Narrative engagement and interaction

in Academic

Maybe you have heard me talking about it, maybe you want to know what that title even means, or maybe it just sounds interesting and are keen to hear more about it. Either way, as I promised I would do a small write-up about the research project I am currently working on.

A few months ago, I played the game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons [1]. The game had been on my Steam Wishlist for a few months already, because when I saw it for the first time, I thought the control scheme was interesting, and the theme of the story was something that interested me. So when the game was on sale, I bought it and started playing without knowing what I was getting into.

Only a small portion into the game I was already grabbed by the beautiful environments and the compelling story. I already started encouraging others to get the game as well, and even found out that the game was very positively received by a lot of people, calling it the game of the year and a revolution within the field of games.

Not much later I finished the game myself, and while at the time I was not heavily emotionally influenced by the game, the story stuck with me for weeks afterwards. It kept me not only thinking about the story itself, but also at how the game did a great job telling it. I compared it to a game I had played a few months before, which had the same effect on me (To The Moon [2]). Of course I have played more games that revolve around a strong storyline, but never was I so captivated by a story as with Brothers.

From the moment I finished To The Moon, I knew I wanted to do something with narrative games, and I found that the small research project I have to do for my master programme was just the opportunity I was looking for. My goal was to find out what made Brothers and To The Moon touch me so deeply, and stick with me for a long time.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was complimented on the integration of game mechanics in the story. The game did not (only) rely on long scripted cutscenes to tell the story, but used the gameplay mechanics to get across key aspects of the story. The collaboration between the brothers and the struggles of their journey are completely integrated in the control scheme. This made me wonder if these elements are indeed reinforcing the story, or even essential.

This question led to my current research setup. Using recorded gameplay and cutscenes from Brothers, I created a movie adaptation of the story. Of course the pacing of the story was attuned to playing through the game, so the story had to be revisited and cut into a video that was enjoyable to watch, just as the game is enjoyable to play.

The next step is comparing these entirely different media telling the exact same story. Right now I am collecting data from both users that have played the game, and users that watched the video I made. Afterwards we can look at the results of both groups, to see if people that play the game are indeed more engaged in the narrative than people that merely watch the movie as passive observers. This will provide is with more insight in the workings of narratives and games, and will hopefully allow game developers to create more experiences like the ones encountered in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and To The Moon.

Right now, this research is still ongoing, and I am still looking for people to help me out with my user study. Check out the special webpage I created for more information on how to participate.

Check back here in a few weeks – after I have been able to process all data – to find out what the results of this research are. Until then, feel free to ask any questions about my research using the comments section below, or contacting me on Twitter.

Place comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *