Narrative Space?

The environment and setting of a novel, movie, or game directly affect the story and characters that are rooted within. Imagine how differently Lord of the Rings would have played out if Gondor was farther north (away from Mordor), and the Shire farther west? How do video games use narrative space to immerse the player? What factors are involved when we talk about “narrative space?” Through this blog, I hope to look into this topic further through literature analysis, gameplay, and personal anecdotes. In order to delve deeper, however, I must fully define what I mean when I say “narrative space.”

Narrative space is a broad and abstract term. First defined by Stephen Heath in 1976, the term has come to include not only novels and film, but also video games and real-life environments. In Heath’s paper, so aptly named “Narrative Space,” he talks extensively about spectatorship in film and the rules of Renaissance perspective. Narrative space in film is defined as the control of movement throughout the story, from the reader/viewer’s perspective. In other words, narrative space is how the reader interprets events within their respective landscapes. Heath argues that the creation of movement and pattern within the film creates a space for the action to take place. His main conclusion is that events not only take “place,” but also provide an environment for someone to observe and move within. It is the passive spectator who follows and moves throughout the narrative space provided by the film itself.

Mark Cooper has stated that Heath’s work is incomplete, however. In Cooper’s article, Narrative Spaces (2002), he critically analyzes Heath’s paper. While Heath talks mostly of spectatorship in film and the rules of Renaissance perspective, Cooper uses textual criticism and aggregates several theories of narrative perspectives, including Carroll, Bodwell, Silverman, Crary, Lefebvre, and so on. In doing so, Cooper is trying to argue that Heath’s perspective on narrative space is incomplete, because Heath solely talks about camera placement relative to the characters, and avoids answering how these “character looks” establish and organize cinematic space. Cooper seeks to answer this through content analysis of how true love is represented in film, not through diegetic space and a single-character perspective, but through a collectively shared space that the lovers inhabit. He concludes that the space and journey that kept the lovers apart until their final reunion is just as important in the visual narrative represented by the spectator’s point of view when seeing the lovers together.

This indicates that narrative space also includes the unseen. It includes the spaces that are talked about and alluded to, not just what’s shown on screen, or described in text. But the idea of space itself has been discussed and changed throughout the years. Join me in my next post when I talk about the different interpretations of space, and how it can be related to the immersive narrative of video games.

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