matter equally - if you've seen 90% of the presentation that's not enough, you have to see or read it all (or everything you can). This is characteristic of dominantly interpretative practices in general. In contrast, in computer games you either can't or don't have to encounter every possible combinatory event and existent the game contains, as these differ in their ergodic importance. Some actions and reactions in relation to certain events will bring the player quicker to a solution or help her reach the winning situation sooner or more effectively than others. There are events and existents the player has to manipulate or configure in order to progress in the game or just to be able to continue it. Events, existents and the relations between them can be described at least in spatial, temporal, causal and functional terms. It's equally self-evident that the importance of these dimensions varies from game to game and sometimes also within the phases and levels of an individual game. (Eskelinen, 2001)

What I take from this is looking at games as manipulations of players on the screen and not taking into account the player engagement to the story. I can beat a game and not take anything from the story. I can read a book and not take anything from the story. For a moment maybe we should forget about those types of books and games. Ultimately the player or reader will be the ones configuring or interpreting, so should it be on them to decide?

I want to look more at the way Zelda for this assignment took narrative and attached it to action and adventure gameplay.  Many narrative in the past follow a similar set of events similar to folk tales. Zelda follows this and forms a moving story that drives the action and adventure from its core. I use the word core there purposefully, because I feel the core value of the Zelda games rely on narrative.  Jesper Juul notes this as “a simple structure with a positive state broken by an external evil force. It is the role of the player to recreate this original positive state. This is, of course, a sequence often found in folk tales: An initial state, an overturning of this state, and a restoration of the state” (Juul, 2001). The sequence for the narrative is set out, Link our hero, Princess Zelda or victim, the evil forces, and the player sets out to correct the overturned state. What is in the middle of this arch? You are, the player. The action and adventure drive the arch, without it for this particular game we would never fully realise the overturned state or the correction to restoration. My question then is, if the player never beats the game, and fully completes the arch, is it then considered an incomplete narrative, or is it something different?  

Where I found that I was arguing with myself was over distinction. I sat back and decided to think more about the educational side of games. The components that work but more specifically whether games by themselves(action adventure in this case) are appropriate for educational purposes. After all, the class I am taking deals with gamification in education.  I found one train of thought in Game Design as Narrative Architecture by Henry Jenkins, he says “ If some games tell stories, they are unlikely to tell them in the same ways that other media tell stories”.(Jenkins, 2004) Viola! That is the point right? If Zelda tells a story through action and adventure at my command and control it is never going to recreate that exact experience for me in a movie, or book. Stay with me here,  If I learn how to solve E=mc2 through literature that is one experience. Perhaps, I even learn best through that experience. If as a student I learn E=mc2 through a movie, is that not another medium in which I have learned the concept? Again, perhaps that movie and watching it was the best way for me to learn. If I then solve E=mc2 through various practices and scenarios, I have again learned the concept in a different medium, and like the previous mediums perhaps the hands on practice of the concept was the best way for me to learn. Finally, If I learn E=mc2 by playing a game of the concept (imagine any game that could teach it, simulation, action adventure, etc.) that is yet another medium in which I learned E=mc2. Lets manipulate the quote from Jenkins to be a Jason Marconi half original. If some games teach concepts, they are unlikely to teach them in the same way other media does. Is this an accurate statement?  The actual game play itself may teach the player in a different manner, but a game that includes narrative, video, and hands on via gameplay or mini games can offer a full cross-medium experience. This has the potential to connect more students of different learning styles than any ONE medium could.

This assignment was to revolve around what I took from the action adventure game Zelda a Link to the past, clearly it turned out to be more.. For me it truly was a link to the past because I thought of all the times I had pretending to be Link, and I wanted to know if the power of that story was prevalent and a need for all games.  So like the adult child I am, my new adventure took me into a new modern day tri-force, ludology, narrative, and games.  If reading this seemed like I was arguing with myself, that is because I was. I was solving my own problems and creating my own questions as I wrote line after line, and read more and more academic writings on the issues. I was being sucked into the Ocarina of time if you will. ( I’m aware that is 100% geektastic, and I don’t apologize hahah. Monday through Friday I have to discuss and lecture economic policy, management and current  issues and I  seldom get to shed that costume for the other version of myself haha, so for the twelve weeks of this class i’m embracing my hidden Sheldon Cooper)

Once I found myself deep in the rabbit hole of narrative in games, I needed an  end  to the circle. Regardless of what narrative does for games, I want to shine a light on what a good game with narrative and interaction could do for a student. A student for example, that may not learn a concept they are struggling over any other way. Even if just one student, gets that lightbulb moment through game and play, in my opinion it was/is worth it.  Just think, no other medium can represent and incorporate so many other mediums the way games can. Maybe that could be their superiority call to action in classrooms everywhere. A video is just a video, text is just text, but a game can be all of them and more!  I leave with one last thought on just how similar the story and the game are in their respective worlds. One final quote I read that struck me:

“Game Designers don’t simply tell stories, they design worlds and sculpt spaces.” (Jenkins, 2004). 

