I found myself agreeing with Juul throughout the article. Games just aren’t the right medium for story. However, expertly crafted games can and do fit the narrative structure he proposes. For example, the Metal Gear Solid series uses flashbacks and flash-forwards to give the player a sense of time. It also uses cut scenes to develop characters and story and generate interest in the plot line. The game series emphasizes story, rather than game mechanics, puzzles, and shooting, which can be seen in its complex plot. Additionally, it is linear, something gamers don’t particularly desire, but it supports the narrative definition.
However, I do think that other, non-story games can be interpreted as narratives. For example, imagine a multiplayer war game where the attackers’ objective is to place bombs and destroy two points, while the defenders fight to maintain control of those areas. Now, imagine spectating it and one could see the story unfold:
“The attacking team demolishes a building early, allowing them to exert maximum force on the only remaining bomb site. With only a limited number of remaining troops, however, the team must patiently and cooperatively approach the second bomb site. Two snipers are posted up on the hill, with eyes on the perimeter of the building. Support troopers roll in on tanks and armored jeeps, mowing down enemies in their wake. The attackers secure the building and begin to plant the bomb, with defenders lagging behind. What’s this? A defending sniper plows forward from the horizon, the only member of his team to survive.
‘Bomb planted,’ the game announces.
The lone sniper rushes toward the bomb site, hoping to catch a few enemies off-guard, when out the corner of his eye, he spots a reflection. He hits the dirt immediately. Pow! An oncoming bullet whizzes over his head. Quickly but steadily, the defending sniper eliminates the opposing snipers. He now has just 30 seconds to defuse the bomb, but there are tanks in the way! How will he get past? He stealthily creeps up behind the ignorant attackers, placing C4 on each tank and escaping quickly. The tanks go up in a fiery explosion. With no remaining enemies to stop him, he now just has to defuse the bomb to win, but time is not on his side.
’5 seconds remaining,’ the narrator announces just as the sniper reaches the bomb. He works quickly.
’3..2..1.. Bomb defused.’ The sniper is now a hero. He succeeded, against all odds, and won the battle.”
Now, know that this sort of thing doesn’t happen all the time in a war game, like Battlefield 3, but it can happen, and when it does, it’s epic. A story like this deserves to be re-told, and you can bet that the person acting as the sniper told all his buddies. The story has characters, a goal, time, suspense, and action. What more could you ask for?
Oh yeah, often these games have spectator modes, so one can just watch as the action unfolds. Once in a while, one will catch a gem like the aforementioned story. It’s almost like a movie…almost.