Borderlands Zed
Basic Introduction to Game Design

Dramatic Elements of Games and Narrative Design

Welcome to the third week of class in the course: Basic Introduction to Game Design. Make sure to read the syl­labus and course infor­ma­tion before you con­tin­ue. Today, we are going to dis­cuss the dra­mat­ic ele­ments of games and the nar­ra­tive design behind games. This text fol­lows close­ly from our text­books (Game Design Workshop, Chapters 4 and Challenges for Game Designers, Chapter 13); it also takes inspi­ra­tion from the Salen and Zimmerman book Rules of Play (Chapter 26).

Otis in Monkey Island

The Secret of Monkey Island (Lucasfilm Games, 1990) cre­at­ed a wealth of mem­o­rable char­ac­ters (here the pris­on­er Otis) often with great humour.

Narrative Design

While there has been some debate on the sig­nif­i­cance of nar­ra­tive in games (the ludol­o­gy vs. nar­ra­tol­ogy debate), sto­ry can be high­ly rel­e­vant for cre­at­ing your game­play and will help give your for­mal game ele­ments nec­es­sary mean­ing. Narrative in gen­er­al helps us to process infor­ma­tion and make sense of things in our lives. Narratives are every­where and they are used for every­thing. It is obvi­ous that they can be found in the medi­um of games, whether it is a sto­ry that helps us makes sense of the game or a sto­ry told by the game. Literary the­o­rist J. Hillis Miller defines com­po­nents of a nar­ra­tive in the fol­low­ing:

  • Situation. Stories revolve around chang­ing states (going from an ini­tial state towards a sequence of chang­ing states), which are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the events that dri­ve a sto­ry.
  • Form. Stories pro­vide com­mon anchors in them, which allow us to process them using pat­terns and rep­e­ti­tions. Every aspect of a sto­ry and a theme can have pat­terns and rep­e­ti­tions to it.
  • Character. In sto­ries, we like to per­son­i­fy events to make them rel­e­vant to us. The char­ac­ter of a sto­ry (and this can be dif­fer­ent from per­sonas in sto­ries) is cre­at­ed out of signs.

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