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#7610548 Apr 01, 2013 at 03:19 PM
Guild Officer
354 Posts
Raph Koster, game designer and author of "Theory of Fun" last year wrote a controversial blog post. What do you think and how important is narrative?
http://www.raphkoster.com/2012/01/20/narrative-is-not-a-game-mechanic/
twitter @kzenovka
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Games MOOC Instructor and Designer
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#7611260 Apr 01, 2013 at 05:43 PM · Edited 6 years ago
Guides
561 Posts
Kae, after reading the article I read the comments posted to the article, and one pointed out that he believed narrative is a game mechanic. "I believe those people are incorrect when they dismiss these works as “not games” on the basis of not being “interactive enough” or containing too much narrative. Games can be more than just abstract systems to unwind, and narrative is a game mechanic. Even an abstract board game such as Chess has at its core a vague narrative of medieval warfare that ties the abstraction together. As I surveyed the suburb on my bike as a child, I created a narrative of being an explorer. That was part of the game."

I would have to side with Mark, that because interactive game narrative may have a conclusion and through your choices guide you, doesn't make it invalid as a game mechanic. As a real-life mechanic (used to help build race engines) each part of your quest, leads you to different outcomes, you could have a narrative choice that said, "Time to insert rings onto pistons and you __" and you answer "insert rings" it would let you but down the road when you started to turn the engine over, it well, would sieze, freeze, quit, bad news." You would have needed to say "coat rings with oil."

I am reminded of my first narrative game, frankly one of the two first ones, and I played it a lot. It was Hitchhikker's Guide to the Galaxy, and came out in 1984. I was working for a High Tech company and in charge of a lot of computers (smile), many hours were spent trying to get that darn babble fish out of the vending machine. Of course the backup education for this game was reading the book and paying very close attention.

Want to try Edition 1 without the hints? Be my guest! Oh yes, do put the serial number in the box to start it and I suggest you TURN on the light! Hitchhikker's Guide to the Galaxy - Play Edition 1 - No hints - Text version Travel back to 1984 with me as I sit trying to look like an executive intently studying the budget while really on the prowl for that babble fish.

Just so you don't stay in bed all day, I have actually done a few turns for you. I got you up, and moving and picked up the gown. I suggest later you put it on but right now you head is spinning. I suggest you look in the pocket of the gown.


hitchhikker by grasshopper98, on Flickr
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#7616828 Apr 02, 2013 at 07:31 PM
Artisan
58 Posts
I agree that narrative is a game mechanic. I do not think that every bit of feedback in a game is necessary for enjoyment/ engagement in a game. Personally I do not stay engaged in a game that has no narrative. I also do not play most games with the sound on so when that is considered part of the feedback I don't get/use it. So I think that narrative is a game mechanic that supports engagement / continued use of a game. Without it some people would not play or enjoy the game. As I see a game mechanic it is something built into the game that helps/ makes the game run. Am I correct in that assumption?
To each his own game ;)
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#7617158 Apr 02, 2013 at 09:04 PM
Guild Officer
187 Posts
Very interesting. Story creates rules.

As I read through this blog post (twice, slowly...probably even sounding out words on my lips), I had an argument with myself. It went like this:

No, I disagree. Narrative is a framework upon which we hang the gaming rules.
Well, player action in a game are often driven by the story.
Hmm, ok. Narrative isn't feedback, though. It helps motivate the player and create buy-in. Which directs the player's actions.
Hm. Back to square one.

So, then, how do we define "feedback" here. I define feedback as something that keeps a student/player working on a specific problem, hopefully with improvement in each iteration. It's enough to keep them from getting too frustrated, but not so specific that they don't get anything out of it.

I'm not completely convinced I agree with Raph, but if nothing else he has a very interesting point. If narrative is feedback, it's not the only kind of feedback. If it's not feedback, then what is its purpose in a game?

And, circling back to the more practical outlook, how should narrative (feedback or not) function in a game used educationally?

