- Upon entering our game-playing session, my expectations were low. I briefly understood the way Papers, Please, and The Stanley Parable functioned based on our discussion in class, however I really didn’t think there was much to either of the games. They both seemed monotonous and trivial. These assumptions were quickly proved wrong as I began to understand the underlying themes of both of these games. Each story is embedded in a real life, generally believable narrative, depicting an individual as he encounters his daily working life. While both jobs appear to have tedious functions (Stanley, pressing keys on a keyboard and the custom officer stamping passports), the two narratives illustrate the power of choice and control in different ways. Both characters are faced with decisions that have consequences. These consequences have a resounding effect on how the narrative plays out. Therefore in both games, the player, or the main character, has the ability to design his own narrative, through different decision making tactics and control functions, within the overarching storytelling narrative of the game.
b. My primary focus while playing Papers, Please, was adhering to the rules. A sort of routinized, systematic engagement emerged as one of the goals as the immigration officer is to see as many potential entrants as possible, in order to make money and provide for my family. After reflecting on my quantity over quality approach to playing, I realized that I (the immigration officer) prioritized my family and my needs, driving me into routinization- inevitably quantifying (perhaps objectifying) the individuals I interacted with. I was extremely attentive to the instructions I received at the beginning of each day, searching and focusing on the potential discrepancies outlined rather than focusing on the individual (or character) in front of me. In my opinion, this game revealed the contrast between the professional and the individual, or the immigration officer and the citizen. As I progressed in the game, the citizen seeking entry became increasingly less important to me—I only cared about the numbers, the information, the statistics. As I mentioned in question 1, this game emulates a real-life situation. For the individual approaching the officer, he is concerned with his story, with his personal travels or reason for entering the country. The narrative instructions framed my strategy and took my focus off the individual. I was solely concerned with the rules, not the context or the situation. It surprised me how jobs or situations with real, potentially harmful consequences can so easily become routinized.
c. My initial reaction to The Stanley Parable was confusion. I admit that I immediately fell into the trap that the narrative offers. Similar to the way that I would play most games, my strategy was to follow the rules. These ‘rules’ were the suggestions or the guidelines given by the narrator. It wasn’t until a few choices in that I realized that this narration was completely framing my game choices and method of thought. This made me think about the way in which games embed their goals, or their purpose, within selective and restrictive narratives. These narratives are useful because they add a storytelling element that entertains and engages the player, while also controlling and steering their game play in order to communicate the purpose of the game or complete the narrative. After this realization, I tried to go against the narrator, but this approach frequently put me back right where I began, as certain choices caused the game to restart. I suppose that while a player may feel autonomous, and perhaps in control while playing the game through tactics such as first person point of view, the overarching narrative maintains an authority over the player, in which some games, he or she is unaware of.
2. After becoming familiar with both games, I started to become aware of the presence, significance, and influence of the narrative. This was perhaps because it appeared that both games were dependent on, and aimed to draw attention to, the power of the narrative. I feel as though most game narratives are so embedded in and intertwined with other aspects of the game that the structure of it, or the control and ultimately lack of choice for the user, is largely hidden. This allows the user to feel as though he is exercising autonomy when in reality this ‘autonomy’ or decision making process is guided and designed by the game’s structured narrative. In real life, this ‘narrative’ could perhaps be compared to social norms or customs. When people exercise the right to choose, they typically do so within a context of restraint—individuals make decisions according to the specific environment they are in and the accepted behaviors of the situation. Such explicit narratives, for example the direct set of instructions given in Papers Please, are perhaps only possible in games. The ability for absolute control of a user’s narrative, active in The Stanley Parable, where the narrator had the power to restart the game or manipulate the destiny or choice of the user, appears to also be a function particular to game play. While individuals may act out against social norms, in most situations, society does not have the ability to completely reconstruct his or her narrative.
3. Narratives are valuable because they are relatable. Our human experience is largely defined through narrative, through storytelling, through focus on our individual paths. As humans, I believe we like narratives because they give us purpose. Humans aim to relate to one another and build bonds from these relations. This ability to relate is why I would be attracted to a narrative game. While stories are relatable, games take this relation one step further, to interaction, and immersion. While one can relate to stories, this is enhanced when he or she becomes directly involved. Actively exercising choice, while it may be restrained in certain ways, engages the user with the narrative. I truly believe that when you are involved in something, when a situation or a context becomes personal, it is more engaging, more valuable, and more impactful.