Sei sulla pagina 1di 11

11/8/2016

Games Studies 0101: Games telling Stories? by Jesper Juul

theinternationaljournalofcomputer volume1,issue1
gameresearch
July2001

home

about

JesperJuulisa
Ph.D.studentin
computergamesat
theITUniversityof
Copenhagen.Heholds
anM.A.inNordic
Literaturewitha
master'sthesison
interactivefiction.
Hecoarrangedthe
ComputerGames&
DigitalTextualities
conferenceinMarch
2001.
Healsodevelopschat
andmultiplayer
gamesinthe
companySoup.dk.

archive

GamesTellingstories?[1]

Abriefnoteongamesandnarratives
byJesperJuul

Introduction
Asquestionsgo,thisisnotabadone:Dogamestellstories?Answering
thisshouldtellusbothhowtostudygamesandwhoshouldstudythem.
Theaffirmativeanswersuggeststhatgamesareeasilystudiedfromwithin
existingparadigms.Thenegativeimpliesthatwemuststartafresh.
Buttheanswerdepends,ofcourse,onhowyoudefineanyofthewords
involved.Inthisarticle,Iwillbeexaminingsomeofthedifferentwaysto
discussthis.Lestthisturnsintoabattleofwords(i.e.whohastherightto
define"narrative"),myagendaisnottosaveorprotectanyspecificterm,
thebasicpointofthisarticleisratherthatweshouldallowourselvesto
makedistinctions.
Theoperationofframingsomethingassomethingelseworksbytaking
somenotionsofthesourcedomain(narratives)andapplyingthemtothe
targetdomain(games).Thisisnotneutralitemphasisessometraitsand
suppressesothers.Unlikethis,theactofcomparingfurthersthe
understandingofdifferencesandsimilarities,andmaybarehidden
assumptions.
Thearticlebeginsbyexaminingsomestandardargumentsforgamesbeing
narrative.Thereareatleastthreecommonarguments:1)Weuse
narrativesforeverything.2)Mostgamesfeaturenarrativeintroductions
andbackstories.3)Gamessharesometraitswithnarratives.
Thearticlethenexploresthreeimportantreasonsfordescribinggamesas
beingnonnarrative:1)Gamesarenotpartofthenarrativemediaecology
formedbymovies,novels,andtheatre.2)Timeingamesworksdifferently
thaninnarratives.3)Therelationbetweenthereader/viewerandthestory
worldisdifferentthantherelationbetweentheplayerandthegameworld.
Thearticleworkswithfairlytraditionaldefinitionsofstoriesandnarratives,
soasafinalpointIwillconsiderwhethervariousexperimentalnarrativesof
the20thcenturycaninsomereconcilegamesandnarratives.

Tellingstories
Everythingisnarrative/Everythingcanbepresented
asnarratives
Thefirstargumentisacompellingone,asitpromisesakindofholisticview
oftheworld:Sinceweusenarrativestomakesenseofourlives,toprocess
information,andsincewecantellstoriesaboutagamewehaveplayed,no
genreorformcanbeoutsidethenarrative.
Theproblemisthatthisreallyisanaprioriargument.Narrativesmaybe
fundamentaltohumanthought,butthisdoesnotmeanthateverything
shouldbedescribedinnarrativeterms.Andthatsomethingcanbe
presentedinnarrativeformdoesnotmeanthatitisnarrative.

Idealstories/backstories
Amoreinterestingargumentcentresonthefactthatmostgameshavea
storywrittenonthepackage,inthemanual,orinintrosequences,placing
http://www.gamestudies.org/0101/juul-gts/

1/11

11/8/2016

Games Studies 0101: Games telling Stories? by Jesper Juul

theplayer'splayinginthecontextofalargerstory(backstory),and/or
creatinganidealstorythattheplayerhastorealise:

SpaceInvaders(Taito1977)
IfweplaySpaceInvaders(Taito1977),wearepresentedwithanideal
storythatwehavetorealiseusingskill.Aprehistoryissuggestedin
Invaders:Aninvasionpresupposesasituationbeforetheinvasion.Itis
clearfromthesciencefictionweknowthatthesealiensareevilandshould
bechasedaway.Sothetitlesuggestsasimplestructurewithapositive
statebrokenbyanexternalevilforce.Itistheroleoftheplayertorecreate
thisoriginalpositivestate.Thisis,ofcourse,asequenceoftenfoundinfolk
tales:Aninitialstate,anoverturningofthisstate,andarestorationofthe
state.
Butitworksinadifferentway:IfweplaySpaceInvaders,wefindthatwe
cannotactuallyrestoretheinitialstatewecannotwinsinceeverywaveof
aliensisfollowedbyanother.Asplayerswearefightingtorealiseanideal
sequenceofevents,buttheactualplayingisnotthissequence.
Mostmodern,singleplayernonarcadegamessuchasHalfLife(Valve
software1998)actuallyletyoucompletethegame:throughcountless
savesandreloadsitispossibletorealisetheidealsequencethatHalflife
defines.Obviously,onlyamicroscopicfractionoftheplaysessionsactually
followtheidealpath,butHalfLifedoessucceedinpresentingafixed
sequenceofeventsthattheplayercanthenafterwardsretell.[2]This
meansthatsomegamesusenarrativesforsomepurposes.

