Jason Christopher Rhody, PhD, 2010
University of Maryland, College Park

Directed By:
Associate Professor, Matthew G. Kirschenbaum,
Department of English, University of Maryland, College Park

“Game Fiction” provides a framework for understanding the relationship between narrative and computer games and is defined as a genre of game that draws upon and uses narrative strategies to create, maintain, and lead a user through a fictional environment. Competitive, ergodic, progressive (and often episodic), game fictions’ primary goal must include the actualization of predetermined events.  Building on existing game and new media scholarship and drawing from theories of narrative, cinema, and literature, my project details the formal materiality that undergirds game fiction and shapes its themes.  In doing so, I challenge the critiques of narrativism levied at those scholars who see a relationship between computer games and narrative forms, while also detailing the ways that computational media alter and reform narratological preconceptions.  My study proposes a methodology for discussing game fiction through a series of ‘close playings,’ and while not intended to be chronological or comprehensive, provides a model for understanding narrative and genre in this growing field.

Chapter one, “Defining Game Fiction,” locates video games within the larger context of computer-mediated narrative design, and interrogates the power structure of reader to author, consumer to producer, and media object to its user. I articulate a framework for approaching computer games that acknowledges a debt to previous print, cinematic, and ludological forms, while taking into account computer games’ unique ergodic and computational status.  Chapter two, “Paper Prototypes,” examines the principles of game fiction in three analogue forms: the choice book, the board game, and the tabletop role-playing game.  My third chapter, “Playing the Interface,” theorizes the act of narrative communication within the ludic, multimodal context of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.  Chapter four, “Data, Set,” posits the game quest as analogous to the database query in Adventure and StarCraft.  Much like data exists in a database, requiring only the proper query for access, narrative exists in game fiction, shaped by quests through fictional settings.  Chapter five, “The Game Loop,” argues that the grammar of user input within the game loop shapes the player’s relationship to the character and, in MediEvil, the subsequent themes of redemption.



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