I had to look the word “apophenia” right out of the gate with this statement by Alexander (2011) “Looking for storytelling in gaming makes too much of too little, and exercise in apophenia. Alternatively, story isn’t simply that important to the real function of games.” (p. 91).
Then out of my element, he relates from a sentiment from the creator of Doom, John Carmack, that it’s like having a story in a porn movie in that it’s there, but not expected to be there. So, not to belabor whether there are stories in games and to what degree or that games tell stories or don’t tell stories, the chapter explores how games tell stories, and I am good with that. I’m not a fan of entwined bantering and battling when it really will not result in any definitive conclusion. I’m also thinking there is not a definite conclusion of storytelling in gaming as there is such diverse thinking, most likely, about this subject. A subject I’ve not ever thought about before, until this chapter. In effect, Alexander is pointing out that gaming is also social media, but different than video stories, as an example. Gaming pushes the envelop of how digital storytelling is defined. With that notion, Alexander (2011) asks the following, “How, then, do computer games tell stories, and what does this mean for digital storytelling?” (p. 92).
I have to say at the outset that while I have played digital games, such as (I KNOW….) Pac-Man and Donkey Kong back in the day, and I have done a bit of online shopping for the various Webkinz my daughters took care of, I am not a gamer by any stretch. I can and do see the following regarding video games, especially as I think of my son playing Call of Duty for hours!
The various story elements are like a magnetic force, pulling the gamer into story, the playing field, the world of whatever game it is. Gamers become truly immersed in play forgetting time. The comparison of radio talk shows back in the day, 1920s-1950s is spot on. The listener, while only listening, was completely wrapped up and delivered over to sensory saturation. It is interesting to think of any game as being real. One can become a part of the game, even though the reality i that it is a game with rules that guide play. It seems as though there is a powerful pull, for some people, to become so immersed that they live out the fictional world of the game in the real world day to day. I think of people naming their children after the Game of Thrones characters, or creating elaborate costumes to portray the favorite character of the game and then appearing at a comic con with full out force of play.
In comparing regular written stories that take you over versus games that take you over, there is the notion of the spacial element. It may be the sound effects or the movement of the angles of play, or the zooming in or fading out. It may be textures. The game designers want to develop characters with increasing complexities that may come in the form of attributes or levels of play or badges you win, etc. There is some type of alluring hook that continues to reel the player inward. Games include humor and text as part of the story elements, you may be able to skip over or cut scenes or even evolve as the character by creating a different approach to play.
On more complex levels are games that weave together the social, political and emotions. The game Alexander noted was Chain Factor, completely unfamiliar to me. I guess I would on a very simplistic level describe it as the stories I’ve read that require the reader to do some task, such as, open an envelope and read a letter, pull a tab, turn a wheel, etc. I am understanding that complexity of digital games sustains play over long periods of time and can continue to reveal a never know before space in which to play. The idea of using 2nd person seems to be a powerful story element. You assume the various roles of that person, the you in the story, kind of like pretending while playing games as we did and children do growing up. We would say things like, “Let’s say that….you are… and then … happens, and then you…”
This makes complete sense to me, but I’m just not adept at considering game play. I have to take the author at his word, and rely on what I’ve seen in others as they play. With the advent of more technology at the common man’s fingertips comes creativity to dream and produce your own game by yourself or with friends.
This chapter wrapped up with a bit about the web-based social games like Farmville and a newer one called Echo Bazaar. The story elements in Farmville have a design not unlike real life with people building up their place and showing it off, and then spending more time acquiring and updating their “stuff” continuing to showcase what and how they’ve accomplished through the game/life. Echo Bazaar is quite different and is based on the choices you make as you play the game.
I come to then end of this chapter and realize that if I did play more digital games, I would be more knowledgeable about this and the next chapter. I would have to say that my take away for digital games is that they are broader, deeper and way more intense. The creative mind is still the driver behind the incredible spatial interactions that pull you in like a bug in a web. My 3rd graders are obsessed with the video game Five Nights at Freddy’s, a survival horror game. They could tell me the levels, the faces, the scare tactics, the unknown, the night watchman, the sounds, the noises, and on and on! They were intense in just describing it to me! It was so intense that I had to look it up to see what they were talking about! Then I ask my 2D Animation major daughter about it and she says…the graphics are really ‘stupid’ but they do a good job of scaring everyone because it’s so freaky! As long as we are creative and we create then I predict games will continue to intrigue different people for different causes, and some people will choose to spend a lot of downtime lost in the digital world of gaming.