Strategy Games and Narrative

Entering into our class the title “Video games and the Boundaries of Narrative” did not inspire confidence in me that my favorite genre of games would receive much attention. On first glance it would seem like strategy games ( and to clarify I mean real time strategy games as well as turn based strategy when I use the term) are the antithesis of a class driven to find narrative surrounding video games. Most strategy games, like for example the Civilization franchise, are centered around a purposeful lack of plot or otherwise controlling narrative. Its their broad and open format that gives them such replayability and enjoyability, in my case at least. It is in that sense that i feel that despite their lack of rigid narrative that they could contribute meaningfully to this class. A few weeks ago the class discussed the ways in which different games allowed players to create their own narratives. It would seem to me that a 4X strategy game is the ultimate in narrative flexibility and creation. Continuing to use Civilization V as an example, the world is literally your oyster and if you decide that your nation-state has a deep personal vendetta against the Zulu people you are free to act upon that whether by wiping the floor with them or dominating them culturally. In addition, you can also mechanically change the game to suit a specific narrative your attempting to create. Playing an Earth map may let you recreate the Mongolian Empire whilst mods allow an even more expanded universe of LOTR and Game of Thrones Maps and Civilizations. The key difference inherent here is that the narratives are almost solely player created with the game itself serving as a framework for the narrative. Yet despite this difference in origin I believe that player created narrative is at least as important as the sanctioned in-game narrative inherent to the game. Whilst developer narrative will be the same for everyone, player made narrative is likely to be unique to every instance and individual.

Given this understanding, the divide between my videogame experience and that of this classes is clear to see. Moving into the second phase of the year with the Assassins Creed games we have transitioned somewhat into top publisher AAA games but remaining with the narrative heavy story line focus. I submit for agreement or disagreement that whilst certainly not as a major part of this course, that strategy games might find a home in our syllabus due to their unique contributions to narrative creation.

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