Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Evolving Art: Narration

Video games are a story, unlocked through interactivity and the users own creative thinking. But sometimes the gamer is told exactly what is happening, what will happen, what may happen: allusion, foreshadowing, build-up, suddenly there is someone there in your game world telling you something. A narrator appears to grant you wisdom or conclude a story.

Narration has always been a double-edged sword in gaming. For one thing it can draw the gamer out of the experience and put them back into the realization that they are just playing a game; thus, not traveling through a story with the rest of the characters, not visiting amazing landmarks or conquering fierce challenges, not even buying an item in a shop.

Narration has been used in many different ways and some to great effect. Adventure games in particular can benefit greatly from the added context or descriptions given the nature of the genre. Other times however, it's used as little more than a cheap way to advance the plot with little effort or give a hint as where to go next.

Today I want to talk about three very unique games; each use narration in vastly different but equally effective ways. Also, all three games are fairly new and can be found online easily. Hopefully finding out about some of the lesser known games out there will pique your curiosity to find more for yourself!


WARNING: There may be some mild plot spoilers, but I will try to avoid them as best I can.



The first and simplest form of the narration problems of the past. Also, the game is quite well known.

Bastion is a prime example of how narration can complement a game in ways that bring grace or tragedy to a moment, whether that moment is in your hands to control or not. While the story isn't the most original or even captivating in the world, it has something that not many other games like it possesses; affirmation. It knows exactly the story it wants to tell, and it holds no punches in telling it. The story shines with confidence, enough to make you believe it and it's character the whole way through.

The game is available on many different platforms, and the developers website is located here.

Bastion is probably the simplest explanation of how game designers are approaching the changing roles of narration in video games, but to see the massive developments you have to look towards the indie scene.

Yes, even more indie than Bastion.


The Stanley Parable

This is where we start going off the beaten path of well know games.

The Stanley Parable is not a stand alone title like Bastion, but a mod for the game Half-Life 2. In it you play a man called Stanley. Stanley lives a simple life, is told what to do every day and does it without complaints. He is lead through life by command and doesn't mind that at all. He is happy. Or at least he was, until suddenly he goes to work only to find that he's not been given any instructions.

The Stanley Parable is one of those rare games that tells a story that you've never heard before. I mean, when was the last time you've read a story that didn't remind you of another? This is one of those games. The name of the game is all about one thing, and makes you constantly take into account one thing; Stanley's choices. With multiple endings, this seeming simple game takes on a new light on several play throughs. A short and bitter-sweet game that is free to boot.

Well, as long as you have Half-Life 2. It can be downloaded here.



Home might be the biggest change in narration that has happened in gaming in quite some time, but it's hard to explain without giving away the games secrets.

Home is a horror game. Like many horror games it starts you off in an unknown place with a slight case of amnesia. Nothing too original or out of the ordinary there.

What sets this game apart from the many other narrated games out there is just exactly how the story progresses. You have many choices as you play and some might even seem unimportant, but the turns your story takes can vastly change it's outcome. You come to slowly realize that you are shaping the story in the most literal way possible, that your choices are the stories progression and conclusion. A true "choose your own adventure" story, but in a way you may not imagine.

Home is a standalone game, and cost's only $2. Though it is cheap, the game is quite short. It does have multiple endings and choices along the story that warrant multiple play throughs, however. It can be purchased here.


Narration. It's one of those elements that can do so much to convey emotion, story, character and environment to the player. But in the wrong hands it can take the player in the opposite direction, make them lose that connection they hold with the game world and it's inhabitants.

These three games show small steps towards bridging the gap and making narration into more that just a side-note or punctuation, but as an added layer of depth to what may very well be a work of gaming art.


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