Playing the Story: Computer Games as a Narrative Genre

Jonas Carlquist


In the recent humanistic research concerning computer games there is an ongoing and lively discussion about the narrativity of computer games. Do computer games tell stories or not? In this article I will try to focus on different views by discussing both the perspective of the gaming industry and the academic perspective. While discussing narrativity, game designers and game researchers often talk at cross-purposes. I, myself, do not find it hard to see narrative structures in computer games. Many of the recent games follow a pattern that we are familiar with from movies and popular literature. But one main difference between games and other narrative genres concerns the audience's role; in computer games the players have to interact with the story, something that challenges the linearity of the narrative structure. The storyline of a computer game is often a branching one, which complicates the game's ability to tell a compelling story in the way we are used to. The term "branching storyline" is thus not easy to define. In the article I discuss different non-linear story structures found in computer games and I try to show the narrative benefits and drawbacks with different structures. Throughout the article there are many examples from computer games which aim to give a nuanced understanding of computer games as narrative genre. It is not about reading a story, it is about playing it.


computer games; game theory; ludology; narration; narrativity; story

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