Similarities
TheaboveSpaceInvadersexamplealsomeansthatgamessharesome
traitswithnarratives:Manygamesfeaturereversalssuchasmovements
fromalacktothelackbeingresolved.JensF.Jensenhasusedthistraitof
SpaceInvaderstoarguethatcomputergames,whilebeingdeviant,are
narratives(1988).
Additionally,manygameshavequeststructures,andmostcomputergames
haveprotagonists(thoughthisislesscommoninnonelectronicgames).As
JanetMurraysuggestsinHamletontheHolodeck,suchsimilaritieswould
indicatethatthereisapromisingfuturefordigitalstorytellingand
interactivenarratives,thatgamesandnarrativesarenotveryfarapart.
Itisalsoanoftrepeatedbutproblematicpointthatgamesessionsare
experiencedlinearly,justlikenarratives.(SeeAarseth1997p.2.)Iwill
returntothisbutbrieflynotethatthisideaignorestheplayer'sexperience
ofbeinganactiveparticipantthisexperienceissostrongthatmostpeople
willinvoluntarilychangebodilypositionwhenencounteringinteractivity,
fromtheleanbackwardpositionofnarrativestotheleanforwardpositionof
games.Andplayingagameincludestheawarenessthatthegamesession
isjustoneoutofmanypossibletobehadfromthisgame.

Isthisit?
Itisthuspossible,indifferentways,toviewgamesasbeinginsomeway
connectedtonarratives,butdoesthisreallyanswertheopeningquestion?
Theabovepointswouldindicatethatgamesandnarrativesdonotlivein
differentworlds,butcaninsomewaysworktogether:Anarrativemaybe
http://www.gamestudies.org/0101/juul-gts/

2/11

11/8/2016

Games Studies 0101: Games telling Stories? by Jesper Juul

usedfortellingtheplayerwhattodoorasrewardsforplaying.Gamesmay
spawnnarrativesthataplayercanusetotellothersofwhatwentonina
gamesession.Gamesandnarrativescanonsomepointsbesaidtohave
similartraits.Thisdoesmeanthatthestrongpositionofclaiminggames
andnarrativestobecompletelyunrelated(myowntext,Juul1999isa
goodexample)isuntenable.
Butwealsohavetolookatdifferences.

Theproblemoftranslation
Iwillnowusesomenarrativetheoryinanoperationforwhichitwasnot
intended.Thebasicproblemofthenarrativeisthefactthatanarrativecan
neverbeviewedindependently,ansich.Wecanneverseethestoryitself
wecanonlyseeitthroughanothermediumlikeoralstorytelling,novels,
andmovies.Theclassicalargumentfortheexistenceofnarrativesisthen
thefactthatastorycanbetranslatedfromonemediumtoanother:
Thistransposabilityofthestoryisthestrongestreasonforarguingthat
narrativesareindeedstructuresindependentofanymedium.
(Chatman1978,p.20)

Correspondingly,PeterBrookssays:
Narrativemaybeaspecialabilityorcompetencethat[...]when
mastered,allowsustosummariseandretransmitnarrativesinother
wordsandotherlanguages,totransferthemintoothermedia,while
remainingrecognisablyfaithfultotheoriginalnarrativestructureand
message.(Brooks1984,p.34)

Andthismayseemsomewhatunproblematicwecannevergeteverything
betweenmedia,butatleastsomethingseemstogettransportedfrom
mediumtomedium.ArecountingofPrideandPrejudicethemoviewillbe
recognisabletosomebodywhohasreadthebook.

