Emergent narratives in games

Games have imitated traditional media in many ways. Some genres borrow the visuals and directing qualities from movies, others use story structures and character development from literature, and some others apply art styles from all kinds of historical art movements.

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Up to extremely historical (image from Alientrap’s Apotheon)

On the other hand, games distance themselves from traditional media. An example is player agency, or how you can influence the flow or outcome of a narration. But there is one narrative form that games excel at: the emergent narrative.

In an emergent narrative, the story is not designed by developers. It is constructed by the player, through his (inter)actions and explorations, while often influenced by any number of (game-specific) random factors that each game features. As the name suggests, the narrative will emerge as the player continues to play. Sounds abstract, doesn’t it? Yet, I’m almost certain that most of you have benefited from this form of storytelling.

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Why should we interpret a game?

**SPOILERS!** This article is a discussion of plot elements in games, meaning that it contains many minor **SPOILERS!**

The title of this article is a question, with good reason. It may be a question some of you ask when confronted with someone who claims to know what a game is really about. Or maybe you ask the question when discussing what the value is of adding meaning to a game, or interpreting it. In any case, the word ‘game’ can easily be replaced by ‘film’, ‘book’ or ‘painting’. Why is adding meaning to a work of art needed? Can’t we all just keep our own interpretations to ourselves?

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