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  • Storytelling In Games: Structure And Devices

    [05.10.22]
    - Robert Renke
  • Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world."

    - Robert McKee

    Introduction

    In the last parts, we precised the specialization of narrative design as opposed to writing and layed out some of the problems we encounter when creating the story for an interactive medium such as games.

    Let's take a step back in this part, and have a look at some of the more classic writing theory.

    Frameworks

    As we found out in the last part, many storytellers have tried to formalize narrative structures throughout the years.

    It all began, presumably, with Aristotle's Poetics, which identified clear patterns and structure in narrated stories. Poetics state that a tragedy must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. (Lanouette, 2012)

    This is our classic 3-act structure, which has further been adapted and theorized by a myriad of academics throughout the years.

    Aristotle's 3-act structure further divides tragedy into six hierarchical categories to create the narrative design system: Plot, Character, Thought, Language, Pattern, and Spectacle. These hierarchical categories are related by formal and material causes. (Dinehart, 2019)


    Figure 1: Dinehart, S. (2019). Dramatic Play. https://www.gamedeveloper.com/design/dramatic-play

    The formal cause is the form that the drama takes, notion it represents, or outcome towards which is headed. The material cause compiles the physical properties that construct the drama. The causes work in reverse, moving the audience from spectacle to plot. The plot is the constructed series of events by which a writer tries to expound on a theme. The characters are formally caused by the plot and caused by their thought. Thought translates into language, which within a temporal period becomes the pattern, that forms the spectacle, which is caused by the characters' actions. (Dinehart, 2019)


    Figure 2: The Nature of Writing. (n.d.). The Four Causes. https://natureofwriting.com/courses/literary-theory-1/lessons/aristotle/topic/the-four-causes/

    Dinehart(2019) slightly alters the model of Aristotelian theory to suit his theory of interactive narrative. In Dinehart's model, the plot is "a constructed series of events by which an interactive designer tries to expound on a theme", as opposed to the non-interactive writer described by Aristotel. The plot formally causes the player character, which is defined by their designed action. The feedback produced by the system is a formal result of player action. This feedback loop forms a pattern, which in turn forms a spectacle. As with the original model, the material cause works in reverse moving the player from spectacle to plot.


    Figure 3: Dinehart, S. (2019). Dramatic Play. https://www.gamedeveloper.com/design/dramatic-play

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