Procedural Diegesis

Treating the Game Engine as Co-Author

Let’s talk about narration and videogames. In this case, narration refers to a game’s story, as told by the writers and the game engine. When there is discord between narrators, the story suffers, and when there is harmony, the narrative is more persuasive. Let’s call this element of storytelling ‘procedural diegesis,’ knowing that it involves treating algorithmic and authorial processes as co-authors of a narrative. The procedural portion here highlights that we are interested in processes, systems of representation that unfold over time that are dictated by rules and/or conventions. By diegesis we mean to indicate the internal consistency of the narrative. Together, they represent a form of narrative criticism that cares very little for content but quite a lot about delivery. Like Ian Bogost’s procedural rhetoric, which has informed much of this article, this perspective enables one to critique representational processes, only this time we are looking for coherence between narrative processes. In that respect it is beneficial to think of each narrator (writer, physics engine, texture mapping, audio system, etc.) as a system… Continue Reading

Ludic Topology

Serres, Linear Time, and the Ethics of Game Design

Recently my research has taken a turn towards Michel Serres and his complex, topological conceptions of space and time. In “Topologies: Michel Serres and the Shapes of Thought,” Steven Connor lucidly describes Serres’ work across a range of subjects and texts. In a subsection entitled “Ethics and Topology” Connor offers the following summary: “The reason for preferring a vision of topological time to a system of linear time is because the latter is founded on and sustained by violence. Linear time is formed out of the monotonous rhythm of argument, contradiction and murder.” What follows is an extension of this criticism to linearity in video games, especially those titles that seek to criticize the very mechanics of linear gameplay, such as Far Cry 3. The overarching claim here is that video games are not violent for their content but for their very structure, for their portrayal of time as successive, and inherently progressive… Continue Reading

Persuasive Processes

Procedural Rhetoric and Deus Ex

Deus Ex, an FPS-RPG hybrid, draws on many cyberpunk tropes while enabling players to implant ‘biomodifications’ at a whim, radically altering the physiology of the player as well as the gameplay itself. And for these reasons Deus Ex might not seem very well attuned to procedural arguments, except for two major exceptions: 1) Deus Ex constructs a persuasive procedural argument through its combat structure (or lack thereof); and 2) Deus Ex deconstructs the conventions of the genre by placing the player at odds with the requests made by the system… Continue Reading