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.