Raph Koster's writing is always good for a mindscrub and an argument. :-D
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#7617423 Apr 02, 2013 at 10:43 PM · Edited 6 years ago
Herald
60 Posts
I really liked this reading assignment (much more so than the narratology vs. ludology article). I like how he used the images to illustrate his point. I'm not sure, though, that I agree with his conflation of story and feedback. Perhaps story is one way of providing feedback or is one type of feedback, as @Leedale suggests.

In "I Have No Words and I Must Design," Greg Costiky also argues that games are not stories:

Stories are inherently linear. However much characters may agonize over the decisions they make, they make them the same way every time we reread the story, and the outcome is always the same. Indeed, this is a strength; the author chose precisely those characters, those events, those decisions, and that outcome, because it made for the strongest story. If the characters did something else, the story wouldn't be as interesting.

Games are inherently non-linear. They depend on decision making. Decisions have to pose real, plausible alternatives, or they aren't real decisions. It must be entirely reasonable for a player to make a decision one way in one game, and a different way in the next. To the degree that you make a game more like a story -- more linear, fewer real options -- you make it less like a game.


But, while he argues that games are not stories, he seems to also concede that a game can use narrative as a mechanic:

That said, games often, and fruitfully, borrow elements of fiction. Roleplaying games depend on characters; computer adventures and LARPs are often drive by plots. The notion of increasing narrative tension is a useful one for any game that comes to a definite conclusion. But to try to hew too closely to a storyline is to limit players' freedom of action and their ability to make meaningful decisions.


So, games have a complex relationship with narrative and this love/hate relationship is most prominent in IF:

The hypertext fiction movement is interesting, here. Hypertext is inherently non-linear, so that the traditional narrative is wholly inappropriate to hypertext work. Writers of hypertext fiction are trying to explore the nature of human existence, as does the traditional story, but in a way that permits multiple viewpoints, temporal leaps, and reader construction of the experience. Something -- more than hypertext writers know -- is shared with game design here, and something with traditional narrative; but if hypertext fiction ever becomes artistically successful (nothing I've read is), it will be through the creation of a new narrative form, something that we will be hard-pressed to call "story."


One thing I think both Rslph and Costiky ignore is how post-modernism deconstructed the idea of a linear narrative and the reader as a passive audience. I'm surprised that none of the articles we've read on the problematic relationship between narrative and games have considered this question from a post-modernist or post post-modernist perspective.
a.k.a. Tanya Sasser
English Instructor
Jacksonville State University
@TanyaSasser
Remixing College English
“I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one who must walk through it.” ~Morpheus, The Matrix
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#7621582 Apr 03, 2013 at 07:25 PM
Guild Officer
187 Posts
You quoted: "Games are inherently non-linear. They depend on decision making. Decisions have to pose real, plausible alternatives, or they aren't real decisions. It must be entirely reasonable for a player to make a decision one way in one game, and a different way in the next. To the degree that you make a game more like a story -- more linear, fewer real options -- you make it less like a game."

This is especially interesting to me because my sister and I are playing through Uncharted 3 on PS3. I've been fascinated throughout the game because, ultimately, there are no choices. Or rather, there are two choices: Do what you're supposed to in the game or die. Now, I wonder if this is the kind of decision-making that Costiky was thinking about (probably not)?

I love debating games for this very reason. They defy following the rules. Narrative is required, eh? Where's the narrative in Tetris? Games are inherently non-linear? What about very linear games like the most Assassin's Creed (boring game, btw) and Uncharted 3 (great, but very much like a movie with button inputs)?

I hope we do get to post-modernist games and theories. The problem with introducing that in a MOOC like that is that some folks are still trying to get the basics down. Post-modernism pretty much turned every medium on its head.

