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Conceptualizing Player-side Emergence in Interactive Games: Between Hardcoded Software and the Human Mind in Papers, Please and Gone Home

The concept of emergence--that a certain thing may emerge from several distinct (and not necessarily related) parts, which is different, larger in scope, and mostly originally unintended or expected--exists in many fields such as Philosophy, Information Science, and biology. With respect to the modern video game, emergence can potentially manifest as emergent narrative and/or emergent gameplay. Furthermore, emergence in games can potentially manifest through true technological, procedurally-generated gameplay and/or a game design which encourages emergence from the game elements within the mind of the player. 
In this paper, we engage in a critical discussion about what it means for an interactive video game to have emergence. Firstly, we will be briefly discussing what emergence means to other scientific disciplines, and in doing so delineate specifically how we will be using the term "Emergent" in reference to interactive video games. We then frame the discussion of Emergence in games by considering a range of recent video game examples, and a close critical look at the indie games Papers, Please and Gone Home. From these analyses, we propose a concept of "Player-side emergence in games," in which emergence in the form of narrative is expressible and observable in games as the result of the current technological capabilities of games, which relies not on the game software itself, but rather upon the complex system of the human mind for reconstruction of the game experience and a subsequent expression of emergence.  In this proposed concept, the constituent narrative pieces offered by a game can be expressed emergently as a unified, overall game narrative experience by the player mind. Based on this concept, we propose that emergence in a game need not wait or rely upon the advent of a truly, technology-based procedurally-generated platform, but rather can be an expression of player-side experiential reconstruction. We conclude that emergent narrative between video game and player can manifest so long as a human player can be encouraged via the game's mechanics towards an overall narrative reconstruction whose blueprint does not wholly originate from the source game, and we also contend that such an emergent design consideration can be potentially useful for designers who are trying to deal with the trade-off of Ludo-Narrative Dissonance in their games. 

(This paper was selected by the program committee as a Meaningful Play 2014 Top Paper. It will be submitted to the Meaningful Play 2014 Special Issue of the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations (IJGCMS). Due to the copyright requirements of the journal, only the abstract is available here:

Playing the Ocarina Across Cultures: Explicating Ludo-Narrative Experience in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

It has become commonplace in recent years to talk about narrative in games, but generally such discussions are limited to isolated concepts about the nature of game narrative, particularly that it is interactive and emergent. Such concepts are certainly essential, but their usage has too often been limited to the modes of reading and analysis used in other media (visual analysis, textual analysis, etc.). This paper presents an alternative–a unique theoretical framework and methodology for the analysis of game narrative. Our paper will explore new narrative concepts such as determined, personal, and collective narrative (Narrative Expression Model) in games that speak to larger relationships between play, narrative, and experience (Mejeur 2014). This exploration is enabled by the proposed CIMI method (Yap 2014), which lays out specific processes for the identification and analysis of ludo-narrative mechanics.

To that end, this paper focuses on one of the most critically-acclaimed games of all time (Guinness 2008, Schneider 1998): Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998). In fact, it is the titular Ocarina itself that represents the nexus of several important phenomena in game mechanics, narrative, and culture. As a unique game mechanic, it constitutes one of the first uses of memory and rhythm in an epic fantasy adventure video game. As a semiotic narrative symbol, it accounts for the focal point of meaning in the greater plot of the game. Finally, through the collective player narratives of the digital communities and international acclaim surrounding the game, the ocarina becomes a truly cross-cultural object.

By drawing these elements of Ocarina of Time together and exploring the relationships between them, we demonstrate both the presence of multiple narrative forces in the game and methods for analyzing them. Further refinement of our approach not only enables the analyses of individual games, players, and stories, but also how they fit into larger social and cultural contexts. In this way the story of a single cross-cultural object, the ocarina, can become part of a collective narrative of Nintendo on an international scale. This novel approach to the study of game narrative is not only useful on a scholarly or critical level, but could also help game designers in the imagining of new game mechanics and the potential creation of new cross-cultural objects.

