In this blog I’m exploring various critical approaches to games and narratives. I think it’s worthwhile to state up front that the various frameworks I’m constructing are entirely subjective and provisional.
A lot of writing about games is essentialist in nature. Many books and articles start out with definitions: What is a game? What is a narrative? What is immersion? What is play? What is fun? The goal is almost always to establish some sort of critical high ground, to expose the fundamental structure underlying these various entities in order to privilege various modes of discourse. As Espen Aarseth writes in the introduction of Cybertext:
“To claim that there is no difference between games and narratives is to ignore essential qualities of both categories.”
This begs the question of whether games and narratives have “essential qualities” to begin with. It’s certainly possible to construct a critical framework that treats game and narrative as oil and water – fundamentally different in nature and impossible to fuse into a unified whole. But it’s also possible to construct other frameworks that allow both concepts to be smoothly integrated.
Which framework is correct? All of them, or none of them, depending on how you want to look at it. I find it useful to treat critical theories as tools, not truths. If you have two different wrenches, which one is “correct”? The question is meaningless. The only question is which one is the most useful for the current task at hand.