Translatingwhat?
Thisbringsustotheproblemofwhatweactuallymeanbysayingthat
somethingcanbetranslatedfromonemediumtoanother.Inaprobably
slightlylimitedviewofnarratives,narrativescanbesplitintoalevelof
discourse(thetellingofthestory)andthestory(thestorytold).Thestory
partcanthenbesplitintotwoparts,existents(actorsandsettings)and
events(actionsandhappenings).(Chatmanp.19)Astorycanthenbe
recognisedbyhavingthesameexistents(withthesamenames)andthe
sameeventsthisiswhatweusuallymeanbytalkingof"thesamestory".
Thiscanbeusedtheotherway,asatestofwhetherthecomputergameis
anarrativemedium:Ifthecomputergameisanarrativemedium,stories
fromothermediamustberetellableincomputergames,andcomputer
gamesmustberetellableinothermedia.Onasuperficiallevel,thisseems
straightforwardsincemanycommercialmoviesarerepackagedasgames,
StarWarsisanobviousexample.Theotherwayaround,gamestransferred
intomoviesarelesscommon,butexamplesincludeMarioBrothers,Mortal
Kombat,andTombRaider.Uponfurtherexamination,wewillfindthe
situationtobemuchmorecomplex:

Frommovietogame:StarWars
ThearcadegameStarWars(Atari1983)isbasedontheGeorgeLucas
movieofthesamename(1977).InthemovieStarWars,anarmyofrebels
fightaheroicbattleagainsttheevilgalacticempire.Thedramaticpeakof
themovieiswhentherebelarmyandtheprotagonistLukeSkywalkermust
attacktheevilempire'snewweaponthedeathstar.TheStarWarsgameis
inthreephases,inallofwhichtheplayercontrolsaspaceshipfromthe
inside,presumablyasLukeSkywalker.Thefirstphasetakesplaceinspace,
wherewefighthostilespacecraft.Thesecondphaseisonthedeathstar,
fightingdifferentobjectsonthedeathstarsurface.Inthethirdphasewefly
throughatunnelinthedeathstartoattackanexhaustport.Thismakes
thedeathstarexplode.Firstphasecorrespondstoaninmoviebattlebefore
Lukefliestothedeathstarexceptthattherebelfleetisabsent.Second
phasehasnoclearcorrelateinthemovie.Thethirdphasecorrespondstoa
http://www.gamestudies.org/0101/juul-gts/

3/11

11/8/2016

Games Studies 0101: Games telling Stories? by Jesper Juul

sceneinthemovieagainwiththerebelfleetbeingabsent.Ifyou
completethemission,thedeathstarexplodes.Sothegamecopiesasmall
partofthemovie.

StarWars(Atari1983)

Theprimarythingthatencouragestheplayertoconnectgameandmovieis
thetitle"StarWars"onthemachineandonthescreen.Ifweimaginethe
titleremovedfromthegame,theconnectionwouldnotbeatallobvious.It
wouldbeagamewhereoneshouldhitan"exhaustport"(orsimplya
square),andtheplayercouldnoteasimilaritywithasceneinStarWars,
butyouwouldnotbeabletoreconstructtheeventsinthemoviefromthe
game.Theprehistoryismissing,therestofthemovie,allpersonal
relations.Possiblyweareevenmissingtheunderstandingthatweare
fightingadeathstar(whateverthatis).Finallythemostobvious:Ifyoudo
notcompletethemission,thisisunlikethemovieifyoucompletethe
mission,anotherdeathstarappearswhichisalsounlikethemovie.
Thus,StarWarsthegamecannotbesaidtocontainanarrativethatcanbe
recognisedfromStarWarsthemovie:Mostcharactersfromthemovieare
missing,andthefeweventsthatareincludedinthegamehavebecome
simulationswheretheplayercaneitherwinorfail.Thesamethinggoesfor
thesecondbatchofStarWarsgames.StarWars:Racer(Lucasarts1999)
featurestheracesequenceofStarWars:EpisodeI(Lucas1999),butonly
that.[3]

