Critical Analysis – Let’s narrow this down

Alright, time to figure out exactly what I want to make the research board about. I’ll write down some examples I was thinking of using, and then find something that connects them. This is just going to be a messy list with a conclusion at the end. Here we go:

  • Spec Ops: The Line uses the mechanics of a generic military shooter game, and the proceeds to use them within the context of the narrative to deconstruct the entire genre. – A series of blog-posts by Shamus Young talking about the game: ; A book I found on Amazon about these themes of the game:
  • The Beginner’s Guide is a game in which you play a series of smaller games by a single developer, while a narrator (who is a friend of the developer, and is the one who collected these games) provides context and analysis for them. Except, as it later turns out, he doesn’t exactly tell the whole story and tries to force his interpretations on the player. Essentially, this is a game about art and game development, in which the player is an active participant. – An article about the game. Well, a review of sorts: ; Here’s another one: ; And here’s a video about it:
  • The Stanley Parable is a game about game narratives, and the nature of in-game choices. You play as Stanley, and a narrator tells you what your character will do next. But you can defy his instructions, which will lead to him taking the story in a different direction. Well, mostly. There are lots and lots of different outcomes for this, and some of them can get pretty fourth-wall breaking. – An article about the different endings the game has: ; A great video discussing the themes of the game
  • In the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, the cutscenes show Lara Croft as a young, helpless woman, who needs to learn to survive on her own. At the same time, a lot of the gameplay consists of the player, and thus Lara, mercilessly mowing down wave after wave of “bad guys”. – Article about this problem:
  • The Assassin’s Creed series excuses its game mechanics by having the main character basically play a simulation based on the events of the past. This inner game is where the large majority of the player interaction and narrative takes place, everything outside of it is either extra story bits, or very basic gameplay with little to no on-screen UI.
  • The story of the Half-Life series is mostly made up along the way based on the gameplay systems Valve wants to introduce. This results in a game that has a fairly minimalistic narrative, with most of the lore being implied rather than discussed, but what IS there doesn’t clash with the mechanics at all. – The in-game developer commentary of Half-Life 2 Episode One and Two provides some great insight to how the games were made. There is also a book about the development of Half-Life 2, called Raising The Bar.
  • Telltale’s The Walking Dead on the other hand puts the story first, and builds the player interactions around that. There is no standard “shooting mechanic” or “puzzle mechanic” as everything is tailored to the specific situations the player can find themselves in. This results in interactive sequences feeling very natural.

Looking at that, I can kinda narrow the theme down to: “How to make a narrative work with game mechanics”. As for a research board title, I could use something like “How to interact with a story” or “Telling a story with game mechanics” or “Play versus Narrative”. I’ll have to work on that, but at least now I have a central question. Which is good I guess.

And I’m going to borrow “The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing And Design” by Flint Dille and John Zuur Platten from the library, and see if it has anything useful in it.

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