The design of narrative as an immersive simulation

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Date created
2005-05-31
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Abstract
This paper proposes a concept of narrative as the design of an immersive simulation to be experienced by the interactor in a video game. We face this new narrative status as the reconfiguration of a creative process that was initiated in an attempt to generate, in the digital format, a certain concept of narrative inherited from the canonic cinema, but that, faced with the simulative nature of the video game format, was forced to take a different shape. To explain this concept, we draw a brief taxonomy of agency modes, that is, the diverse attempts made by different video game genres to turn the interactor into an implicated character into the game. We divide these different approaches into two broader genres: in one side, the character-oriented games, and in other side, the simulation games, and we try to point out the fundamental characteristics for each one. For the character-related games, we focus on the concept of Umwelt – as it was proposed by theorists Jacob and Thure von Uexkull, and defined here by Nöth as "the way in which the environment is represented to the organism’s mind and it comprises the scope of the organism’s operational interaction with its environment". For video games, we define it as the simulation of alternative environmental capacities that can be experienced by the player to the extend of giving her the sense of physical presence and immersion into a three-dimensional space. For the simulation games, we focus on the computational modeling of complex systems, based upon abstract theories and concepts, into a time/space simulative system to be managed by the interactor. At the end, we try to point out the emergence of a game format that combines features of these two generic modes of agency into the design of a narrative to be experienced as an immersive simulation. This concept of narrative is starting to gain the figure of a set of computational and semiotic procedures for modeling conceptual universes, in a systemic manner, generating dramatic, virtual environments to be inhabited by the interactor in a way only she can establish in each experience. In this new format, one fundamental notion guides us and defines the premise for game as a narrative form, that is the concept of agency as "the satisfying power to take meaningful action and see the results of our decisions and choices" (Murray, 2000: 126). In the case of the allegedly narrative video game, agency is what provides the interactor – the player– with the possibility of being a part of the story universe, making decisions as one of its characters. This is a scenario we oppose to the more common link made between games and narrative, the one that refers to the game’s theme as its story. "A game’s theme is nothing more than a justification for the games material: a rational explanation that establishes the setting and makes up the global motivation for the games iconography and the events that take place inside the game" (Darley, 2002: 237). What is important is the actual practice of the game, which implies a certain type of "kinesthetic acting" that becomes an end in itself (2002: 237). This "kinesthetic acting" allows agency to the player, turns her into an agent of both story and enunciation, and is the most fundamental characteristic of game. It defines game as a format, and is present in all of its genres, from the least figurative, with its essentially formal logic, to the highly figurative and more explicitly narrative kind. However, when this characteristic reaches the narrative milieu of figurative games, it seems to allow for a certain movement of emotional immersion akin to the one that defines canonic film, and this is what really seems to bring the two otherwise very different forms closer together. However, beyond emulating cinematic aspects as depth of field, shades and textures, it has become clear that the starting ground of presence in the game environment can only be fully implemented when our experience of contact with the objects and other elements of the game world can also be able to simulate aspects of that which we refer to being their behavior in the real world. This way, in the video game, the question of embodiment may become, beyond the main condition for the experience of being in the world, also the premise for a potentially sophisticated experience of alternative Umwelts, a change of point of view and physical abilities. Or else, beyond the implementing of different affordances (Gibson, 1986) both in the game environment and in its avatar and interface, it is the possibility of making our actual change of perception, through the embodiment of a character both physically and emotionally implicated in different contexts, that which turns the video game a potentially interesting narrative format. The act of being in the world can gather more meaning than just immersion, presence, navigation: what still separates game from the status of an artistic experience, more than a total immersion technology, to us, seems to be connected to the creation of semiotic systems capable of turning an immersive experience into a perceptive living experience under the motivations of a character with real dramatic power. REFERENCES DARLEY, Andrew (2002). Genealogia y tradicion: el espetáculo mecanizado. El declive de la narracion: el nuevo cine de espectáculo y el vídeo musical. Cultura visual digital. Espetáculo y nuevos géneros en los medios de comunicación. Barcelona: Paidós. GIBSON, James J. The Theory of Affordances. Ecological approach to Visual Perception. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986. MURRAY, Janet. Hamlet on the Holodeck: the future of narrative in cyberspace. Cambridge: MIT, 1997. NÖTH, Winfried. Ecossemiotics.
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Contact: renata gomes, Pontificia Universidade Catolica, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Departm, gomezzz@uol.com.br
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