Narrative and video games

Published by Caroline Lamarque on

While some focus on a different type of experience, most video games rely on a narrative to immerse us in their worlds. However, there are many ways for a studio to build its narrative. Today, we’re going to focus on the different forms that narration can take in video games.

  • Linear narration. It is the narration without any other form of interaction than the one to influence the temporality of the story (to pause, to go to the end, to go back). It is the narration specific to other media (novel, cinema, series, comic strip…). The only case of linear narration in the videogame domain is that of the visual novel without any textual choice, like the photographic novel or the picture book.
  • The String of Pearls narrative is a narration without any freedom of concrete intervention on the course of the story. We follow the pre-established story in a straight line but with gameplay phases to move from one event to another (puzzles, fights…). This is the type of narration found in an adventure game.
  • The branching narrative is mostly theoretical. It induces many choices. The story branches never intersect and the tree structure is difficult to manage for the developers. If we take the example of a branching tree composed of only 2 branches per decision node, we arrive at 1024 different solutions after only 10 choices. The video game example of this type of narrative is The Stanley Parable.
  • The world state is often confused with branching narrative. World state does indeed have branches, but the branches meet at key moments, creating parallel paths to the same event. In literature, the best known example is that of gamebooks (known thanks to the license of Choose your own adventure). In video games, we can mention the productions of narrative games such as the latest games of the studio Quantic Dream or visual novels incorporating choices.
  • The open world narrative allows us to go wherever we want when we want (leveling concerns aside, of course). This is the video game experience offered by MMORPGs.
  • The amusement park applies when the unlocking of zones in which to evolve freely is done at key moments of the story. This is the case of many AAA productions.
  • The “sandbox” narration is similar to the notion of improvisation. A role-playing game led by a game master who builds his story as he goes along according to the actions of the participants is a telling example. In the video game field, we can cite certain survival games or The Sims in which you ultimately write your own story.

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