Join Our Typo-Riddled Transcript on Survival-Horror Narratives

Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 3:00 pm
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Typos are as scary as Dead Space.

The half-brains behind JD's "Unraveling Yarns" series recently had a bout on Google Chat, rambling about zombies and the power of survival-horror video games. Consider this riffage streaming from the mind to the page, and feel welcome to join in - typo free or not.

Seriously, tell us about your favorite zombie narratives.
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In Education, Does Gameplay or Narrative Matter Most?

Thursday, February 9, 2012 at 1:00 pm
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We jump between gameplay and narrative.

In my experiences, as well as those I've read and heard about, video games can be effective learning tools, active approaches to a certain idea, skill, etc.. But why are they effective? Do students connect more with the narrative or gameplay? But much as I enjoy waxing on about narratives in video games, I'm beginning to question their power in education settings.

Indulge me for a few minutes as I meditate on those questions, drawing on some classroom experiences.
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What Video Game Stories Have Stayed With You?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 1:00 pm
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We've been going strong with Unraveling Yarns for over six months now. You've heard Rich Shivener and me wax at great length about the stories that move us, intrigue us, disappoint us, and inspire us. Games like Portal 2, BioShock, Eve: Online, Batman: Arkham City, and NBA 2K12 have compelled us to write about the capacity of video games as a storytelling medium, and the shortcomings that come from their innate limitations.

And our comment boards have seen quite a bit of activity either decrying our choices, agreeing with them, or complicating the finer points of the essays we produce. We've heard bits and pieces of your take on these games, some occasional back and forth banter about what constitutes a "good" narrative or when gameplay is sufficient. But we'd love to open the floor this week with a simple question:

What video game stories have stayed with you long after their completion? And why did it move you so? 

Our crew will be on these boards all day to open up some discussion. We'd love to hear what you've got.

The Top Ten Video Game Narratives Of 2011

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 1:00 pm

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One of our chief editorial topics at Joystick Division is video game narrative. Many of us labor to understand and complicate the medium by looking into its brilliance, shortcomings, and the uniqueness of its narrative delivery capabilities, compared to art forms around it and examples of the past. In short, we try to appreciate the fiction of games, and how they work on a pseudo-academic, and very personal, level.

This year was particularly strong in terms of narrative content. Blockbusters and indie games took bold leaps into the fold of previously uncharted territory of creative game storytelling, by handing us dozens of beautiful, well-told stories that can move and change us. We've selected the ten that best represent 2011 as a whole, and the ten best that will go down in history as some of the best the medium has ever offered.

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What Games Are Changing the World?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 2:00 pm
Can pandas change the world?
As I continue scuba diving in the sea of words on video game narratives, I keep discovering profound ideas expressed long before this writer started unraveling his little yarns. They come from sharp personalities and witty brains, those from think tanks and media to academia and the blogosphere, who say video games are changing how "we" (yes, the collective "we" ) think and learn.

As James Gee writes:

"Video games usually involve a visual and auditory world in which the player manipulates a virtual character (or characters). They often come with editors or other sorts of software with which the player can make changes to the game world or even build a new game world (much as the mind can edit its previous experiences to form simulations of things not directly experienced)."

Taking a step further, some also say video games can change the world.

The good news is, video games really are changing the world, and they are changing "our" brains. It's not really a question of "can" anymore. Why? To arrive at some answers, we can point to World of Warcraft, the enemy of Eve Online. Consider this Part Two of our yarns on narratives in massively multiplayer online role-playing games.

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The Power of Eve Online's Infinite Narratives

Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 1:00 pm
Where do we start?
Last week, when my friend Danzl and I were talking video games over pints at the bar, I was once again jabbering about open-world video games and their massive options. "Skyrim," he uttered, shaking his head and expounding on its non-linear yet linear yet awesome narrative.

Jokingly, I asked how Eve Online was treating him. I haven't played the science-fiction, spacecraft-centered, massively multiplayer online role-playing game, where players control the economy, government and more from the ground up.

His shook his head again.

"In Eve, you can really hurt people."

Those words have been haunting me for a week. He had so much conviction behind them, a sign of a self-described recovering (albeit harmless) addict of the game. I've taken his words, done some Internet trolling, and synthesized an idea related to preexisting ideas about Eve: It's a drama with infinite narratives designed by its community. Or it's a drama lacking an "authorial narrative," or a master narrative that dictates the drama. (More on that in a moment.)

