How would you sort video games? Part VIII

As Bennett (1981) argues when describing the qualities of objectivity as a phenomenon, “the concept of objectivity is largely a procedural notion based on the uniform structural and interpretive characteristics of stories that enable diverse individuals to hear cases [or to perceive stories told by the game] in fairly uniform ways” (p. 33). Because “judgments based on story construction are, in many important respects, unverifiable in terms of reality of the situation that the story represents,” Bennett proposes that the audience of the story should judge its content and plausibility according to certain structural relations among symbols in the story.

Story construction in video games

In his theory of story construction and social judgment, Bennett (1981) develops several components of story construction. The first component of the story model is to identify central action. The second component of the story model is to interpret central action while looking for empirical, linguistic, logical, normative, and aesthetic connections (pp. 49-59). Bennett argues that scripts classify a whole set of related terms activated in a single category (p. 53). Also, “categorization can become the key link in establishing a chain of connections to the central action in a story” (p. 53). The third component of the story model is the evaluation of the interpretation of the story. While evaluating the interpretation of the story, Bennett offers to use the pentad of social action elements constructed by Kenneth Burke: scene, act, agent, agency, and purpose. According to Bennett, the above-mentioned elements of the pentad provide “the framework for a statement from which one could judge both completeness and consistency” (p. 62).

Also, Bennett talks of four basic constructions of diagramming that allow for simplification of the complex stories to be told and understood. He describes the main components of diagramming as symbolic elements in the stories, connections among them, ambiguities in the connections, and the relation of these connections to the central action (italics in original, p. 82). To explain the importance of consistency and clear interpretation of the story the audience is to interpret, Bennett maintains,

The ways in which actors and acts are defined within any one of the story triads must hold constant across all the structural connections in a story…the story must seek to establish definitions for actors and acts that are constant across the scenes, agencies, and purposes, thereby yielding a consistent and clear interpretation for the actor’s act (p. 97).

Construction of social judgment in virtual reality

The narrative analysis of the games can be conducted using Bennett’s categories in his theory of social construction and social judgment. Despite the fact that Bennett addresses events and relationships in the courtroom, the roles and interrelationships between the characters of the courtroom can be easily transferred onto the players and producers of video games. For instance, Bennett (1981) cites three defense strategies that help withstand prosecutors’ arguments: challenge, redefinition, and reconstruction. In case of video games, the defense strategies will be employed by the developers to inoculate players and prepare them to support the position advocated by the game. When applied to a video game, prosecutors can be seen as individuals or entities opposed or neutral to the issue. Here, the challenge strategy presents an attempt to demonstrate that the key elements of the story developed by critics are poorly supported by evidence and testimony. Another way to inoculate players is the redefinition strategy, which is an attempt of the defense (video game developers) to find “a story ambiguous enough to support another definition and, at the same time, central enough to the story to affect the meaning of the central action” (p. 102). Finally, the reconstruction strategy within the video game is usually presented as an attempt to place the central action in the “context of an entirely new story to show that it merits a different interpretation” (p. 104).

Story elements that enhance influence on players

Bennett (1981)[1] points out that, “[s]uch is the mystique of lawyers and the court that it is easy to think that every move, nuance, and gesture somehow affect the juror’s judgment of the case” (p. 116). This formula of influence on juror’s judgment of the case can also be applied to the video games environment; in fact, every step toward the final goal which is given to the player by the video game affects players’ comprehension of issues and deepens their knowledge of the problem presented. The Redistricting Game was successful in establishing one of the three key story elements. It used definitional tactics in order to acquaint players with the problem of redistricting and deepen their knowledge of this problem and the concepts related to it. On the other hand, Darfur Is Dying was successful in establishing the second vital story element when it was using inferential tactics to establish and disrupt connection in the story evolving within the game. Here, players were offered a chance to make inferences about future consequences of their actions for their characters within the game. Both The Redistricting Game and the Darfur Is Dying were trying to use validational tactics to establish the credibility of evidence. Darfur Is Dying supplied its website with external links that contained real video footage from Sudan, while The Redistricting Game actively used the support of Congressman Tanner, whose bill it was promoting.

Influencers in virtual life vs. real life

The theory of stories and social judgment used by Bennett to explain how ordinary people make sophisticated judgments about complex information can also be applied to the analysis of video games, where players also have to make sophisticated judgments about complex issues presented in the video game format. In the same manner that participants constructed stories within the courtroom that “represent the capsule versions of reality” (p. 65), the video game players constructed stories that represent the simplified version of the problem/issue being addressed through an educational advergame.

[1] Bennett, W. L. (1981). Reconstructing reality in the courtroom: Justice and judgment in American culture. Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick.

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