Immersion into LARP

Theories of Embodied Narrative Experience

larp_cover

Some forms of immersion focus upon the repetitive execution of a particular task or activity involving a certain degree of agency (Adams, 2004; Holopainen & Björk, 2004; Ermi & Mäyrä, 2005; Calleja, 2011). While in video games, immersion into activity often involves manipulating interfaces using a keyboard, mouse, or controller; in larp, kinesthetic involvement is more fully embodied. Some larps still use representational mechanics for combat, e.g. using one’s hands in rock-paper-scissors in a Vampire: the Masquerade larp. Others use a mixture of embodiment and mechanics, such as hitting a combatant with a foam sword and calling out numbers to represent the amount of damage incurred. Continue Reading

First Person Podcast Episode 13

Pigeon is a Verb: Recent Trends in First Person Shooters

battlefield_1_pigeon_in_single_player_2

This month we talk the latest trends in First Person Shooters with Rob, Chris, Shawn and Pierson with a focus on the games Titanfall 2, Doom, Battlefield One and Overwatch and I swear I only mention D.Va once! We focus on the narratives by first talking about how we as academics dedicate our time to story modes in games. What are some of the popular narratives in first person shooters and what is experiential difference between the stories we tell about gameplay? Do first person shooters need a single player campaign at all? This and pigeons in this months podcast. Continue Reading

Walter Ong’s World of Warcraft

Orality-Literacy Theory and Player Experience

wow-wod

Unfortunately, Walter Ong, S.J., an important rhetorical scholar, died on 12 August 2003, slightly more than one year before the 23 November 2004 initial release of Blizzard Entertainment’s MMORPG World of Warcraft (WoW). Thus, we will never know whether Father Ong would have rolled a holy paladin or a discipline priest. Despite this, orality-literacy theory, of which he was one of the primary architects, can illuminate the player experience of WoW just as much as it shed light on the Homeric and other oral-traditional epics to which it was originally applied. The connection is through similarities in how audiences encounter what scholars refer to as “tradition” and players as “lore”. In this essay, I will show that the mechanisms by which players encounter lore in games follows a narrative and experiential pattern similar to how audiences encountered traditional mythology in oral societies, a subject on which Walter Ong did pioneering work. For the purposes of this essay, references to World of Warcraft are to Patch 6.2.3 of the Warlords of Draenor expansion. Much of this analysis would apply to similar game universes, but given the sheer size of its subscriber base and traction in popular culture, WoW is a useful example. Continue Reading

Book Review

8th International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling

wordle

The word “Interactive” is a much abused and rarely defined buzzword. Espen Aarseth notes this in his 1996 book Cybertext where he observes how the word “Interactive” is more of a marketing term with little academic depth, a slogan that brings to mind “computer screens, user freedom, and personalized media, while denoting nothing”.1 More recently, Miguel Sicart in Against Procedurality has criticised a trend within game studies to unduly fetishize the digital and structural aspect of games. 2 Nowhere are these trends more apparent than in the recently published conference proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling. The term “Interactive Digital Storytelling” is supposed to tie the papers together, but does so with little definitional cohesiveness: signifying branching paths, collaborative fiction, digital spaces, authoring tools and simulation games all at once. This reflects a worrying trend in game studies, a trend which fetishizes the digital while neglecting to explore the theoretical implications of the games that are actually being discussed. Continue Reading

Silent Performers of Myth:

Structuralist and Poststructuralist Approaches to The Stanley Parable

stanley_parable_intro

Released in 2013, The Stanley Parable is a piece of interactive fiction created by independent developer Galactic Café. I introduce the game as an “interactive fiction” to underscore its attentiveness to narrative, because while it can be “beaten,” that is most certainly not its focus; besides, to argue the definition of a game is a topic for another essay entirely. The point is that, rather than focusing on nuanced mechanics and systems, the narrative structure of the game and its interrogation of player agency comprise the heart of The Stanley Parable’s experience.

On the latter point of agency, the game drives home the idea that, though games may afford players with a sense of control over the outcomes of both predetermined and emergent narratives, the range of outputs is limited by virtue of the limitations of assets and coding. In Grand Theft Auto V, for example, players can hold up gas stations, run over pedestrians, and go skydiving, but they cannot attend classes at a university, leave the fictional game-world of Los Santos, or perform any action that would require assets or feedback loops not provided for in the game’s files and programming. Continue Reading

On well-formed fiction

and Her Story

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 8.01.58 PM

The presence of meaningful choices or, barring that, the illusion of meaningful choices has long been a considered a solid standard for a successful narrative game. Normally, developers do this by creating multiple possibilities for the story to follow, allowing player actions to alter the course of the story. Instead of creating an enormous amount of possible states, Her Story, a story-based game by Sam Barlow, experiments with allowing players instant access to its entire story, provided players use the right search terms. Her Story’s structure, and how it differs from other narrative games, is the key to understanding how Her Story functions as a successful narrative game. To do so, I’ll have to explain the computational concept of the finite state machine, why it is a good model for narrative games, and how Her Story’s state machine differs from those of interactive fiction. Based on Barlow’s personal work in interactive fiction and the genre’s place as the earliest style of narrative video game, I will stick to comparisons between Her Story and interactive fiction (IF). Continue Reading