Compromise between Games and Mediums for Storytelling In present society, videogames are seen primarily as forms of cheap entertainment to those who want to spend their free time gaming. Because of this assumption, stories in games aren’t legitimately considered to be works of art, simply due to the fact that they are stories in videogames and not movies or novels.
This is an issue today because some game writers spend considerable amounts of time crafting intricate stories for players of the game and despite their efforts, the stories they construct aren’t recognized as works of art because video games ren’t considered a viable medium for storytelling. In his essay Games Telling Stories? written by Juul, he argues this very point: that videogames can’t be considered mediums for narrative. I disagree on this point and argue that videogames can be considered viable mediums for narrative.
In this essay, I will employ a Rogerian approach to Juul’s argument which will involve a consideration of his ideas, an identification of the common ground between our views and finally a suggestion for compromise between our two points of view. In his essay, Juul builds his argument off three pillars of upport: that games are not a part of the narrative media ecology formed by movies, novels and theater, that time in games works differently than in narratives and finally that the relation between the audience and the story world differs from that of the relation between the player and the game world.
Juul claims that in order for a work of art to be considered a narrative, it must be able to translate to other forms of medium, such as novels being recreated in movies. Videogames aren’t able to be translated as faithfully as novels and movies, therefore they can’t be considered mediums of narrative. With regards to time, Juul claims that the narrative has already happened in a novel or movie, whereas in videogames the narrative is constantly being made.
Considering this, he states that “you cannot have interactivity and narration at the same time” (Juul 2001); therefore where videogames have interactivity, they can’t be considered narrative. When deferring to the audience of a movie or novel compared to the player of the game, Juul’s claims that the audience needs a human actant (or some anthropomorphic character) to identify with. In novels and movies this is commonly the case whereas in videogames uch as Tetris (Pazhitnov 1985) and Missile Command (Atari 1980), such a character is nowhere to be found and the player doesn’t have anyone to relate with.
It is because of these reasons that Juul claims that the relationship between the reader with story and player with game are too different to allow for games to be considered mediums for narrative. On the other hand, I believe that videogames are effective mediums for narrative, one such reason is due to its evolving nature as a medium. Video games have only come about recently and unlike reading novels and watching movies where here is only one way of experiencing them, there are multiple ways to experience games that are only growing in variety.
Traditionally, a player required a controller to interact in a game. But as time moves forward, gaming devices like the oculus rift headset, a virtual reality device, are pushing the boundaries of player immersion in the game world. In other words, the gaming console as a medium is pushing towards a more immersive experience in gaming; allowing the player to better experience the game and potentially be more involved in the story. Which brings me to how we define the terms “narrative” or “story”.
I consider a simple definition: a narrative or story, is a series of written events that attempt to evoke emotional responses in the audience. This definition is much broader when compared to Juul’s as it doesn’t impose stringent requirements to narrative and allows for more mediums to be considered narrative. Consider mediums such as theater performances and comic strips, both well-established mediums for storytelling. Theatre performers constantly change for respective plays, therefore the play can’t be faithfully replicated to multiple times and fail to meet Juul’s standards.
With regards to comic books some, such s Marvel and DC comics, have multiple universes in which backstories are volatile and are irregular. This aggresses on Juul’s point that narrative has already happened and can’t be changed, whereas in this case some comic authors are rewriting the past to fit a new future. Both of these mediums don’t fit Juul’s definition of narrative: yet we still consider these two forms of medium excellent ways of telling a story.
Despite Juul and I differing on many aspects of mediums of narrative, there are places of common ground, one of which is that not all games contain narrative. Juul’s claims that Space Invaders (Taito 1977) has a backstory: the player needs to repel the aliens from attacking earth. I don’t consider the game to have an overall narrative because repelling endless waves of aliens doesn’t elicit an emotional response from me. Another game that Juul’s refers to is Tetris, a game where the player stacks geometric shapes on top of one another to get points.
Again no story arch and doesn’t make me feel as if I’ve been taken on an adventure. These two critically acclaimed examples are classic games in their own right; but contain very minor to non-existent story. Another area in which Juul’s and I share the ame ideals is that narrative should be able to cross mediums. The evolution of narrative telling has come from spoken word, cave drawings and traditional acting, to being written down shown on the big screen and performed in front of hundreds of thousands of viewers.
For something to be considered a story, it must be able to cross mediums with some degree of accuracy because narratives transcend medium boundaries. Building off of this common ground, I propose compromise on several key issues that Juul’s and I share. First of which, I would suggest that there are varying degrees of narrative when it comes to videogames. Juul’s mentions classic arcade videogames such as Space Invader and Tetris that have little to no narrative associated with their gameplay.
Conversely, games such as Bioshock Infinite (2K games 2013) and Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar games 2010) have such strong character development, backstory, plot and execution of the storytelling that they have won numerous awards. Secondly, I propose to ease the required accuracy of translating a narrative from one medium to another. Each player has different in-game experiences caused by different player behavior; however, if there is a constant plotline, the game could be reproduced in an lternate medium to some extent along said plotline.
This fits in with Juul’s argument for sense of time, as in this case the core narrative would have already been written by the writers and in the game the players are just filling in the story through their gameplay. In conclusion, this proposed compromise fits into Juul’s overall argument, provided that certain requirements become more fluid. The final verdict being that: games can be considered effective mediums for narrative if they have an overarching prewritten storyline that can be adequately reproduced in another medium.