Narrative Organization Through Video Game Space

While narrative space is employed in all forms of media, it really takes on a unique characteristic in video game space. Where else can you fully explore a landscape in three-dimensional space at your own leisure, except in real life? Games today are moving more and more toward free roaming, exploratory forms of storytelling. In Ivan Mosca’s paper, Boards, Outer-space, and Freedom in Video Games (2009), he explores the ontological research of games; spatiality as it relates to place, space, maps, and territory within games; and he creates a classification system of different board types, tabletop and computer generated, specifically regarding outer space. The paper’s information is derived from over 50 cited games, mostly western, as well as the previously mentioned ontological research. He states that while literal vision of the game space is necessary, it is not the only component needed to explore it. Movement throughout a space is perhaps even more important. He talks further about how games that take place in outer space should be considered the peak of an experience of place, due to its free nature. The instantiation of movement throughout outer space allows the player to experience an illusion of total freedom, which they conclude is the main focus of western games today.

However, some games are not free roaming. There are many that limit player movement, or take a different spin on the idea altogether. The architecture of the game space is nevertheless still imperative, as seen in Henry Jenkin’s article Game design as narrative architecture (2004). At the time this article was published, there was a bit of a feud between ludologists, simply because some wanted to focus on narrative, while others wanted to focus on mechanics. Some believed that there was no way to link the two, but in this article, Jenkins sets out to make amends and bridge the gap. Using literature review and content analysis of several examples (i.e. theme parks, Civilization, The Sims, etc.), he concludes that the architecture of video games and their stories are inexorably linked. The game spaces serve as narrative functions, and can enhance immersion or provide a new perspective.

Narrative space can also be used in video games as a way to organize the story. In his article, Epic Spatialities: The Production of Space in Final Fantasy Games (2009), William Huber seeks to analyze not the narrative aspects of Final Fantasy games, but the space that they employ. Using content analysis of the games themselves as examples, the aim of his paper is to rethink space and game narrative using geographers’ theories of spatialities (i.e. absolute, relative, relational, material, operational, etc.). He talks not only about the space in which the characters move, but also the menus, maps, and battles in which the player moves. He concludes that while most Japanese role-playing games are criticized for being linear, he believes that this criticism does not take into account the spatial and temporal organizational structures that make the game compelling and exploratory. 

Considering how important geography and landscape is within video game space, there is not much literature from the geographer’s perspective. Shaw and Warf lament this lack of geographer’s stance on the spatiality of games in their article, Worlds of affect: virtual geographies of video games (2009). In the article, they begin their conceptual analysis with a discussion of representational issues involving gender, culture, violence, etc. within video game space. Due to the lack of geographic literature, they use this opportunity to explore video game spaces through these representational qualities and intrinsic meaning. While they discuss a great deal on what video game spaces depict, they also state that this sort of research will grow stale without investigating the naturally associative function of affect. The authors conclude with a question to the reader, asking if the dramatic effect that violent and influential video game spaces have upon its players will result in negative consequences.

……….

My posts so far have been basic literature reviews defining narrative space; space itself; audience immersion of that space; alternative uses and technology for video game environments; and finally, in this post, narrative organization through the use of game space.

Providing these resources has been my main goal so far, as I have obviously not posted any form of critical analysis. In posts to come, I hope to discuss some of these elements more deeply through the analysis of specific video games–old and new. Thanks for reading!

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4 thoughts on “Narrative Organization Through Video Game Space

  1. Nice read… saw your post on r/ludology. I think Jenkins’ article is a great one. Ive done a bit of writing on the subject myself and its really an interesting time to get involved in game studies. I would really encourage you to check out Game Studies (http://gamestudies.org/1302) if you want to check out some of the scholarship. The early stuff caught my attention, particularly Espen Aarseth’s and Jesper Juul’s articles in Game Studies 1.1.

    • Thank you for the information, Jon! I’ve mostly searched academic databases, but I heavily appreciate suggestions for further readings of websites and reliable blogs. Where may I access your writing?

  2. Oh my goodness! an amazing article dude. Thanks Nonetheless I am experiencing issue with ur rss . Dont know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anybody getting similar rss drawback? Anybody who is aware of kindly respond. Thnkx gdekfdcedbde

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