Fromgametostory
Iwillonlybrieflybecoveringgamestorytranslations,sincetheyarefairly
uncommon.IfwelookattheMortalKombat(Midwaygames1993)game,it
isafightinggame(beat'em'up)wheredifferentopponents(humansor
computerplayers)battleinanarena.Itisthusadynamicsystemthat
allowsmanydifferentpeopletointeractwithmanydifferentoutcomes.The
MortalKombatmovie(Anderson1995)isnotadynamicsystem,butastory
withaspecificsetofcharactersenteringaMortalKombatgameandplaying
throughwithspecificoutcomes.Thefairlynondescriptgamecharacters
andopenplayerpositionsbecomemoredetailedmoviecharactersthe
simulationisconvertedintospecificevents.
Correspondingly,ifwerecountagameofchess,ourplayingoftheentire
HalfLifegameoramultiplayergameofStarcraft,theexistentsandevents
willbetransferred,butnotthedynamicsystems.[4]Ourretellingwillnot
beagame,andinfactmuchofthevastjourneythatittakestocomplete
Halflifewouldbeexcruciatinglydullifretoldinanydetail.
Theconceptofexistentsisbestsuitedforphysicalgames,wherethe
numberofmanipulableelementsis,atleastinprinciple,finite.Problemis
thatprogramsarebasicallyexistentcreatingmachines:Computergames
allowfortheeasyproductionofinfinitenumbersofexistents,manyaction
gamesinfactcomewithainfinitenumberofexistentsintheformof
opponents.Theotherproblemwiththeconceptofexistentsisthatitin
itselfdoesnotspecifywhatattributesoftheexistentareimportant,
whereasgamerulesfeatureastricthierarchyofimportantandnon
http://www.gamestudies.org/0101/juul-gts/

4/11

11/8/2016

Games Studies 0101: Games telling Stories? by Jesper Juul

importantfeaturesErvingGoffmancallsthisthe"rulesofirrelevance".
(Goffmanp.19)
Weshouldalsonotethatmostmoderngamesfeaturecutscenes,i.e.
passageswheretheplayercannotdoanythingbutmostsimplywatch
eventsunfolding.Cutscenestypicallycomeintheformofintroductionsand
sceneswhentheplayerhascompletedpartofthegame.
Itisthenpossibletodescribeinamoregeneralwayhowgamesget
translatedintonarratives,andhownarrativesgettranslatedintogames:

Atableofnarrativegametranslations
Movies/Novelsetc.

Game

Existent

Existent
or
Continuousproductionof
existents(i.e.hordesof
opponents)

Event

Event(cutscene)
or
Simulationwithmultiple
outcomes

Sequenceofevents

Selectedeventsaseventsor
simulations
or
Idealsequenceofeventsthatthe
playerhastoactualiseby
masteringthesimulations[5]

Character

Character(cutscene)
or
Playerposition(game)

Notethatbothdirectionsofthetranslationleaveplentyofroomfor
improvisationandcarrymanyoptionaloperations.Inshort,gamesbased
onmoviestendtopickafewselectactionsequences,whicharethen
simulatedingamesequencesaswesawwithStarWars.Character
descriptionanddevelopmentiseitherignoredordoneincutscenes(since
thisistoohardtoimplementingameform).Workingfromgametomovie,
thegameisnolongeragame,butisratherpresentedasspecificgame
sessions,playedbyspecificcharacters,withspecificoutcomes.The
charactersalsotendtobecomemoredeveloped:TombRaider'sheroine
LaraCroftacquiresmuchmoreofapastandpersonalityintheTombRaider
movie.

Time,game,andnarrative
Narrativeisa...doubletemporalsequence...:Thereisthetimeof
thethingtoldandthetimeofthenarrative(thetimeofthesignified
andthetimeofthesignifier).Thisdualitynotonlyrenderspossibleall
thetemporaldistortionsthatarecommonplaceinnarratives(three
yearsofthehero'slifesummedupintwosentencesofanovelorina
fewshotsofa"frequentative"montageinfilm,etc.).Morebasically,it
invitesustoconsiderthatoneofthefunctionsofnarrativeistoinvent
onetimeschemeintermsofanothertimescheme.(ChristianMetz,
quotedfromGenette1980,p.33)

http://www.gamestudies.org/0101/juul-gts/

5/11

11/8/2016

Games Studies 0101: Games telling Stories? by Jesper Juul

Intheclassicalnarratologicalframework,anarrativehastwodistinctkinds
oftime,thestorytime,denotingthetimeoftheeventstold,intheir
chronologicalorder,andthediscoursetime,denotingthetimeofthetelling
ofevents(intheorderinwhichtheyaretold).Toreadanovelorwatcha
movieistoalargeextentaboutreconstructingastoryonthebasisofthe
discoursepresented.
Inaverbalnarrative,thegrammaticaltensewillnecessarilypresenta
temporalrelationbetweenthetimeofthenarration(narrativetime)and
theeventstold(storytime).Additionally,itispossibletotalkofathird
time,thereadingorviewingtime(Genette,p.34).Whilemoviesand
theatredonothaveagrammaticaltensetoindicatethetemporalrelations,
theystillcarryabasicsensethateventhoughthevieweriswatchinga
movie,now,oreventhoughtheplayersareonstageperforming,the
eventstoldarenothappeningnow.
InEisenstein'saccountthereisthesensethatthetextbeforeus,the
playorthefilm,istheperformanceofa"prior"story.(Bordwell,p.15)

Wecannotnecessarilydescribethisasaspecifictemporalrelation(hence
"prior")butthereisafundamentaldistancebetweenthestorytimeand
discoursetime.AsChristianMetznotesintheabovequote,narrativesrely
heavilyonthisdistanceornonidentitybetweentheeventsandthe
presentationoftheseevents.