So, circling back a little...how important would you folks consider narrative in a game made for your classroom? (Also, why doesn't English have an informal word like the word "vosotros" in Spanish? "Ya'll" doesn't count!)
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#7622270 Apr 03, 2013 at 10:49 PM
Initiate
108 Posts
This is such an interesting topic. My knee jerk reaction upon reading the title was of course you need narrative. But upon considering it, lots of great games don't have narratives. Of course, as a kid I'd often put my own silent narrative onto games like Monopoly, and even the very loose narrative behind games like Mortal Kombat totally drew me in. Obviously I wasn't the only one since they went and made a movie out of it!

So in considering your question - how important is narrative to a classroom game? - I think I would say narrative is not necessary but it certainly adds a level of engagement and interest that doesn't exist without it. The narrative encourages suspension of disbelief and immersion, and the latter s definitely something we want to have in a classroom setting.

Don’t do work that just exists within your classroom... do work that changes the world. -Will Richardson

http://www.gamifymyclass.blogspot.ca
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#7623550 Apr 04, 2013 at 07:30 AM · Edited 6 years ago
Initiate
35 Posts
#7622270 missrithenay wrote:

I think I would say narrative is not necessary but it certainly adds a level of engagement and interest that doesn't exist without it. The narrative encourages suspension of disbelief and immersion, and the latter s definitely something we want to have in a classroom setting.




In a skills-based content area (Latin language), I really need my students using the language. So much of traditional Latin pedagogy focuses on reading (rather, translating), that I am looking for games not only to be interactive, but include a high frequency of "active use," such as producing and composing.

That said, IF seems (to me) to include a LOT of "extra" info that might cloud/hinder the sort of "practice" I am looking for. Like I mentioned in the Tweetchat...it would be more worthwhile for my students to create their own IF game, but I first need to focus on a game that equips them with the [Latin] skills to do so.
Latin Teacher
magisterp.com
MOOC III Week 2 Artisan
MOOC III Week 4 Collabrateur
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#7623764 Apr 04, 2013 at 08:31 AM
Herald
60 Posts
Since I'm an English instructor, then obviously I have a deep bias for narrative. I decided to try IF in my First-Year Composition class because of its heavy emphasis on narrative. And like others, when playing games I've always found myself inventing a narrative where one does not explicitly exist.

However, I would also argue that, even in games with no explicit narrative (Tetris was mentioned by @Leedale), there is an implicit narrative, however straightforward and one-dimensional (I must defeat the blocks). To me, if there's a protagonist (me) and an antagonist (the blocks), there's a narrative (the protagonist defeating the antagonist). In literature, the antagonist can be another person, society, the environment, or oneself. So, if we think about games in this way, then all games use narrative as a mechanic. Just because the player becomes an (inter)active protagonist doesn't make it less of a narrative; in fact, I would argue that it makes it more of a narrative because the player has some level of control over their own destiny (Costiky argues that, for a game to be effective, the player must feel a sense of control over their destiny, which is probably why @Leedale finds Uncharted 3 so un-gamelike).
a.k.a. Tanya Sasser
English Instructor
Jacksonville State University
@TanyaSasser
Remixing College English
“I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one who must walk through it.” ~Morpheus, The Matrix
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#7624854 Apr 04, 2013 at 12:25 PM
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18 Posts
#7622270 missrithenay wrote:


So in considering your question - how important is narrative to a classroom game? - I think I would say narrative is not necessary but it certainly adds a level of engagement and interest that doesn't exist without it. The narrative encourages suspension of disbelief and immersion, and the latter s definitely something we want to have in a classroom setting.



I agree with missrithenay that narrative is a good tool for setting up an immersive learning environment. I think a key distinction here might be the necessity of narrative for games for learning vs games in general.

The narrative sets the stage for the learner to assume the identity of a particular type of protagonist (e.g. a scientist, an environmentalist, a political leader, etc.) that will encourage particular types of thinking and behavior that ultimately leads to successful achievement of the game goals, which, in a learning game should be equivalent to learning goals. It is the narrative that scaffolds the player/learner to make meaningful connections between the game's systems and real life. I think narrative may be required to support the transfer of learning. And it is the transfer of learning that educators are ultimately after. We want games to help learners do better at their real-world endeavors.