It's a simple idea that I invite you to expand on. I have to know more about this game.

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Remixing Yarns: Our 2011 Chatter about Narratives

Wednesday, December 28, 2011 at 4:30 pm
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Limbo's narrative is ripe for analysis.
In the last six months, James Hawkins and I have meditated on narratives in such video games as Limbo, Batman: Arkham City, Bastion and Bioshock. The reader responses to our Unraveling Yarns series have been fantastic, often furthering whatever yarn we've started rolling. Your comments, dear community, give it mileage.    

As 2011 comes to a close, today's installment revisits those conversations. Join us after the jump.
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Five Underrated Narratives Of 2011 That You Can't Miss

Wednesday, December 21, 2011 at 1:00 pm
This year will go down in history as one of the biggest ever in video game history. It'll be known for the three month period where a dozen giants all fought one another at the top of a mountain of cash, battling it out for supremacy over the eager masses. It'll be known for sending the surging entertainment medium even further above the rest. 

But, even more than popularity, it deserves to be recognized as a momentous year in video game storytelling. A few notable games have risen to a high level of critical and commercial success that will ensure their legacy sticks around for a while -- stories told through the video game medium that are complex and robust on a level that we don't see often at all. Portal 2, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Uncharted 3. Those games have brilliance in them, and are rewarded handsomely for their achievements due to robust marketing campaigns, a lot of high-profile coverage, and enthusiastic fan bases.

However, there have been some smaller games that have come out this year that aren't getting the kind of recognition they deserve. Recently, we've been able to rely on independent developers and international creations to push video games forward as a narrative medium. This year is no different, except that it is more laden with diverse stories than in years past, and we're able to experience strange, dark, beautiful tales of all sorts. For your viewing pleasure, I've put together a short list of those games that may have slipped under the radar. Games that will stir you with story.

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Batman: Arkham City - Too Many Bat-Narratives?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 4:00 pm

How much can The Dark Knight accomplish in one night?
At my latest checkpoint in Batman: Arkham City, the Dark Knight is searching for Mr. Freeze, situated in the thick of a museum chilled to the bone by Penguin. Gotham City Police Department agents are dying, and nothing else seems more important, save for the idea that (spoiler!) Batman has Joker Venom in his system.

Outside that museum, though, a city of threats is beckoning Batman. For this player, the trouble is deciding which threat to investigate, to follow-up on, and to neutralize. Should he track down Deadshot? Should he look for "Identity Thief?" (I know who it is!) How much time should he waste on Zzasz's phone calls? Why bother helping Bane? Who was the dude who can catch Batarangs? What can Riddler's goons reveal to me? Every threat/mystery seems to be timely and critical, as if Batman needs to delegate some investigations to the Justice League, Nightwing, Robin or some other buddy.

As the Batcomputer shows, Batman has a lot to cover in Arkham City - perhaps too much for one man, and too much for one night.

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The Contrasting Narrative Structures Of Bastion And Limbo

Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 3:00 pm
Bastion and Limbo occupy opposite ends of the narrative spectrum in video games. They are both polished apparatuses shaped by talented hands, and they both have an intense focus on conveying a story to the player -- a story that eclipses the rest of the functions of the video game that defines it as a video game. Yet the difference in the execution of their small tales is vast, and the full gamut of narrative machinery is put on display between the gorgeous world of Calamity-stricken Caelondia and the monochromatic purgatory of Limbo's blurry, fluid abstract. They are polar opposites in practice, yet they each typify the unlimited capability of storytelling at this point in the interactive medium's history.

Each facet of Bastion's gripping literary narrative can be matched with Limbo's lack of overt narrative -- characters, sounds, settings, visuals -- as it if was created to be the anti-Limbo. And each game can singularly make a case for being wild and forward-thinking; for sliding a sharp knife through the status quo of other, larger games with which they compete. I want to walk you through a critical analysis of these two games to see how their small, offbeat stories are representative of the video game medium's most thoughtful creations. And of its potential to deliver stories in the full scale of narrative styles.

(Warning: spoilers throughout...)

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