I wrote a Master's Thesis on The Narrative Quality of Games and Play. I think you should read it. You know. If you want.
TL;DR: I uploaded my thesis here. Give it a read! If you're interested in games and storytelling. Warning: it’s long.
This post is already overdue, so I need to get it out there, regardless how ready I am for it.
This is a big one.
If you’ve followed my blog or know me or anything, you probably already know that I finished my Master’s this spring, with a delivered thesis on June 2nd.
I passed the exam and got my diploma (and held a speech?!) and everything in the end of June (22nd and 28th, respectively), and since then I have been…. Done.
Not a student anymore.
And looking at it, it is not actually that long ago.
But man, lemme tell you, it feels like AGES AGO.
SO much has already happened, so many thoughts have come and gone, I've had to do so many things, that I already feel like my Master's was something that happened last year. So it probably isn't as overdue as I feel it is.
I knew a while ago that I needed to upload my thesis online: If nothing else, then for posterity. But also because I believe some other people would be interested in it. And I believe it is good work. I am proud of it. I am happy with how it turned out. I hope someone else will read it, because I am happy with the outcome.
It is called “The Narrative Quality of Games and Play”, and I like it a lot.
And I struggle with promoting stuff, so trust me when I say I’m feeling a little queasy about saying this bit:
I think you should read it. So I uploaded it here: www.bjarke.it/files/thesis.pdf
Now, granted, because I know who also reads this blog, it’s esoteric as all hell. It’s a theoretical thesis with a capital T and more than a few inside references, so if you don’t know anything about games and narratives, you might be a little lost. If you're still interested, hit me up and we can have a chat about it instead!
However, if you have previously wondered about the nature of games and narratives, if you have questioned the nature of storytelling in interactive media, if you have thought about how games tell stories (or how they don’t), then this thesis is for you.
As the title implies the thesis goes into the nature of how games tell stories not just through their “extraneous” storytelling elements like character, plot, scripting, dialogue, and text, but through the play of the game itself, through the mechanics and rules and how those interplay off the context those other elements create.
It goes in-depth with the nature of narrative and play, and discusses the nature of the player and the author and how they relate to the game they both create.
In it, I make the argument that a game’s narrative is both a product and a process of playing a game, and that the game is telling a story regardless of whether it intends to. This story is informed by both the author and the player, but those parties inform and create that story in very different ways.
In it, I don’t subscribe to the idea of a mechanics/story split, nor the idea that the player is an author, nor that a game is its mechanics or its story, nor the idea that games and narratives are the same.
In it, I have a Harry Potter quote and a chapter titled “A Comparison of Medieval Murder Games”, and a quickfire analysis of how HITMAN uses space.
I understand it is long. I understand you probably don’t have the time to read through 154 pages (I know!) But, that’s with references, and appendix, it’s actually only 136—“only”)—and I did get a little criticism at the exam that it was a little too long, and it is. If you’re interested in the topic but have less time, or already have a fair grasp on the basic concepts and just want my take, I’d suggest you read chapters:
- Chapter 1 for an introduction to the topic,
- Chapter 4 for my breakdown of narrative, story and discourse,
- Chapter 6 for my take on emergence and how it is often misunderstood,
- Chapter 9 for a quick dip into how space matters far more for games than we usually articulate,
- Chapter 10 for a discussion of the player’s mental process of interpretation,
- Chapter 13 for summarising remarks of how to talk about games considering all the previous chapter’s findings, and
- Chapter 14 for a description, definition of a new framework for how narratives and games work together. (This is the crux, the key and the turning point. If nothing else read this (and maybe 13)).
It might still seem like a lot (and it is) but you can pick and choose. But it’s all relevant, in some way or another.
If it's still too long, I will also write a shorter version of some kind in the future. I’m not sure how yet, nor what the format is exactly, or where I’ll publish it, but I promise you now that I am looking into publishing the ideas within it in a more… digestible form, because I believe they are worth sharing.
So, hey, if that doesn’t happen within the next little while, hold me to a’ight? I promise. I will make it happen.
That’s all for now! I’ve got way more stuff in the pipeline, including some cool pieces (one of which I just uploaded recently, called “Purr”, give it a read), and some other articles. I had also planned to do an article on what it means to be a Master of Science and no longer studying and all that, but a lot of those ideas actually made it into my speech, so go check that out if you want to know more about that.
I’m not going to claim that not being a student has now given me way more time to do my blog and thus it’s going to be regular smooth sailing from here on, but I plan on making it at least a little more regular than before. I would love to.
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