Gameplay Gestalt

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The Gameplay Gestalt, Narrative, and Interactive Storytelling Craig A. Lindley Zero Game Studio The Interactive Institute Skeppsbron 24SE-621 57 Visby Sweden craig.lindley@interactiveinstitute.se Abstract

This paper discusses the relationship between concepts of narrative, patterns of interaction within computer games constituting gameplay gestalts, and the relationship between narrative and the gameplay gestalt. The repetitive patterning involved in gameplay gestalt formation is found to undermine deep narrative immersion. The creation of stronger forms of interactive narrative in games requires the resolution of this conflict. The paper goes on to describe the Purgatory Engine, a game engine based upon more fundamentally dramatic forms of gameplay and interaction, supporting a new game genre referred to as the first-person actor. The first-person actor does not involve a repetitive gestalt mode of gameplay, but defines gameplay in terms of character development and dramatic interaction.

Keywords
Gameplay, interactive narrative, gestalt.

INTRODUCTION
A central issue in the development and study of games is the relationship between gameplay and narrative. This issue is not straightforward, since the nature of narrative is complex and the term has been used in different ways in narratology (the study of narrative; see [7]). The study of gameplay has historically been the study of competitive systems (see http://williamking.www.drexel.edu/top/class/histf.html for an extensive historical

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Proceedings of Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference,ed. Frans Mäyrä. Tampere: Tampere University Press, 2002. Copyright: authors and Tampere University Press.

bibliography), more recently associated with economic theory than with play. Traditional board games, often referred to as puzzle games, typically model competitive situations in a very abstract way, involving little or no story context, game world, or characterization. It is only with the advent of computer games that the distinctions between games/gameplay and narrative have become unclear, and the study of games has become refocussed upon computer games (eg. http://www.ludology.org/, www.game-research.com). With this shift of attention, the gameplay versus narrative question has emerged as a central issue. However, gameplay has not been well defined in these discussions, and it is not clear how well traditional abstract concepts of competitive gameplay capture the essence of the term as used to describe computer gaming experiences. For example, simulation games involve challenge without competition with another (computer or human) player, although it may be argued that in a simulation game a player competes with themselves or with the computer in a less explicit form; strategy games can be played as simulation games, and action games can turn into explorations. Competition, in any case, does not appear to be the factor that creates tension with narrative in computer games. Rather than dwelling upon this issue in an analytical way, this paper explores an alternative conception of gameplay as an interactive gestalt formation process. This is placed in the context of the manifestation of narrative in games, and it is the gameplay gestalt that we identify as the cause for the tension perceived between gameplay and narrative in computer games. This is not an issue of narrative versus competition in more traditional conceptions of the game, since competition can be seen to drive narrative in widespread conflict-driven narrative forms. After characterising the gameplay gestalt, we describe an approach to gameplay that does not rely upon the gameplay gestalt, and thereby creates a more fundamentally narrative gameplay experience. This approach is being investigated in the Purgatory Engine, a research project of the Zero Game Studio.

Craig A. Lindley: The Gameplay Gestalt, Narrative, and Interactive Storytelling

NARRATIVE STRUCTURE IN COMPUTER GAMES
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