eTech & Art & More

Game-Stories: Simulation, Narrative, Addiction

17 August 2001
by Forrester Cole

The subtitle of this panel was “Simulation, Narrative, Addiction,” but only the problem of narrative was covered in any detail. Noah Wardrip-Fruin of New York University introduced the goal of the panel as an exploration of what a game-story is. The panel did not, by the end, make it exactly clear what a game-story is, but it did generate some good discussion. Each member was first given some time to give a short presentation on some aspect of the discussion before questions were taken.

The first to speak was J.C. Herz, of Joystick Nation Inc. Herz talked about a narrative as a track or trajectory through some world, a game world or otherwise. A good story is made out of a good world and a good track through it. Science fiction can be very good at creating the world, but not so good at choosing a narrative track.

This theme was picked up by Henry Jenkins of MIT. Jenkins showed slides of the maps and diagrams that authors use to orient their readers to their story. Given a better idea of the world, the reader can better enjoy the narrative thread.

Janet Murray on the Georgia Institute of Technology brought up the subject of dramatic agency. In conventional forms of stories and games, plot and a sense of interaction do not combine. She claimed that the new “digital medium” may allow a form of dramatic agency, i.e. a combination of story and player intervention, that is unique to all forms of entertainment.

The fourth panelist was Celia Pearce of the University of Southern California. Her presentation topic was a theoretical framework for describing narrative. She also made the important point that games are about having fun and overcoming challenges. Having fun is the final goal of playing a game, not engaging the story. For this reason, she thought it was a mistake to hastily force a narrative theory onto games.

Ken Perlin of New York University then showed work he had done on animating virtual actors. He used the work to illustrate the problems inherent in using characters in a game without giving them a decent personality or depth of actions. In the demonstration, Perlin showed simply rendered block people, who nevertheless seemed much more human than some far more detailed models used in games. The difference was that Perlin’s figures naturally shifted their balance, posture, and vigor of their actions according to a set of attitude and mood parameters.

The last presentation was given by Eric Zimmerman of gameLab. Zimmerman gave his personal definition of a game as an activity with some rules engaged in for an outcome. He also discussed his interest in exploring the kinds of narrative that games can allow that no other form can.



Page on conference site

In 1998, Celia Pearce chaired the Panels Program.

Here is a game developer's perspective of SIGGRAPH 2001. 



This page is maintained by YON - Jan C. Hardenbergh All photos you see in the 2001 reports are due to a generous loan of Cybershot digital cameras from SONY