So, narrative is a game mechanic, imho. For that matter, I think feedback is a game mechanic, too. http://gamification.org/wiki/Feedback_loops Feedback helps the player/learner make decisions that move the game in a desirable direction.

My thoughts are still coming together on this topic...



--DAB
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#7624958 Apr 04, 2013 at 12:44 PM · Edited 6 years ago
Initiate
35 Posts
#7624854 Deelynn wrote:


The narrative sets the stage for the learner to assume the identity of a particular type of protagonist (e.g. a scientist, an environmentalist, a political leader, etc.) that will encourage particular types of thinking and behavior that ultimately leads to successful achievement of the game goals, which, in a learning game should be equivalent to learning goals.



Challenge of the Sphinx requires students to assume identity through some kind of narrative:


In the style of a classic tabletop roleplaying game (RPG), each student selects a character from Greek or Roman mythology at the beginning of the semester. Students then assume the roles of these player-characters and use them in class and for homework the rest of the year.


I have contacted the professor of this course in hopes of obtaining some design/mechanics ideas. Will share.
Latin Teacher
magisterp.com
MOOC III Week 2 Artisan
MOOC III Week 4 Collabrateur
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#7625412 Apr 04, 2013 at 02:04 PM
Initiate
108 Posts
MagisterP:

HATE typing on the iPad. Just erased my whole message >_< To summarize though, I have a concept you might be interested in. Last year at the GLS conference I attended a session on a game called Operation Menis. The game was for a class on Greek language but it seems to me like if you swapped Greece for Rome and Greek or Latin you might be able to make use of a very similar model.

This is the presentation itself:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/30567269/Operation%20MENIS%20GLS%20Presentation%20-%20June%202012.pdf

And here is some more:

http://www.playthepast.org/?p=1547

The games creators were very open about wanting to share the game so if it looks interesting to you I would just fire off an email :)
Don’t do work that just exists within your classroom... do work that changes the world. -Will Richardson

http://www.gamifymyclass.blogspot.ca
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#7625486 Apr 04, 2013 at 02:16 PM
Initiate
35 Posts
#7625412 missrithenay wrote:

MagisterP:

HATE typing on the iPad. Just erased my whole message >_< To summarize though, I have a concept you might be interested in. Last year at the GLS conference I attended a session on a game called Operation Menis. The game was for a class on Greek language but it seems to me like if you swapped Greece for Rome and Greek or Latin you might be able to make use of a very similar model.



YES, I know those guys (from CT). They have created Operation LAPIS (Latin version) which went Live last year. It's an entire curriculum that's hosted...I believe the cost is $10/student for the year.

I played that BETA and definitely learned a lot, but if I was completely satisfied with paying the money and/or with the full implementation of the game, I wouldn't exactly be looking to create my own. It turns out that I am not ready to use a game like that as full curriculum, and am looking for something else.

Excellent resource, though, thanks.
Latin Teacher
magisterp.com
MOOC III Week 2 Artisan
MOOC III Week 4 Collabrateur
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#7625840 Apr 04, 2013 at 03:32 PM
Fiero
26 Posts
#7623764 Mina ZedWord wrote:

However, I would also argue that, even in games with no explicit narrative (Tetris was mentioned by @Leedale), there is an implicit narrative, however straightforward and one-dimensional (I must defeat the blocks). To me, if there's a protagonist (me) and an antagonist (the blocks), there's a narrative (the protagonist defeating the antagonist). In literature, the antagonist can be another person, society, the environment, or oneself. So, if we think about games in this way, then all games use narrative as a mechanic. Just because the player becomes an (inter)active protagonist doesn't make it less of a narrative; in fact, I would argue that it makes it more of a narrative because the player has some level of control over their own destiny (Costiky argues that, for a game to be effective, the player must feel a sense of control over their destiny, which is probably why @Leedale finds Uncharted 3 so un-gamelike).



