Panel 2: Building Worlds: Playful Narratives, Storytelling and Game Design

Rianna Dearden
Helen Greetham
07 Jul 2023
10:45 - 11:40
Eliot Room

Panel 2: Building Worlds: Playful Narratives, Storytelling and Game Design

Chair: Tom Livingstone

2.01 – You know my methods! The Problem of Embodiment in an interactive Sherlock Holmes game

Helen Greetham (Afoot Games)

In ‘Elementary, My Dear Data’, a 1988 episode of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’, the characters of Geordie LaForge and Data use futuristic virtual reality technology to roleplay the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson and step inside a fully interactive and Sherlock Holmes story. Unfortunately their game doesn’t go well due to differing expectations: while Data is a fan who is happy to reenact his favourite stories, Geordie is hoping for a chance to solve a new mystery. In ‘A Theory of Adaptation’ (2013), Linda Hunchinson describes the mix of these two desires as the key to why we often either love or loathe an adaptation of a beloved text:  the blend of the ‘comfort of ritual combined with the piquancy of surprise.’

This presentation will give a practitioner’s perspective of navigating this tension by the writer and programmer of a currently in-development Sherlock Holmes game, ‘The Beekeeper’s Picnic,”” using feedback from players of a demo version of the game to discuss emotional responses to the narrative and issues of embodiment and representation.

It posits that an archetypal Doylean mystery does not provide the reader with all the information needed to solve the mystery themselves, and so for many readers the appeal of Sherlock Holmes stories lies in rapport of the characters and joining Watson in taking satisfaction of Holmes’ deductions and triumphs. This is at odds with the common narrative structure of interactive mystery games when the player inhabits the character of the detective and be empowered to make mistakes and get things wrong. 

‘The Beekeeper’s Picnic’ explores possible ways to manage the cognitive load of taking on the mantle of being the ‘Great Detective’, and explores whether technology allows us to simultaneously become a character and also enjoy seeing them in action.

2.02 – Forever Faithful: Adapting a Novel into a Game

Rianna Dearden (Charisma Entertainment)

Renowned science fiction novelist John Wyndham twists and turns in his grave, cursing the so-called “narrative designer”, Rianna Dearden, for the treacherous butchery committed upon his much-loved masterpiece, The Kraken Wakes. “There was nothing wrong with it!” he cries, gauging decades-old dirt out of his path on his way to find her!

Writing and Narrative Lead on The Kraken Wakes, Rianna Dearden, delves into the process of adapting John Wyndham’s much-loved novel into an interactive adventure. Alleviating the anxiety-ridden nightmares, Rianna examines the reasons why we adapt, and the unique foundations that game adaptations provide. What does a faithful adaptation even look like, and how, and why, do we get there?

This talk questions what it means to be “faithful” and why, sometimes, being a philandering, treacherous, story-meddler is okay.

2.03 – Game Narratives: Escape From or Reflection of Reality

Freja Gyldenstrøm (University of Copenhagen alumna)

Narrative game design influences how a game is received, experienced, and remembered and whether or not it succeeds commercially. Even games that do not appear to be about narrative, tell stories regardless of intention. But what happens when the story told does not match up with the intentions of the storyteller?

Based on analysis of specific games, game industry experience, and narrative theory, this paper argues that game narratives can usefully be divided into two categories: escapist narratives and reality-reflecting narratives. One presents an idealized story world where players can immerse themselves in fiction that distracts from outside worries. The other reflects the values and issues of the real world in a story world, whether by design or through interpretation, critically, positively, or without judgment. A successful game narrative should not only tell a story that players will want to dive into and follow to its end but should also align with player expectations of whether it is escapist or reality-reflecting. Otherwise, meaning is lost, and the game gets into trouble.

Intimately tied up to this is ideology, for not only do opinions differ on what type of story worlds games should create, but they also differ and what is good and what is not. It appears that when we are in the business of shaping narrative worlds, we also quickly end up in the business of defining what an ideal world looks like.

By examining the role of narrative design in game development, this paper seeks to shed light on the ways in which games both reflect and shape our perceptions of the world around us – and what that means for narrative design.