Timeinthecomputergame

DoomII,level2.

IfwethenplayanactionbasedcomputergamelikeDoomII(IDSoftware
1994),itishardtofindadistancebetweenstorytime,narrativetime,and
reading/viewingtime.Wemayfindarepresentation,andasaplayeryou
trytoreconstructsomeeventsfromthisrepresentation:Theblocky
graphicscanbeinterpretedsofarastheplayercontrolsacharacter,whose
facialexpressionisrepresentedinthebottomcentre.Ontheillustrationthis
personhasbeencorneredbyalargepinkmonster,whosehostileintents
areclearlyidentifiable.Playersareattackedbymonsterspuzzlesmustbe
solvedtogettothenextlevel.
Itisclearthattheeventsrepresentedcannotbepastorprior,sinceweas
playerscaninfluencethem.BypressingtheCTRLkey,wefirethecurrent
weapon,whichinfluencesthegameworld.Inthisway,thegameconstructs
thestorytimeassynchronouswithnarrativetimeandreading/viewing
time:thestorytimeisnow.Now,notjustinthesensethattheviewer
witnesseseventsnow,butinthesensethattheeventsarehappeningnow,
andthatwhatcomesnextisnotyetdetermined.
Inan"interactivestory"gamewheretheuserwatchesvideoclipsand
occasionallymakeschoices,storytime,narrativetime,andreading/viewing
timewillmoveapart,butwhentheusercanact,theymustnecessarily
implode:itisimpossibletoinfluencesomethingthathasalreadyhappened.
Thismeansthatyoucannothaveinteractivityandnarrationatthesame
time.Andthismeansinpracticethatgamesalmostneverperformbasic
narrativeoperationslikeflashbackandflashforward.[6]Gamesarealmost
alwayschronological.
Thisarticleisnotaboutalltheintricaciesoftimeingames(seeJuul,
forthcoming).Letussimplynotethatgamesmayalsohaveaspeedthatis
notequaltotheplayingtimeaday&nightintheonlinemultiplayer
http://www.gamestudies.org/0101/juul-gts/

6/11

11/8/2016

Games Studies 0101: Games telling Stories? by Jesper Juul

gameEverQuesttakes72actualminutestocomplete,andagameplayed
in2001maybelabelledastakingplacein1941.Butplayingagame
requiresatleastpointsorperiodsoftemporalconvergencewherethetime
ofthegameworldandthetimeoftheplayingmergeandtheplayercan
actuallydosomething.

Theplayerandthegame
Thenextmajorquestionislessstructuralandmoreorientedtowardsthe
reader:Howdoestheplayerandthegameinteract?
Moviesandotherstoriesarelargelyabouthumans(oranthropomorphic
things)thattheviewer/readeridentifieswithcognitively.Itisbasically
boringtoview/readfictionswithoutanthropomorphicactors.Thisisnottrue
forgames.Gameswithnoactorsrepresentedonscreenhaveappeared
throughoutthehistoryofthecomputergame.[7]Manyofthesehavebeen
extremelypopular.AnearlyexampleisMissileCommand(Atari1980),
whereanumberofcitiesareattackedbymissilesthatyouthenhaveto
destroyusingrocketsfromthreemissilebatteries.Theplayeristhenot
representedonscreenasanentityoractor,butonlyseestheresultsof
his/heractions.Itwouldbepossibletocreatea"jobdescription"forthe
playerasoldiercontrollingmissiles:atypicalhero.Itisharderto
understandTetris(Pazhitnov1985),whereyoumustcombineaseriesof
fallingbricks.

MissileCommand(Atari1980)

Tetris(Atari's1986version.)

