First of all, I must note that this is not in fact a text about archives. Rather, it is a text concerning the study of video games and how that study might be applied pedagogically, and as my current project involves working with an archive of video games, this seemed like a very appropriate piece of scholarship to consider. In effect, this text offers up a direction of application for the archive I’m exploring, and considering those applications will aid me in furthering my project and related research. Therefore, while this text is somewhat unconventional in terms of the usual readings in the class (as it does not specifically orient to archival research), it can be implicitly considered relevant to the subject of such research as it deals with a range of past games, some of which might be found in the Learning Games Initiative Research Archive (LGIRA), which I am focusing on for my project and research. With this in mind, I will enter into my specific discussion of the article.
The text I have chosen is Michele D. Dickey’s “Game Design Narrative for Learning: Appropriating Adventure Game Design Narrative Devices and Techniques for the Design of Interactive Learning Environments” from the June 2006 edition of Educational Technology Research and Development (245-263). Dickey sets out her project straight away in the piece, noting:
“One avenue worth exploring is contemporary game design and the use of narrative in adventure games to provide scaffolding and support problem solving […] The purpose of this conceptual analysis is to investigate how contemporary video and computer games might inform instructional design by looking at how narrative devices and techniques support problem solving within complex, multimodal environments.” (Dickey 245-246)
Her analysis specifically seeks to present basic information about game genres and narrative in adventure games, to analyze the way adventure game narratives support problem solving, to analyze the structural approaches to narrative in game design, and to offer a framework for constructing such narratives as adapted to pedagogical ends.
Dickey begins with a literature review that certainly affirms the notion of examining her ideas in the context of an archive, as much of the literature she references dates back to the 1980s and 1990s. I will not offer an exhaustive discussion of this literature review, but some concepts are important to bear in mind. First, the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic fantasy in game design: “According to Malone, extrinsic fantasy is external to game play with no impact on game play. In contrast, intrinsic fantasy is internal to the game-play experience; there is a reciprocal relationship between game play and fantasy” (247). Here she references Thomas W. Malone’s 1981 article in Cognitive Science, “Toward a Theory of Intrinsically Motivating Instruction.” She also cites James Paul Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, noting that the “embodiment” of the player within imagined worlds contributes to learning problem-solving.
In discussing game genres, Dickey notes that “typically narrative plays a more prominent role in role-playing games (RPGs), action games, and adventure games than in first-per-son shooter games, sports games, and racing games” (249). Focusing on adventure games in particular, she continues, “In fact, for some of the most popular games of this genre, the story line is the game (e.g., Myst, Riven, Syberia, and The Longest Journey). The player is often placed in a first-person perspective of having to solve problems in order to advance the plot” (250). Also worth note, she cites Adventure Games as representing one of the oldest game genres, which makes their study particularly appropriate to using the LGIRA’s decades-spanning game collection. This harkens a bit to the idea of extrinsic vs. intrinsic fantasy, where the difference between the adventure narrative being the substance game contrasts sharply with the narrative simply serving as a background and dramatic context for a game that is mostly really jumping puzzles, shooting targets, or other spatial and/or vector-based tasks.
In discussing narrative, Dickey considers the nuances of plot hooks and emotional proximity as methods of player motivation, and she explores the way games build cognitive frameworks “through the interplay between the characters, events, and environment” (253). She reflects on how Barthes and Aristotle have characterized the connection between emotion and narrative, but where she fully endears herself to me (not that she didn’t effectively have me at hello, given her subject matter) is by drawing upon Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structures for Writers, a contemporary, film-oriented adaptation of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Here she breaks down the modernized Monomyth in terms of how it can be used to discuss narrative. She links this concept back to Gee’s claim that “games support multimodal literacy because, as players encounter problems and obstacles, they must critically analyze and take action to solve problems” (256). In other words, in adventure games the story itself challenges the player to think through it.
With a somewhat different purpose in mind, I might make an extensive examination of this text for how narrative works in learning environments. As it is, I will undoubtedly be keeping this article around for use in my future scholarship. Certainly I believe the text offers up a very reasonable field of inquiry to apply to the LGIRA’s collection, and had my project not moved in another direction, I would no doubt be attempting to incorporate this text into my immediate research. However, as I have noted, even in spite of that I am certain I will revisit this text at another time and for other projects.