 Maybe there aptly should be similarities to games, game design, and narratives.
Here is an excerpt from a book that transported me into an alternate universe the same way Zelda did, ask yourself, is that not a sculpted space and designed world unfolding in your imagination..

“ It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.

The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. At one end of it a colored poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a meter wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black mustache and ruggedly handsome features. Winston made for the stairs. It was no use trying the lift. Even at the best of times it was seldom working, and at present the electric current was cut off during daylight hours. It was part of the economy drive in preparation for Hate Week. The flat was seven flights up, and Winston, who was thirty-nine, and had a varicose ulcer above his right ankle, went slowly, resting several times on the way. On each landing, opposite the lift shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.

Inside the flat a fruity voice was reading out a list of figures which had something to do with the production of pig iron. The voice came from an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part of the surface of the right-hand wall. Winston turned a switch and the voice sank somewhat, though the words were still distinguishable. The instrument (the telescreen, it was called) could be dimmed) but there was no way of shutting it off completely. He moved over to the window: a smallish, frail figure, the meagerness of his body merely emphasized by the blue overalls which were the uniform of the Party. His hair was very fair, his face naturally sanguine, his skin roughened by coarse soap and blunt razor blades and the cold of the winter that had just ended.

Outside, even through the shut window pane, the world looked cold. Down in the street little eddies of wind were whirling dust and torn paper into spirals, and though the sun was shining and the sky a harsh blue, there seemed to be no color in anything except the posters that were plastered everywhere. The black-mustachio'd face gazed down from every commanding corner. There was one on the house front immediately opposite. BIG BROTHER Is WATCHING YOU, the caption said, while the dark eyes looked deep into Winston's own. Down at street level another poster, torn at one corner, flapped fitfully in the wind' alternately covering and uncovering the single word INGSOC. In the far distance a helicopter skimmed down between the roofs, hovered for an instant like a blue-bottle, and darted away again with a curving flight. It was the Police Patrol, snooping into people's windows. The patrols did not matter, however. Only the Thought Police mattered.

Behind Winston's back the voice from the telescreen was still babbling away about pig iron and the overfulfillment of the Ninth Three Year Plan. The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live - did live, from habit that became instinct-in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

Winston kept his back turned to the telescreen. It was safer; though, as he well knew, even a back can be revealing. A kilometer away the Ministry of Truth, his place of work, towered vast and white above the grimy landscape. This, he thought with a sort of vague distaste, this was London, chief city of Airstrip One, itself the third most populous of the provinces of Oceania. He tried to squeeze out some childhood memory that should tell him whether London had always been quite like this. Were there always these vistas of rotting nineteenth-century houses, their sides shored up with balks of timber, their windows patched with cardboard and their roofs with corrugated iron, their crazy garden walls sagging in all directions? And the bombed sites where the plaster dust swirled in the air and the willow herb straggled over the heaps of rubble; and the places where the bombs had cleared a larger path and there had sprung up sordid colonies of wooden dwellings like chicken houses? But it was no use, he could not remember: nothing remained of his childhood except a series of bright-lit tableaux, occurring against no background and mostly unintelligible.

The Ministry of Truth-Minitrue, in Newspeak-was startlingly different from any other object in sight. It was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, three hundred meters into the air. From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party:



excerpted from the book


by George Orwell

Harcourt Brace 1949 - Plume printing 1983, paper


Eskelinen, M. (n.d.). The Gaming Situation. Game Studies 0101: Eskelinen:. Retrieved March 15,                                  
       2014, from

Frasca, G. (2003). Ludologists love stories, too: notes from a debate that never took place.                            
      DIGRA Conf..

GameSpot. (n.d.). GameSpot. Retrieved March 15, 2014, from

Jenkins, H. (2004). Game design as narrative architecture. Computer, 44, s3.
Juul, J. (2001). Games telling stories. Game studies, 1(1), 45.

Lindley, E. (2005). Story and narrative structures in computer games. Bushoff, Brunhild. ed.

Orwell, G., & Fromm, E. (19611949). 1984: a novel. New York, N.Y.: Signet Classic.

Zimmerman, E. (2004). Narrative, interactivity, play, and games: Four naughty concepts in need
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