Reading Video Games

    The ‘game system’ fires up, the fans roar (or hopefully not so much), and the once black screen ignites. Immediately the player engages the video game and encounters stimuli; text; main menus, loading screens, cinematics, play mechanics, player characters, non-player characters, etc. They take witness and navigate the system using designed actions, play mechanics. Using these mechanics, the player acts as an agent within the participatory dramatic spectacle. An agent is a person or thing that takes an active role.  The player moves forward through a series of events acting with designed mechanics to bring about change in the system in order to achieve some desired outcome. To act is to cause or experience events. An event is a transition from one state to another. As a player acts he assembles a series of logical and chronologically related events, a fabula. This is the story, a series of events cognitively assembled and perceived by the player. The player authors this story through the reading of the text; the video game.

    “A narrative text is a text in which an agent relates a story in a particular medium” [Bal 1994]. The video game is related, or narrated, by the video game engine to the player through both active and passive means. Text, imagery, feedback, sound, and temporal sequences are read, perceived and judged. The game engine presents a narrative text to the player and says read me; understand what I am; and immerse yourself in the simulation.

    Some are better readers, better players, but all the players read and absorb the experience. As the player progresses in his play these judgments about the events, experienced as a result of his actions, cause him to modify his play to produce desired results. Reading allows the player to determine the next action needed to achieve a specific objective, or ‘object of desire.’ The story is needed by the player to convey the subjective meaning associated with the narrative read in the video game. A dramatic pattern that when assembled by the player creates a [player] story; a communication about the way things are within a particular system.

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