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On videogames: representing narrative in an interactive medium

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Unpublished
Publication date2016
Number of pages309
QualificationPhD
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Publisher
  • Lancaster University
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This thesis investigates the function of narrative in videogames, challenging views that games do not—and should not—have anything to do with narrative. It tests videogames against literary narrative theories and examines ways in which videogames have evolved beyond other narratives and narrative theories.
The narrative vs. ludology debate among videogame scholars has, at its core, the question of whether narrative is possible in videogames. Ludologists, who prioritize videogames as games, argue that narrative is incompatible with play, both interrupting and interfering with it. My research suggests that videogames often render narrative and play symbiotic, even inseparable, as the act of playing reveals and produces videogame narrative. Other objections to videogame narrative include the argument that videogame narrative is less sophisticated than narrative forms in other media. My thesis demonstrates that some videogames contain narrative every bit as complex as those in literature and film, holding up to rigorous testing by complex narratological theories. It further shows that changes in videogame technology and design have brought about evolutions in narrative that are the result of playing rather than being at odds with it.
As narrative has evolved in videogames beyond its manifestations in older media, narrative theories developed to account for older media prove to be inadequate to explicate videogame narratives. The introduction and first chapter of the thesis delineate these issues, theories, and debates. The remaining chapters probe how videogame narrative unfolds in specific areas, such as identity and identification, the navigation of narrative space, narrative agency and authority, consumer ethics, and concepts of death and genre. Finally, the thesis considers the endings of videogames and how death is presented and represented in this medium. My conclusion summarises my own work and suggests possibilities for future studies of videogame narratives.