It is interesting to think about this topic. I agree with many of the comments above about narratives not being "needed in games" and then I read your post. I recently had to pack our garbage can with old singles and I found myself trying to use similar techniques with the placement of many different sized objects into a tight space the best possible way. The transfer from a game to what I was trying to accomplish from my "Honey Do" list was identical. My reward came from seeing the pile on the yard diminishing and the can getting filled. The intrinsic motivation of a clean yard was enough for me.

The narrative of Tetris is that I am the main character and the story line is that I must clear off these tiles that are coming down at an accelerated pace. There will never be an end, only levels and achievements until I can't keep up any more. Sounds a lot like doing the laundry (it never ends - only my performance improves). I think I am probably a level 4 laundry washer by now. ;) (Thank goodness for High Definition washing machines so I don't have to wash by hand like 100 years ago).

I guess the question I am thinking about is how important is it that I explain the narrative to the consumer and how in depth do I go? Some games do small blurbs to keep you moving from level to level (Go Mario!) while others are completely narrative style (I am thinking of Civilization). Some games build a structure for a narrative and you act out what will happen (WoW).


"A game is a problem-solving activity, approached with a playful attitude."
~ Jesse Schell ~
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#7626516 Apr 04, 2013 at 05:53 PM
Herald
60 Posts
#7625840 Sam G wrote:



I guess the question I am thinking about is how important is it that I explain the narrative to the consumer and how in depth do I go? Some games do small blurbs to keep you moving from level to level (Go Mario!) while others are completely narrative style (I am thinking of Civilization). Some games build a structure for a narrative and you act out what will happen (WoW).




I think that depends on the game and what the creator wants to achieve with it. A lot of the issues we've been discussing here were recently addressed by Tom Bissell (a writer for the latest Gears of War) in an article in The New Yorker. He argues that games are becoming more narrative, but he also thinks that the gap between games that rely heavily on narrative and those that don't will continue to widen.

IMHO, in integrating games-based learning into the classroom, narrative is very, very important if you are creating a multiplayer classroom in which the class itself is the game (if you're just supplementing coursework with games or game-like activities, then not so much). The narrative is what ties all of the threads together and gives the game its meaning for the students. It also helps them to become immersed in the game.
a.k.a. Tanya Sasser
English Instructor
Jacksonville State University
@TanyaSasser
Remixing College English
“I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one who must walk through it.” ~Morpheus, The Matrix
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#7629924 Apr 05, 2013 at 11:48 AM
Guides
561 Posts
New Yorker Article Thank you Mina ZedWord for the link. It is worth repeating, especially when it talks about my all-time favorite game, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, first played/released in 1984, but it also talks about video games.

I agree with you that how much backstory or narrative we have in these interactive fiction games is dependent on the mission statement of the game, what is the intent, what is it trying to teach and help the students explore.

I am looking at a "Create Your Own Religion" as a topic for an interactive fiction, as my students right now are creating their own religion for their semester project in my face-to-face class and describing it in their papers, as well as sharing with the class. They are earning badges (top five) in class. It isn't actually as easy as one might thing to create a religion. I think if I had an interactive fiction I could jump-start their though process. I would expect I wouldn't need much narrative, but the choices would need to be quite a few choices at each of say, six different variables. By letting them experience different choices they would be presented at the end with a religion. Thus they could think about things they might want to change and play the game again.

So the bottom line I think is that amount of narrative and is it necessary is really content specific. I may be back with an example later... stay tuned
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#7629958 Apr 05, 2013 at 11:54 AM
Guides
561 Posts
#7625412 missrithenay wrote:

MagisterP:
HATE typing on the iPad. Just erased my whole message >_<



I feel your pain! It is like discussions in online classes, I tell my students to type it into their word processor and then cut and paste instead of direct text, but do I follow my own suggestions? Of course not, I have lost posts typing direct into my desktop computer as well as iPad. Going to a conference next week and need to make a decision, iPad, or laptop. . . to continue posting to this MOOC. Think I will error on the side of the laptop and Microsoft Word, not too good with Pages and I have fat fingers, no external keyboard for the iPad.
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