• Games, the narrator, and the single player

    Hi all.

    My initial idea for a session revolves around how games tell a story, using a prominent recent example:

    “While Sony/Quantic Dream’s 2010 game Heavy Rain has been rightly praised as offering a unique and engrossing narrative experience, any attempt to consider the game as an exemplar of rich interactive narrative must face certain problems of genre and the location of the narrative “eye.” While the game seems to unfold from a third-person objective viewpoint, the events of the game throw the objectivity of that viewpoint into question in ways that can shed light on both the problems and opportunities of mass-audience single-player interactive narrative.”

    I love the idea of a session with some live gameplay, but I’m worried about the single-player-ish-ness of the planned topic. One some level, I think this grows out of a literary narrative background–and if anyone is interested, might be a second major quality of the topic to push back on. My initial proposal focuses on what the player “sees” when s/he plays a game, and what happens when what you see is NOT what you get. But it might be just as interesting (and even more productive), to build something around whether games built around a single-player experience still have rich experiences to offer, or whether Heavy Rain’s self-conscious “auteur” mode of construction, where the player is guided through someone else’s vision of a story, is the last gasp of old narrative/old media values and philosophy.

    I’m deeply eager for feedback and ideas. Thanks. 🙂


  1. aristotlejulep says:

    I have never played Heavy Rain, but I did play an older “story game” called Fahrenheit (also known as Indigo Prophesy). It was extremely limited and actually worked more like a choose your own adventure book in video game form. I know that Heavy Rain is much more advanced, but I can’t see the games themselves progressing beyond that level of involvement unless the player becomes a true co-creator of game content.

    • Gavin Craig says:

      I think that’s a really interesting point, especially as games start to integrate more possibilities for user-created content (e.g., Little Big Planet).

      At the same time, I think it may be useful to start pushing back on what we mean by user-created content. For example, on one hand, I’m never going to be an expert game content creator–and while there are worlds of fan fiction that allow “users” of literature (to pick one possibility) to generate their own content, we don’t really expect that sort of content generation from a literature “user.”

      On the other hand, a lot of contemporary theory focuses on how the reader/viewer has to (re)constitute a work of literature every time they interact with it. Is there a way this works differently with a game? do games themselves lead to a counter-intuitive passivity as the player, for the most part, takes the experience as given? What happens when that breaks down?

      Thanks for the feedback. 🙂

      • Actually, both of those games are Quantum Dream, right? I have no personal qualms with watching folks play games then discussing them. Heavy Rain is one of those interactive experiences that no matter your argument, leaves you thinking. In fact, Heavy Rain is more a novel than game, almost where you notice different elements in each play, like each read of a solid novel will tell a “different” story. Sure the character stories unfold more differently than a novel, but the experience is seeks to evoke rather reminds of experiences I’ve seldom had outside of traditional fiction. Seldom is a key word there.

        What it plays with most within the idea of games is Gee’s “projected identity” and turning that around on the player within the game narrative, causing the player to rethink the narrative and characters they’ve crafted and projected onto the avatars in the game. In fact, I found that a powerful piece of Heavy Rain. Its been near 4 weeks, and I still think about how the “creation” of a specific character was redefined by the ending.

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