Bill White's roleplaying game design blog, with emphasis on narrativist or story-heavy games.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Narrative Game

But are we not already guilty of an insulting limitation in calling storytelling a game? Is it not also a science, an art, hovering between these two categories as Muhammad's coffin hoverd between heaven and earth? Is it not a unique bond between every pair of opponents, ancient and yet eternally new; mechanical in its framework and yet only functioning through use of imagination; confined in geometrically fixed space and at the same time released from confinement by its permutations; continuously evolving yet sterile; thought that leads nowhere, mathematics that add up to nothing, art without an end product, architecture without substance, and nevertheless demonstrably more durable in its true nature and existence than any books or creative works? Is it not the only game that belongs to all peoples and all times? And who knows whether God put it on earth to kill boredom, to sharpen the wits or to lift the spirits? Where is its beginning and where is its end?
— Frank McConnell, “The Playing Fields of Eden” (1989)

McConnell is playing a game of his own here; this passage is actually a quote he has taken from somewhere and replaced with "storytelling" where the original had chess. He wants to suggest that stories have structure, but that those structures are like the patterns of chess play--moves and possible moves, lines of action that exist in potential (and potentially denied or deferred as some moves are made and others avoided).

Taking this notion seriously is the goal of Rune Saga. Each move in the game is a narrative move, mediated through the play of runes and serving to constrain or enable further moves potentially in opposition. Even in the solitaire version I intend to start with here, there is an imagined audience, a hypothetical "opponent" whose interests must be considered.

The nice thing about this passage is how it sublimates the whole "narratology/ludology" debate that seems to have informed at least some early work in computer game design.


Anonymous said...


I disagree with your analysis --

Quote was taken from a short story written during WWII, and cannot be taken out of this context.

Hence, your "analysis" falls short, in my humble opinion.

Bill White said...

What a weird remark!

Thanks, though.

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A communication Ph.D., I teach public speaking and media-related courses in the middle of PA. I do research on scholarly/scientific communication, and I write & play roleplaying games.