Tetrisdoesnothaveavisibleactoreither,anditdoesnotseempossibleto
constructanyactorcontrollingthefallingbricks."Tetristhemovie"does
notseemlikeaviableconcept.ButTetrisisincrediblypopular,andnobody
isdisputingitsstatusasacomputergame.
http://www.gamestudies.org/0101/juul-gts/

7/11

11/8/2016

Games Studies 0101: Games telling Stories? by Jesper Juul

Buthowcancomputergamesbeabstractandwithoutpointsof
identification,andyetbeinteresting?Nomatterhowvariableoreven
absenttheprotagonistincomputergames,theplayerisalwaysconstant.
Thereader/viewerneedanemotionalmotivationforinvestingenergyinthe
movieorbookweneedahumanactanttoidentifywith.Thisisprobably
alsotrueforthecomputergame,onlythisactantisalwayspresentitis
theplayer.Theplayerismotivatedtoinvestenergyinthegamebecause
thegameevaluatestheplayer'sperformance.Andthisiswhyagamecan
bemuchmoreabstractthanamovieoranovel,becausegamesinvolvethe
playerinadirectway.
Thisdiscrepancyraisesmanyissues.Inagame,theplayerworkstoreach
agoal.Thethingisthenthatthisgoalhastomimictheplayer'ssituation.It
seems,forexample,thatagamecannothavethegoalthattheplayer
shouldworkhardtothrowtheprotagonistunderatrain.[8]Asaplayer,the
goalhastobeonethatyouwouldconceivablywanttoworkfor.[9]

Afinalargument:Theavantgardefallacy
Thereisafinalcounterargumenttothepointssetforthhere:Theproblem
withmydescriptionofstoryashavingexistentsandevents,mydescription
oftime,mydescriptionoftheplayer/gamerelationasuniquecouldbethis:
ThatIamignoringtheexperimentalnarrativesofthe20thcentury,works
thatdonotsimplysubscribetothestory/discourseduality,activatethe
readermuchmore,anddonothaveasenseofbeingpastorprior.Wecan
explorethiswithafewselectexamples.
JeanLucGodard'sPierrotlefouwouldserveasanexampleofamovie
whereitishardtoconstructacoherentstoryduetonumeroustemporal
skipsanddistanciationssuchastheactor'saddressingthecamera.This
foregroundingofthediscoursehasasenseofimmediacythatwouldmake
itripeforagameadaptationifonlywecouldfigurewhatthegameshould
beabout.
AndduringthecreationofNakedLunch,WilliamBurroughswritesthe
followexplanationtoAllenGinsberg:
[...]theusualnovelhashappened.Thisnovelishappening.
(Burroughs1993,p.375)

Itmaybeobviousthatthemoreopenanarrativeistointerpretation,the
moreemphasiswillbeonthereader/viewerseffortsnow.Thedifference
betweenthenowinnarrativesandthenowingamesisthatfirstnow
concernsthesituationwherethereader'seffortininterpretingobscuresthe
storythetextbecomesalldiscourse,andconsequentlythetemporal
tensionsease.Thenowofthegamemeansthatstorytimeconvergewith
playingtime,withoutthestory/gameworlddisappearing.
Gamesrelyonhavinggoalsthatcanbedecipheredbytheplayerand
somethingobstructingtheplayer'spossibilityofreachingthegoals.
Narrativesarebasicallyinterpretative,whereasgamesareformal.Or,in
cybertextualterms,storieshaveaninterpretativedominant,whereas
gameshaveaconfigurativedominant.(Eskelinen2001.)Whilereadersand
viewersareclearlymoreactivethansometheorieshavepreviously
assumed,theyareactiveinadifferentway.
Theideaofusingexperimentalnarrativestoanswertheopeningquestion
suffersfromtheproblemthattheveryemphasisoninterpretationand
ontologicalinstabilitythatwouldmakethenarrativemoreimmediateand
thusclosertothegame,initselfwouldmakeagameunplayable.[10]

Conclusion
IwouldliketorepeatthatIbelievethat:1)Theplayercantellstoriesofa
gamesession.2)Manycomputergamescontainnarrativeelements,andin
manycasestheplayermayplaytoseeacutsceneorrealiseanarrative
sequence.3)Gamesandnarrativessharesomestructuraltraits.
Nevertheless,mypointisthat:1)Gamesandstoriesactuallydonot
http://www.gamestudies.org/0101/juul-gts/

