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Thread: videogames that (do not) understand the dramatic arc

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    Eggstreme Wheelie Jiro's Avatar
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    Default videogames that (do not) understand the dramatic arc

    Most videogames (particularly RPGs but not exclusively) are built around this idea of, like, defeating the ultimate opposition and then the game is over. As videogames continue to assert their value as an artistic medium with storytelling capabilities, it seems odd that this truncation of the traditional narrative arc is still the de-facto structure for a videogame.

    I've encountered some cool subversions of this as I've done research for my thesis. In stuff like Earthbound, Red Dead Redemption, Journey, Dragon Warrior, Metroid 2, and even Final Fantasy VII, there are playable sections that (mostly, clearly) align with the climax, falling action, and denouement phases of the dramatic arc. But videogames (again, particularly RPGs but not exclusively) tend to favour the whole 'get to the end, kill the boss, then watch an epilogue cut scene' approach which is just .

    Do you a) care about narrative structures b) like games that do anything interesting with narrative structure c) have other examples of actually adhering to the dramatic arc?

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    *permanent smite* Spuuky's Avatar
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    I would personally argue that the dramatic arc is about the structure and presence of those various components, not about the length or magnitude of each. Most games (although not all) feature "falling action" and "denouement," they are just very brief and wrapped up in non-gameplay elements, which is not actually out of line with the idea. These are not plays, divided into acts.

    For that matter, in most games, especially RPGs, the actual gameplay isn't part of the narrative structure at all. You can essentially remove any time spent during actual gameplay and THEN build the structure of its narrative. The fact that there isn't gameplay after the "climax" (which is assumed to be defeating the final boss - this actually isn't always the case) is irrelevant because the narrative isn't told through the gameplay.

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    Memento Mori Site Contributor Wolf Kanno's Avatar
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    For the most part, video games ape film and books, so it is not surprising that they follow the dramatic arc. To be honest, most games that have a plot will likely not stray from the familiar formula. Though I would imagine that most games follow the eastern concept of dramatic arc known as Kishōtenketsu more than Aristotle's version.

    Honestly, FFVI follows the dramatic arc rather faithfully.

    Exposition - Opening up until the Protect the Esper at Narshe.
    Rising Action - The espers are introduced along with Terra's role in the empire's plans.
    Climax - Kefka betrays Gestalh and begins the cataclysm.
    Falling Action - The Ruined World
    Denouement - Kefka's defeat and the ending.

    Metal Gear titles don't usually follow the arc, or more precisely, they follow the eastern concept of it, but then subverts it by usually making you do it twice. since several of the MGS games tend to tell two stories (MGS2 -V) or more. Miyamoto has also apparently said he uses this formula for Mario games.

    I'm honestly trying to think of a game with an actual plot that doesn't follow the formula, but I'm being brain dead. The only examples I can think of are games that don't have classic narratives based on contemporary form of entertainment like film. Shadow of the Colossus for example, but even that actually falls into the Kishōtenketsu model. The issue here is that as long as the game in question has an actual plot and cast, it's very likely to adhere to one of the dramatic formulas. The only games that won't either don't have a plot, or more likely an excuse plot that never goes anywhere to begin with.

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    Eggstreme Wheelie Jiro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wolf Kanno View Post
    For the most part, video games ape film and books, so it is not surprising that they follow the dramatic arc. To be honest, most games that have a plot will likely not stray from the familiar formula. Though I would imagine that most games follow the eastern concept of dramatic arc known as Kishōtenketsu more than Aristotle's version.

    Honestly, FFVI follows the dramatic arc rather faithfully.

    Exposition - Opening up until the Protect the Esper at Narshe.
    Rising Action - The espers are introduced along with Terra's role in the empire's plans.
    Climax - Kefka betrays Gestalh and begins the cataclysm.
    Falling Action - The Ruined World
    Denouement - Kefka's defeat and the ending.

    Metal Gear titles don't usually follow the arc, or more precisely, they follow the eastern concept of it, but then subverts it by usually making you do it twice. since several of the MGS games tend to tell two stories (MGS2 -V) or more. Miyamoto has also apparently said he uses this formula for Mario games.

    I'm honestly trying to think of a game with an actual plot that doesn't follow the formula, but I'm being brain dead. The only examples I can think of are games that don't have classic narratives based on contemporary form of entertainment like film. Shadow of the Colossus for example, but even that actually falls into the Kishōtenketsu model. The issue here is that as long as the game in question has an actual plot and cast, it's very likely to adhere to one of the dramatic formulas. The only games that won't either don't have a plot, or more likely an excuse plot that never goes anywhere to begin with.
    Hmm. Anecdotally, it seems like many of the examples I've seen that do provide a fully playable arc are Japanese. That could be worth investigating. Most open world games actively shirk a traditional arc in favour of making the game 'playable' ad nauseam; my most recent example is Watch_Dogs 2, in which you ostensibly begin a (or, arguably, continue an existing) significant cultural and political movement to take back privacy... and yet nothing in the city changes. Which kind of feeds into...


    Quote Originally Posted by Spuuky View Post
    I would personally argue that the dramatic arc is about the structure and presence of those various components, not about the length or magnitude of each. Most games (although not all) feature "falling action" and "denouement," they are just very brief and wrapped up in non-gameplay elements, which is not actually out of line with the idea. These are not plays, divided into acts.

    For that matter, in most games, especially RPGs, the actual gameplay isn't part of the narrative structure at all. You can essentially remove any time spent during actual gameplay and THEN build the structure of its narrative. The fact that there isn't gameplay after the "climax" (which is assumed to be defeating the final boss - this actually isn't always the case) is irrelevant because the narrative isn't told through the gameplay.
    The ludic and narratological distinctions that you make are, of course, accurate but I still think they're problematic at a developmental level. If we're to interpret the 'gameplay' of an RPG as metaphor indicative of anything related to narrative, there should be consistency from beginning to end. This enduring notion of narrative being an excuse to sell the same mechanical product to an uncritical consumer base is... like, sad at best, and grossly unethical at worst.

    Duration of a phase is also definitely not something for which there is a formula, but I find the fact that videogames themselves—in addition to paratexts and surrounding participants in the discourse—term the post-climax as an 'epilogue', a related but distinct narrative concept, to be both interesting and concerning. An epilogue plays a different role in the context of a story; conflating the two concepts (or replacing one with the other) just raises interesting issues for me.

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