Mass Effect 2 A Case Study in the Design of Game Narrative Jim Bizzocchi and Joshua Tanenbaum

Abstract. Digital games have matured substantially as a narrative medium in the last decade. However, there is still much work to be done to more fully understand the poetics of story-based-games. Game narrative remains an important issue with significant cultural, economic and scholarly implications. In this article, we undertake a critical analysis of the design of narrative within Mass Effect 2: a game whose narrative is highly regarded in both scholarly and vernacular communities. We follow the classic humanities methodology of “close-reading”: the detailed observation, deconstruction, and analysis of a text. Our close-reading employs a critical framework from our previous work to isolate and highlight the central narrative design parameters within digital games. This framework is grounded in the scholarly discourse around games and narrative, and has been tested and revised in the process of close-reading and analyzing contemporary games. The narrative design parameters we examine are character, storyworld, narrativized interface, emotion, and plot coherence. Our analysis uses these parameters to explicate a series of design decisions for the effective creation of narrative experience in Mass Effect 2, and by extension, for game narratives in general. We also expand our previous methodology through a focused “edge-case” strategy for exploring the limits of character, action, and story in the game. Finally, we position our analysis of Mass Effect 2 within contemporary discourses of “bounded agency”, and explore how the game negotiates the tension between player-expression, and narrative inevitability to create opportunities for sophisticated narrative poetics including tragedy and sacrifice.

This is not a game: play in cultural environments

This is not a game: play in cultural environments

Katie Salen & Eric Zimmerman

Abstract. Games have a particular set of relationships to the contexts in which they are played. Although games have clearly delineated boundaries in time and space that set them apart from the “real world”, some games are designed to blur that boundary. This essay, comprised of several selections from the authors’ book Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, investigates the complex ways in which games interact with their cultural environment. Focusing on these questions from a game design viewpoint, the essay begins by identifying key concepts related to these questions and ends with detailed design analyses of three games that play with the cultural environments in which the games take place.

The White House on Games for Social Impact

“I’m calling for investments in educational technology that will help create. . . educational software that’s as compelling as the best video game. I want you guys to be stuck on a video game that’s teaching you something other than just blowing something up.” — President Obama, March 2011

The White House is collecting inputs and ideas on Games for Social Impact:

Narrative rules? Story logic and the structures of games

Hans-Joachim Backe

Abstract. Ever since scholars in the humanities have studied computer games, the relationship between play and narrative has been a much contested issue. Much dissent stems from incompatible basic assumptions about play and narrative, which, this article argues, can be reconciled by a formalist approach to games and narrative on a structural level. First, event structures and story structures are shown to be central to various theories of narrative. Correlating these findings with Espen Aarseth’s reflections upon nonlinearity, an understanding of narrative revolving around event logic is developed. Building on the theory of games developed by Roger Caillois, the article then develops a model of games in which three layers of structures are governed by three types of rules. The most abstract of these layers arranges game elements in a meta-structure which is based on both ludic and narrative logic. In a final step, nonlinear game structures are explained within this model and categorized in a typology that orders them by the type of agency players can execute.

Harmonic Motion

Harmonic MotionCan art stay sacred and intellectual, while at the same time being a playful mirror of experiences, sensations, reality and life? Japanese female artist Toshiko Horiuchi, who grew up in devastated Japan traumatized by the disastrous atomic bombing, firmly believes it can.

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“Reality ends here”, PhD thesis on educational ARGs

“Reality ends here: environmental game design and participatory spectacle”, by Jeff Watson

PhD thesis in Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California

Abstract. This document defines the emerging practice of “environmental game design”. This practice is contextualized within a body of theory regarding the production of space and the changing nature of spectacle. Within this context, five interrelated theses regarding environmental game design are presented. These theses are illustrated through discussion and documentation of the central practical component of my doctoral research: Reality Ends Here, an environmental game designed to effect immediate change in the community of learners at the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA). Drawing on the research and methodology underlying the design and implementation of Reality Ends Here, this document argues for the transformative potential of environmental game interventions across a range of domains.

“From interactivity to playability”, Olli Leino This paper discusses the similarities and differences between participatory, interactive, and playable art. It suggests that computer games can provide novel perspectives on interactivity in interactive art. The paper also proposes that the implications of computer games to interactive art extend beyond whatever purpose and value computer games are perceived as having as products of popular culture.