8/11

11/8/2016

Games Studies 0101: Games telling Stories? by Jesper Juul

translatetoeachotherinthewaythatnovelsandmoviesdo.2)Thereisan
inherentconflictbetweenthenowoftheinteractionandthepastor"prior"
ofthenarrative.Youcan'thavenarrationandinteractivityatthesame
timethereisnosuchthingasacontinuouslyinteractivestory.3)The
relationsbetweenreader/storyandplayer/gamearecompletelydifferent
theplayerinhabitsatwilightzonewherehe/sheisbothanempiricalsubject
outsidethegameandundertakesaroleinsidethegame.
Evenifthisarticlehasbeensomewhatstructuralinitsorientation,Iwould
liketostatethatIthinkweneedtoconsidergamesasfairlyformal
structuresthatincomplexwaysspawnandfeedplayerexperiences.This
meansthatwecannotaffordtoignoretheeffectofinteractivity:Thenon
determinedstateofthestory/gameworldandtheactivestateoftheplayer
whenplayingagamehashugeimplicationsforhowweperceivegames.
Evenifweweretoplayonlyasinglegamesessionofahypotheticalgame
andendupperformingexactlythesamesequenceofeventsthatconstitute
Hamlet[11],wewouldnothavehadthesameexperienceashadwe
watchedHamletperformed.Wewouldalsonotconsiderthegametobethe
sameobjectastheplaysincewewouldthinkofthegameasanexplorable
dynamicsystemthatallowedforamultitudeofsequences.
Thenarrativeturnofthelast20yearshasseentheconceptofnarrative
emergeasaprivilegedmasterconceptinthedescriptionofallaspectsof
humansocietyandsignproduction.Expandingaconceptcaninmanycases
beuseful,buttheexpansionprocessisalsoonethatblursboundariesand
muddlesconcepts,bethisisdesirableornot.Withanysufficientlybroad
definitionofx,everythingwillbex.Thisrapidlyexpandsthepossibleuses
ofatheorybutalsobringsthedangerofexhaustion,thekindofexhaustion
thateventuallyclosesdepartmentsandfeedsindifference:Having
establishedthateverythingisx,thereisnothingelsetodothantorepeat
thestatement.
Usingothermediaasstartingpoints,wemaylearnmanythingsaboutthe
constructionoffictiveworlds,characters...butrelyingtooheavilyon
existingtheorieswillmakeusforgetwhatmakesgamesgames:Suchas
rules,goals,playeractivity,theprojectionoftheplayer'sactionsintothe
gameworld,thewaythegamedefinesthepossibleactionsoftheplayer.It
istheuniquepartsthatweneedtostudynow.
Thesearebothdescriptiveandnormativeissues.Itdoesnotmakemuch
sensetodescribeeverythinginthesameterms.Italsoisquitelimitingto
supposethatallculturalformsshouldworkinthesameway.Thediscussion
ofgamesandnarrativesisarelevantoneandIcannothopetocloseit
here.Thisarticlehasarguedfortellingthedifference.

[Tothetopofthepage]

Notes

1.Partsofthisarticlehavepreviouslyappearedinadifferentformin
Kritik#135.Copenhagen:Gyldendal1998.
2.Notethatmultiplayergamesrarelycontainidealsequencesbutrather
allowtheplayerstoreplaythesamesettingwithnewresultsthinkof
ChessorStarcraft.Assuchtheyareveryfarfromnarratives.Ontheother
hand,theretellingofagamesessioninasingleplayergame("andthenI
...andthenI...andthenI...")islessinterestingthantheretellingofa
multiplayergamesincethelattercanincludeintrigues,lies,anddeceit
betweenpeople("wehadagreedtocombineforcesontheeasternfront,
butonlyintheenddidIrealisethatshewasactuallyconspiringwith
Joe").
3.Thisalsorelatestothematurationofthegameindustry:ThefirstStar
Warsmovieresultedinonecomputergame,thelatestmoviehasspawned
somewherearoundtendifferentgamesondifferentplatformsfeaturing
differentpiecesofthemovieoroftheStarWarsuniverse.
4.Theothermajorproblemisthatgamesareformalisedandrulebound
andassuchbettersuitedforphysics&firearmsthanforexistential
problems,sincethelatterarenoteasilyformalised.(SeeJuul2000)This
http://www.gamestudies.org/0101/juul-gts/

