Exercise 7: Games and Narrative
As a game itself is a ‘fantasy’ generally separated from the real world, the concept of game in time is also an enclosed entity with respect to the real time. To use Neitzel’s words, there is “a cyclical time structure within games”. People may argue that the concept of “present” is actually a turning point at which future is lapses into past. The “present” represented in games, interestingly, is expanded. One could stay in the “present” of the game, especially the turn-by-turn games like “civilisation” forever, but the player could also play in the “present” as so to affect the future of the game, with the involvement of interactivity. Thus, there is a separation between “game” time and “play” time, which is somewhat parallel to the separation of story time and discourse time, as I will discuss below.
Essentially, the notion of story and discourse time comes from the study of narrative structure. Story time refers to the time of the events told, while the discourse time refers to the sequence of the story being told. The separation of story and discourse time is subtle in conventional narratives such as stories and movies, however, they are made more explicit in computer games, on the basis that most computer games involves, to different extent, the creation of narratives by the player. That leads to the equivalence of separation of story and discourse time in games. The story time would refer to the part where the player has not control over during the play of the game, like introductory and interlude animations in some RPG games, or even certain plot events that the player is forced to play through to proceed to the next stage of the game. The discourse time, on the other hand, are the occasions during which the players are able to make choices and decisions so as to change either the sequence of the narrative in the game, or even the content of the story. In non-real time games, the discourse time is either manifested as pauses in between turns, or the states in which the RPG characters are free to move around. The case for real time games is a bit difficult to argue, however, we could divide the continuum of time in such games into infinitesimally small quantum of time, and the first choice that the player need to make is whether they want to make the choice to change the flow of the game, followed by the actual choices and decision.
Indeed, the expansion of present and the explicit separation of story and discourse, or game and play time gives the computer games their capabilities and potentials to be interactive. Without the separation of game time and play time, there would be no opportunity for the player to interact with the game or the narrative embodied within. Without the expansion of present, the past, present and future is in a continuum and the time flow is too fast for any decisions or choices to be made. The expansion of present and the separation of story and discourse create an intermediate point or period in which the game time and the real time converge and the player is able to input into the system. The system would then take the input and respond to the player, thus achieving interactivity, although on different levels as suggested by Ryan, depending on the methods and approaches of the game algorithm.