GamesRadar - Experimental Narrative Structures in Games
Taking a break from their usual slapstick article approach, Tyler Wilde at GamesRadar examines the effect of PoV in game narrative. While his examples are not drawn from the RPG genre, his points are interesting and general enough to apply to any genre:
What is a first-person game? Third-person? Most can easily identify these terms as referring to a game’s “camera” and how it relates to the virtual physical space of the game world. Also utilized are omnipresent viewpoints (strategy games), and the somewhat outdated second-person (text adventures).
In literary terms, however, the concept of “perspective” is much more ambiguous. While stories are still generally narrated from the first or third-person points of view, there are no “cameras.” Rather there are imagined virtual spaces, internal thoughts, and dialogue. The point of view is limited only to the constraints of language.
We’ve devised a few ways games may be able to borrow some of this freedom to create more engrossing experiences. The current standard for in-game storytelling is, at best, equivalent to that of B movies (sans a few shining exceptions, which haven’t had to overcome much competition). Some, like Will Wright, have questioned the need to utilize linear storytelling in games, but we are not tackling that argument at the moment. With the assumption that our goal is to devise more engrossing story-driven games, we present the following hypothetical narrative structures.
His first alternative is self-narration:
Our first hypothetical game verbally narrates itself in the first-person. When the player opens a door, for example, a film noir inspired voice (think Max Payne) might narrate, “I was fearful that the slightest creak would wake my landlord.”
Ignoring the very real possibility that this could be the most irritating game ever created, it creates the potential for some interesting effects...
Followed by ambiguity:
Imagine that the in-game character you’ve embodied is speaking to another character, which you have come to know well within the game. An imperceptible transition occurs, and seconds later you are speaking to the character you thought you were playing as. This disorienting “switching” could be maintained for the entirety of the game, if the story was capable of holding it together.
And finally, he proposes that abstraction as used in certain schools of art(Cubism) or through manipulation of time in the game, could add to the narrative:
What we are attempting to describe is an abstract point-of-view of an otherwise natural representation of reality. The Cubists were fascinated with this concept, and attempted to paint objects as if they were being viewed simultaneously from multiple angles. The word “simultaneously” is the key here, as time and the perception of time have much to do with this type of abstraction.
The slowing down or reversing of time in games like Stranglehold, for example, is a form of abstraction. “Split-screen” editing is also an abstraction, as seeing an event from multiple angles at the same time, or two non-adjacent events at the same time, is not possible in reality without the use of multiple cameras.
From his conclusion:
Perhaps all of our hypothetical games would be awful, but they were meant as extreme examples to illustrate points. The hypothetical quality of our hypothetical games isn’t as important as the general idea we want to communicate, which is that perspective can be adjusted and shaped in a myriad of ways, and is far more complex than just the location of a virtual camera. Without invalidating our argument completely, we must make one addendum: regardless of individual storytelling techniques used, the narrative art must be handled with finesse and care to be effective.