9/11

11/8/2016

Games Studies 0101: Games telling Stories? by Jesper Juul

meansthatsomeeventsarevery,veryhardtocreateasdynamic
systems.
5.Theidealsequenceismuchhardertoactualisethanthenumerousnon
idealsequencesthisiswhatmakesitagame.
6.Flashforwardismoreofaproblemthanflashback,sincedescribing
eventsinthefuturemeansthattheplayercannotdoanything.
7.Traditionalboardandcardgamestendtobemuchmoreabstractthan
computergames.
8.TheAnnaKareninaexamplewaspresentedbyMarieLaureRyan
(2001).
9.Thisdoesnotruleoutironies,butallexamplesIknowofworkby
puttingtheplayerinanactivepositiondoingthingsnormallyconsidered
negative:DestroyinghousesandkillingpeopleinRampage(BallyMidway
1986),killingpedestriansinDeathRace(Exidy1976)andCarmageddon
(SalesCurveInteractive1997).Iknowofnogameswherethegoalofthe
playeristodieorbedestroyed.
10.Thisstillleavesopennumerousunexploredpossibilitiessuchas
multiplecontradictorygoals,gamesofTetristhatcausethedestructionof
famousartworksinanotherwindowonthescreenetc..Thepointisthat
weshouldnotexpect(ordemand)thatgameexperimentsmimicnarrative
experiments.
11.Hamletisactuallyapoorchoiceforgameadaptationsinceit(like
manynarratives)hasseveralsceneswheretheprotagonistisabsent,and
thusgivestheaudiencemoreinformationthanisavailabletothe
characters.Suchcommondevicesofknowledgeandsuspensearenotin
anyobviouswayimplementableinagameformatwhereaudienceand
protagonistarethesameperson.

[Tothetopofthepage]

References
Literature
Aarseth,EspenJ.:Cybertext:PerspectivesonErgodicLiterature.
Baltimore&London:JohnsHopkinsUniversityPress,1997.
"AporiaandEpiphanyinDoomandTheSpeakingClock:Thetemporality
ofErgodicArt"In:MarieLaureRyan(ed.):CyberspaceTextuality:
ComputerTechnologyandLiteraryTheory.Bloomington:IndianaPress,
1999.
Bordwell,David:NarrationintheFictionFilm.Wisconsin:TheUniversityof
WisconsinPress,1985.
Brooks,Peter:ReadingforthePlot.Cambridge,Massachusetts:Harvard
UniversityPaperbackEdition,1992.(NewYork:Knopf,1984)
Burroughs,WilliamS.:ThelettersofWilliamBurroughs19451959.Ed.by
OliverHarris.London:PenguinBooks,1993.
Chatman,Seymour:StoryandDiscourse:NarrativeStructureinFiction
andFilm.Ithaca:CornellUniversityPress,1978.
Eskelinen,Markku:TheGamingSituation.PaperpresentedattheDigital
ArtsandCultureconference,ProvidenceApril2001.
Genette,Gerard:NarrativeDiscourse.Ithaca:CornellUniversityPress,
1980.
Goffman,Erving:Encounters:TwostudiesintheSociologyofInteraction.
London:ThePenguinPress,1972.(TheBobbsMerrilCompany,Inc.1961)
Jensen,JensF.:"AdventuresinComputerville:Games,InterAction&
HighTechParanoiaiArkadia".InKultur&Klasse63.Copenhagen:
Medusa1988.
Juul,Jesper:Aclashbetweengameandnarrative.M.A.Thesis.1999.
http://www.jesperjuul.dk/thesis
Whatcomputergamescanandcan'tdo.PaperpresentedattheDigital
ArtsandCultureconference,BergenAugust2000.
http://www.jesperjuul.dk/text/WCGCACD.html
GameTime.(Forthcoming.)
Murray,JanetH.:HamletontheHolodeck:TheFutureofNarrativein
Cyberspace.NewYork:TheFreePress,1997.
Ryan,MarieLaure:BeyondMythandMetaphor:TheCaseofNarrativein
DigitalMedia.KeynotespeechattheComputerGames&Digital
Textualitiesconference,CopenhagenMarch2001.

Movies
http://www.gamestudies.org/0101/juul-gts/

10/11

11/8/2016

Games Studies 0101: Games telling Stories? by Jesper Juul

Anderson,Paul:MortalKombat.1995.
Godard,JeanLuc:PierrotleFou.1965.
Lucas,George:StarWars.1977
StarWars:Episode1.1999.
West,Simon:TombRaider.2001.

Games
Atari:MissileCommand.1980.
StarWars.1983.
Tetris.1986.
BallyMidway:Rampage.1986.
BlizzardEntertainment:Starcraft.1998.
CoreDesignLtd.:TombRaider.EidosInteractive1996.
Exidy:DeathRace.1976.
Lucascarts:StarWars:Episode1:Racer.Lucascarts1999.
MidwayGames:MortalKombat.Acclaim1993.
Pazhitnov,Alexey:Tetris.SpectrumHolobyte,1985.
SalesCurveInteractive:Carmageddon.PCGame,Interplay1997.
Taito:SpaceInvaders.1977.
ValveSoftware:Halflife.Sierra1998.
VerantInteractive:EverQuest.SonyOnlineEntertainment1999.

[Tothetopofthepage]

http://www.gamestudies.org/0101/juul-gts/

11/11