Examining the Role of Micronarrative in Commercial Videogames, Art Games and Interactive Narrative

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Integrating story with games in a flexible way that gives interactors meaningful choices within a narrative experience has long been a goal of both game developers and digital storytellers. The "micronarrative" is an unexplored avenue of narrative structure that can be a useful tool in analysis and design of such experiences. A micronarrative is a smaller moment of plot coherence and miniature arc that is nested within a larger narrative structure. The concept was first labeled by Jenkins in 2004 in the context of a game's "meaningful moments" and expanded upon in Bizzocchi's 2007 analytical framework for videogame storytelling. It has its roots in earlier examinations of arc and scale, such as Propp's concept of "Functions" or McKee's "Beats" in literature, as well as in Barthes’ classification of a “hierarchy of levels or strata” which incorporates “micro-sequences” as described in his structural analysis of narrative (1975).

Identification and analysis of the micronarrative allows us to examine how small events build in a fractal-like pattern to form larger nested narrative arcs. The presentation argues that micronarrative units exhibit a recognizable level of coherent yet flexible granularity that is at once modular, hierarchical, and cumulative. This presentation will address the application of micronarrative as an analytical tool to three works: the commercial console videogame Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Square Enix, 2011); the art game Samorost (Amanita Design, 2003); and the interactive drama, Façade (Mateas and Stern, 2006). The presentation examines the role of micronarratives in structuring flexible narrative arcs in three artifacts that incorporate differing modalities of interaction and story design. In conclusion, this project will show that micronarrative is an essential tool for understanding the poetics of a diverse and evolving medium.

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Daniela Ørvik