Precedents – Ben Miller

I’m most familiar with examples from digital games, so that’s where I fell back to thinking of precedents.

Precedent 1: Immersive Narrative. 

One of my favorite precedents for an immersive narrative is found in the “Souls” video game franchise by FromSoftware, most notably Dark Souls. The game’s narrative is conveyed almost entirely through its mechanics, interactions and design, rather than as static exposition. The game starts with a short myth-like narration of the creation of the fantasy world the game takes place in. After this opening however, the narrative is diffused throughout the game: collected items contain texts that provide different (and at times contradictory) accounts of the world’s history; the placement of such items & enemies in the world are often used to hint at narrative implications; even standard mechanics like multiplayer and a player dying are contextualized in-game as part of the world’s evolving story. The result is a game in a fantastical setting, but that feels consistent and responsive to the player’s actions, with encouraging the forming of theories and conclusions rather than being explicitly told a single story.

Precedent 2: Changing Perceptions

The game Braid drastically plays with perception in two ways. The first is in the use of its main mechanic, which is the ability to manipulate time. The game contains several worlds, each providing a different way to control and direct the flow of time. The mechanic recontextualizes the dimension of time from a linear, unyielding progression, to a spatial and dynamic property that can be played with. 

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SPOILERS

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The second way that Braid plays with perception is its ending. Throughout the game, the narrative has played off tropes found in Mario games, of a hero trying to save a princess from a monster. The final moments of the game however turn this idea on its head. 

https://youtu.be/OiGU0GXQdKA?t=2m21s

During the climax, the player finally discovers the princess, seemingly escaping from some villain. You race in parallel with her in the level, flipping switches to help each other’s escape. Upon reaching the end of the sequence however, the twist is revealed as the entire sequence plays back in reverse, entirely changing what the meaning of the sequence. Each switch the princess flipped was actually an attempt to hinder your progress, as you chase her back to the start of the level. The man that was attempting to capture her was actually rescuing her from you. More context can be gleaned from the text at the start of the level, as well as the epilogue following it, but that simple reversal is one of the more powerful moments of reevaluating perceptions I’ve encountered in a game.

To me, both of these hold relevance to what we may explore in class because of how they leverage the fundamental nature of their medium (for games, mechanics and interaction) to convey narrative, and sometimes to undermine it. 

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