Borderlands Zed
Basic Introduction to Game Design

Dramatic Elements of Games and Narrative Design

Cite this article as: Lennart Nacke. (September 19, 2014). Dramatic Elements of Games and Narrative Design. The Acagamic. Retrieved July 6, 2020, from http://acagamic.com/game-design-course/dramatic-elements-of-games-and-narrative-design/.

Welcome to the third week of class in the course: Basic Introduction to Game Design. Make sure to read the syllabus and course information before you continue. Today, we are going to discuss the dramatic elements of games and the narrative design behind games. This text follows closely from our textbooks (Game Design Workshop, Chapters 4 and Challenges for Game Designers, Chapter 13); it also takes inspiration from the Salen and Zimmerman book Rules of Play (Chapter 26).

Otis in Monkey Island

The Secret of Monkey Island (Lucasfilm Games, 1990) created a wealth of memorable characters (here the prisoner Otis) often with great humour.

Narrative Design

While there has been some debate on the significance of narrative in games (the ludology vs. narratology debate), story can be highly relevant for creating your gameplay and will help give your formal game elements necessary meaning. Narrative in general helps us to process information and make sense of things in our lives. Narratives are everywhere and they are used for everything. It is obvious that they can be found in the medium of games, whether it is a story that helps us makes sense of the game or a story told by the game. Literary theorist J. Hillis Miller defines components of a narrative in the following:

  • Situation. Stories revolve around changing states (going from an initial state towards a sequence of changing states), which are representative of the events that drive a story.
  • Form. Stories provide common anchors in them, which allow us to process them using patterns and repetitions. Every aspect of a story and a theme can have patterns and repetitions to it.
  • Character. In stories, we like to personify events to make them relevant to us. The character of a story (and this can be different from personas in stories) is created out of signs.

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