Advergaming inside out. Part VII

How would you start making sense of what a video game is? Let’s start with textual analysis or analysis of narratives within the game. How is it done?

When developing criteria for narrative analysis, Riessman (1993)[1] outlines several important factors for it to be successful. First, persuasiveness of the narrative is considered to be greatest when “theoretical claims are supported with evidence from informants’ accounts and when alternative interpretations of the data are considered” (p. 65). Second, correspondence of the narrative must be present, which means that “the investigator can take results back to those studied” (p. 66). Finally, global, local, and themal coherence of the narrative must also be in place. Global coherence refers “to the overall goals a narrator is trying to accomplish by speaking” (p. 67).  Local coherence is what a narrator is trying to effect in the narrative itself, such as the use of linguistic devices to relate events to one another.” Themal coherence is represented by “recurrent themes that unify the text” (p. 67).

The principles for narrative analysis provided by Reissman (1993) and the narrative paradigm developed by Walter Fisher are core perspectives for the narrative analysis of games. While the narrative paradigm does not provide a specific method of analysis for a particular kind of media, it proposes “a precise perspective for critically reading texts” (Fisher, 1985a, p. 357. The narrative paradigm as it was outlined by Fisher (1984) was chosen as the foundation for narrative analysis mainly due to its ability to uncover common sociological, structural, and ideological themes in messages within video games.

Because social and political cause video games are frequently supplied with narratives even within the game itself (e.g., what the player is supposed to do to meet a certain goal), the narrative paradigm is a useful tool to provide a theoretical storytelling perspective for the analysis. At first, the narrative paradigm was used as a perspective in analyzing the creation of images in advertisements. A study conducted by Stutts and Barker[2] in 1999 looked at any similarities/differences between the perceptions of advertising professionals and business students. The authors praised the theory’s suitability for teasing out contradictions between the materialistic and moralistic myths. The responses of the audience regarding values confirmed the idea that people either connect with the ad or reject it based on the congruence between what the audience knows about the presenter and the values themselves. The usefulness of the narrative paradigm in analyzing the artifacts in the realm of political communication, human communication, and advertising is evident.

Logic and persuasive messages

In the 1970s, Fisher proposed a reconstruction of rhetorical forms into the following: affirmation (redefinition of the discourse functions that give life to certain ideas), reaffirmation (revitalization of acceptance of ideas), purification (restoration of the health of ideas), subversion (undermining of ideas), and evisceration (not only undermining of ideas, but also putting into question any idea that insists things can be better). All five concepts mentioned above rely on the concept of logic while communicating the persuasive messages. In his work on the meaning of logic, Fisher (1978, p. 377)[3] indicated that the meaning of logic is “a systematic set of procedures designed to add in the analysis and the assessment of elements of reasoning in rhetorical interactions.” The subsequent development of the logic of good reasons became a first step toward the development of the new paradigm in the field of human communication—the narrative paradigm (Fisher, 1984). According to Fisher (1985b),[4] good reasons represent the paradigmatic mode of human decision-making and communication. The production of good reasons is ruled by matters of history, biography, culture, and perceptions about the status and character of the other people involved (p. 75). Essentially, good reasons are “those elements that provide warrants for accepting or adhering to the advice fostered by any form of communication that can be considered rhetorical,” and warrants are something that “authorizes, sanctions, or justifies belief, attitude, or action” (Fisher, 1978, p. 377).

