Are games better at telling stories?

in Academic

A while ago I wrote about the research I was doing on narrative engagement in games. While I finished the research project, I have no yet had the opportunity to write about the results of the research.

The research project was aimed at finding out how games influence the (narrative) engagement of the user. That is, does the user feel more empathy towards the characters? Do they get more sucked up into a game than into a movie? To answer these questions I looked at a game that had made a lot of impact on me: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. I created a film adaptation of the story, keeping things as similar as possible between the game and the film, and compared how users experienced the story in both cases.

This is where we left off last time. By now the results are in and I can tell you if there is indeed a difference. Sadly the amount of data wasn’t large enough to allow for very conclusive statements, but there were still some interesting things that could be deduced from the obtained data.

The questions were separated in four categories: narrative understanding, attentional focus, narrative presence, and emotional engagement. In the following table the average scores in each category can be soon for both the film and the game.

Game Film
Narrative understanding 4.20 4.06
Attentional focus 4.07 2.89
Narrative presence 3.17 2.67
Emotional engagement 4.07 3.72
Total 3.88 3.33

Table 1: average scores

The game appears to score better on each of the categories. The differences are however quite insignificant, except for the attentional focus category. This means that users that played the game were less likely to become distracted from the game than users that watched the film. It is likely that the reason for this is that during the game there are many puzzle sequences. While not part of the story, these are more able to keep the player focussed on the game. One of the limitations of the research was that the entire game experience was tested, not only the narrative parts of it. It would be interesting to research whether the attentional focus changes during the game, and especially how it differs between scripted sequences and gameplay sequences.

Despite the small differences, there seems to be a positive trend in narrative engagement towards the game. Hence there is sufficient reason to believe that games are not inferior to other media for conveying a story to the user, and the praise Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons has received only fortifies this.

In comparison to other media, games are still in their early years of becoming a serious medium to emotionally engage the user. There is still a lot to learn about using the interactive nature of games to complement a narrative. While the scope of this project was limited, I hope it has opened up the subject for other people to further expand from.

If you are interesting in a more elaborate discussion of the received data you can download the full version of my research paper here. Also feel free to leave a comment, send an e-mail or get in touch on Twitter if you are interesting in further discussing the subject.

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