Essential Elements of Narrative and Agency in Digital Interactive Narrative Games




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Digital interactive games, or video games as they are more commonly called, have the substantial potential to involve players in the act of story creation. Though not all video games contain a narrative with which the player can interact, many do. These games, known as digital interactive narrative games, purposefully embed a narrative structure and allow the player to interact with narrative elements in order to produce a unique story product. Thus, while not all games should be considered narrative media, this text deals with those that can. This text, therefore, begins by addressing the counterproductive argument that suggest videogames are not a narrative form of media. Instead, this text posits that, if we acknowledge that digital games have narrative potential and that many game developers want to incorporate narratives into games, then we can likewise proceed with inquiries about how digital games support story creation. While some Game Studies scholars argue that the inclusion of a narrative limits a player’s agency, this text suggests that such arguments not only misrepresent how narrative structures lead to the creation of stories but also how those narrative structures support numerous type of player agency. As such, this text begins by examining narrative theory and its structures in order to show how those structures map to digital interactive narrative games. Next, this text similarly engages with social agency theory to consider new ways of understanding the states and types of agency players possess in digital interactive narrative games. Based on these analyses, a set of evaluative criteria is generated to aid in the assessment of narrative and agency in digital interactive narrative games. These criteria are then tested and applied in a series of three case studies of four digital interactive narrative games: Mass Effect 2, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Kentucky Route Zero, and The Banner Saga. Two primary conclusions are drawn in this text. The first is that players of digital interactive narrative games act as agents who simultaneously perform as both the narrator agent and the character agent found in traditional, non-procedural, narrative mediums. The second is that agency is not static in games, nor is agency of a single type. Rather, there are different types of agency a player can possess and maintain, and these occur at different times and to different degrees. The level of agency a player maintains will always be in flux; as the player interacts with the game, its rules, and its procedures, the player also interacts, mediates, and negotiates agency within the world the game creates. Similarly, the types of agency the player may experience are numerous. Given the focus of this text, two kinds of agency are directly considered: narrative agency and ludic agency. By neither oversimplifying the understanding of narrative nor of agency, this text, establishes new ways and new methods for understanding and analyzing digital interactive narrative games and the ways in which these games are and can be designed to contain a well-formed narrative while also establishing ways for the player to intervene and participate in the creation of a story.



Agent (Philosophy), Computer adventure games, Video games—Authorship, Video gamers


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