Testing for rationality of the narratives

The narrative paradigm is a mode of social influence that approaches narrative rhetorically (not formally as structuralism does). It “synthesizes two strands in rhetorical theory: the argumentative, persuasive theme and the literary, aesthetic theme” (Fisher, 1984, p.1). The meaning of Fisher’s motive view of communication is consistent with basics of the narrative paradigm, which can be determined while conducting the test of narrative rationality. The test of narrative rationality is based on the probability and fidelity of the stories that underpin the immediate decisions to be made. For Fisher (1984),[5] the world is a set of stories, and individuals choose those stories that match their own values and beliefs. Narrative probability determines whether or not the story is free of contradictions, whereas narrative fidelity concerns the “truth qualities” of the story, the degree to which a given story accords with the logic of good reasons (Fisher, 1985a, p. 349).[6]

Today, with the growing popularity of video games, a few scholars attempted to use the narrative paradigm as a perspective for their analysis. In 1992, Kinder[7] conducted an analysis of the stories told with home video games and TV movies. She argued that home video games cultivate a dual form of spectatorship, which positions young spectators to combine passive and interactive modes of response (p. 30). In other words, as it was observed by Hess (2007)[8] more than a decade later, the game presents players with a historical and a personal narrative, where the history is represented by what has already happened and the personal part depends on the player alone.

Keeping in mind that the medium analyzed by this thesis is represented by video games, it is useful to use one of the definitions developed by Lee, Park, and Jin (2006)[9] for narrative within the interactive media; namely, they argue…

[n]arrative is a representation of events that provides a cognitive structure whereby media users can tie causes to effects, convert the complexity of events to a story that makes sense, and thus satisfy their primitive urges to understand the physical and social worlds (p. 265).

On the other hand, Jenkins (2004)[10] distinguishes three types of narratives in video games: evoked, enacted, and embedded. Evoked narratives provide only broad outlines coming from previously existing stories. Enacted narratives present broadly defined goals and conflicts in games but also provide players with limited choices of paths a main character in a game can take. Finally, embedded narratives are discovered only when players deeply process information inside the game world created by the game developers.

A perspective from video game developers

To adhere to the criteria for narrative analysis as they were outlined by Riessman (1993), alternative interpretations of the narratives within video games were provided by the developers of the video games; the correspondence criterion was reached due to the fact that the interviews with developers were one of the main methods used by this thesis along with the narrative analysis. According to Gee (2003, p. 85),[11] “humans find story elements profoundly meaningful and are at a loss when they cannot see the world in terms of such elements.” For this reason, narrative analysis of video games is important for the enhancement of video game research. No doubt, there are different types of games, some of which have clearly defined narratives whereas others have only minimal elements of narratives. This thesis argues that in cases where a game has a minimal narrative presence, alternative perspectives to analyzing video games, such as ludology, should be employed instead of narrative analysis. In other cases, narrative analysis should be used along with other perspectives, including ludology.

[1] Riessman, C. K. (1993). Narrative analysis. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

[2] Stutts, N. B., & Barker, R. T. (1999, November). The use of narrative paradigm theory in assessing audience value conflict in image advertising. Management Communication Quarterly, 13 (2), 209.

[3] Fisher, W. R. (1978). Toward a logic of good reasons. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 64 (4), 376-384.

[4] Fisher, W. R. (1985b, Autumn). The narrative paradigm: In the beginning. Journal of Communication, 35, 74-89.

[5] Fisher, W. R. (1984). Narration as a human communication paradigm: The case of public moral argument. Communication Monograph, 51, 1-22.

[6] Fisher, W. R. (1985a, December). The narrative paradigm: An elaboration. Communication Monographs, 52, 347-367.

[7] Kinder, M. (1992, July). Playing with power on Saturday morning television and on home video games. Quarterly Review of Film & Video, 14 (1/2), 29-59.

[8] Hess, A. (2007). You don’t play, you volunteer: Narrative public memory construction in Medal of Honor: Rising Sun. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 24, 339-356.

[9] Lee, K. M., Park, N., & Jin, S-A. (2006). Narrative and interactivity in computer games. In P. Vorderer, & J. Bryant (Eds.), Playing video games: Motives, responses, and consequences (pp. 259-275). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

[10] Jenkins, H. (2004). Game design as narrative architecture. In N. Wardrip-Fruin, & P. Harrington (Eds.), First person: New media as story, performance, and game (pp. 118-130). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

[11] Gee, J. P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy? New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

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