Genetic Predestiny vs. Digital Free Will: A Critical Analysis of Character Foils in Metal Gear Solid

Published in the proceedings of the Replaying Japan 2014 2nd International Conference on Japan Game Studies

Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear Solid, (MGS) is widely recognized by both gamers and industry professionals as one of the most influential games of all time. Woven into the greater plot of MGS is a discussion of the well-established, oft-debated concept of Nature vs. Nurture, framed within the game narrative around the real-life context of the modern Genetics/Eugenics debate at large.  The narrative of MGS addresses this debate in a metaphorical way. Through the course of the story, it becomes evident that the characters of both Solid Snake and Liquid Snake (protagonist and antagonist, respectively) are character foils--contrasting analogs of each other in a myriad of ways (Good vs. Evil, Free Will vs. Fate, etc). With the two sides of this debate being represented as characters, the literal struggle between them becomes the debate itself, with the victor in this battle representing the supposed moral of this story. 
In this paper, we commit to a close critical reading of the narrative and plot of MGS, paying particular attention to the character foil of Solid and Liquid Snake, in order to 
1. explicate the layers of meaning present within the character foil of the protagonist Solid Snake, and the primary antagonist Liquid Snake, and in doing so render an interpretation relative to both the foil itself and the overall narrative of the game 
2. examine how the character foil present in MGS behaves in an interactive video game, and in doing so, we can make some meaningful inferences about how appropriate such a kind of literary device is for the interactive medium of games 
Addressing these questions using a popular game such as MGS as the focus of the study can potentially render insights into game design with respect to narrative and will contribute to an understanding of narrative design practices for interactive video games, especially those which are narrative-centric. Our observations in this regard indicate that while Character Foils can function in interactive video games, it is to the advantage of the designer to employ Character Foils either amongst NPCs only, or, as is the case with MGS, to use a foil with a Player Character which is sufficiently understood to be separate from the Player. 

Using the Proposed CIMI Method for Understanding Interactive Narrative in Digital Games

Published in March 2014 by the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in partial fulfillment of the Master's of Engineering degree requirements

In this thesis, we propose a new method for the analysis of interactive narratives in digital games. The method, entitled the “CIMI Method,” is comprised of three steps: a close critical reading to understand the embedded narrative of a candidate text, isolation of a target game mechanic for study via game prototyping, and a player interview phase for understanding the dimensions of player experience with a game narrative. We have applied the CIMI Method to the Namco Bandai game Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War in order to evaluate its effectiveness and contribute to a better understanding of game narratives. We contend that insights gained from the use of the CIMI Method can be utilized for informing game design and increasing the entertainment value of a game, and for further qualifying the medium of games as a narrative art form. Future directions of research in terms of Narrative Game Studies are also introduced and discussed.

Interactive Frame Narrative and Player Evaluation-based Story Evolution in Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War

Published in the proceedings of the International Conference on Japan Game Studies 2013

In general, the Playstation 2 game "Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War" is classified as a "Flight Shooting" game. However, unlike other games of this genre, Ace Combat Zero exhibits a unique depth of narrative that is atypical of the Flight Shooting genre. This is primarily achieved through the use of two major mechanisms: 1) a hidden player evaluation system which guides the evolution of the game narrative, and 2) a multi-faceted interactive frame narrative construction which contextualizes the consequences of the player's actions during missions. Both of these mechanisms work in concert with each other to provide a uniquely-molded story experience upon each playthrough. 
In this paper, we attempt to deconstruct the relationship between these two mechanisms within Ace Combat Zero. We will analyze and discuss the effects, merits, and demerits of the combination of the hidden player evaluation system with respect to the interactive frame narrative construction of the game in order to gain new insights into the literary merit of this game and others like it. We conclude that while the hidden nature of the story evolution mechanic may preclude players from exploring all possible story branches, this unique recipe of game mechanics can still result in a deeper, customizable narrative capable of creating and employing potent multi-layered metaphors. 

「Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War」における インタラクティブ枠物語について

Published in the proceedings of DiGRA Japan 日本デジタル学会2012年次大会

一般的に「Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War」(AC0)はフライトシューティングゲームとして分類されるが、同ジャンルのゲームと比較すると、「AC0」は複数の物語から構成され、枠物語の技法が用いられている特徴をもつ。本稿では、「AC0」において、枠物語の技法と三段階の評価システムが物語に与える影響を、インタラクティブ性の観点から分析、考察することで、「AC0」に対する文学性の新たな洞察を得ることができる。

Establishing Literary Merit in Metal Gear Solid: A close critical reading

Published in the proceedings of the International Academic Conference on Meaningful Play 2012

Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear Solid, (MGS) is widely recognized by both gamers and industry professionals as one of the most influential games of all time. In this paper we contend that one of the ways in which the literary merit of a game can be explained is through the use of close critical literary readings of the game text together with a discussion of how the yielded interpretations work collectively to raise the level of the work as a whole. In particular, this paper discusses the effective use of long cinematic cutscenes, historical fiction and the incorporation of a discussion of the issue of Nature vs. Nurture within the context of the game to shed some light on how video games have the potential to be studied as significant works of interactive fiction.

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