Friday, 11 April 2008

Game Design as Narrative Architecture

Henry Jenkins

Jenkins, H. (2004) ‘Game Design as Narrative Architecture’ [online], URL: [accessed 17/3/08]

This paper is theoretically placed within game theory and is cited as seminal by others within the narratology vs ludology debate. What I have found very informative from this paper is Jenkins' central idea of building an underlying narrative architecture (within computer games) through which four forms of narrative can be measured: evoked, enacted, embedded and emergent.

He proposes the concept of environmental story-telling. "narrative can also enter games on the level of localized incident, or what I am calling micro-narratives." (p7).

His proposition not only attempts to close the debate between narratology and ludology, but what I have found useful for my own research is the implication for spatial exploration over causal event chains. This is not story-telling. This has a capacity to set up causal events within an interaction through which the users actions can be explained or appreciated by themselves as a narrative, at least a micro-narrative.

Opposition to Jenkins' proposition:

  • Jenkins fails to define the contested concepts of games, narrative and stories (reading an even small amount of games theory literature covers these concepts adequately. Jenkins moves the debate towards a synthesis without the need to restate these concepts).

  • His proposition follows the comparative media studies strategy of reducing all media to story-telling assuming games tell stories (this is a ludologist opposition).

  • He ignores some important pieces of narratology and ludology literature (This may be so. I'll have to read the literature before commenting further).

  • His "spatial story" is a naive thematic construct (This is from a ludological viewpoint).

  • He is being pan-narrativist, seeing stories everywhere (I don't agree that this is what he is saying at all)

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