Micro Essay – Showing versus Telling

Depending on your game preferences you may feel that the story is either a necessary aspect to a game or simply a distraction from the gameplay itself. Personally, I find the narrative of the game is one, if not the most important aspect of a game. This can be shown through different ways, but two common ways to interpret the story comes to mind; showing versus telling. For some reason, I had a mental block of what “showing” and “telling” meant, and this reading from Stern did not help. As I was reading his essay, there were no clear statements discussing elements and examples of showing and telling. I was at a road block. It was when I was playing The Graveyard and Cart life that it suddenly clicked, and I understood what these characteristics are.

The story depicting in The Graveyard (2008) is showing. There is nothing telling you what exactly you have to do, therefore you rely on your instincts and assumption to distinguish what is happening in the game. As I am playing the game, I realize that there is a lot of depiction about death such as the graves, the song being sung about people’s cause of deaths, there’s Jesus crucified on one of the tombs, the color scheme is monochromatic, and the temperature of the day is cold and cloudy. Even though there are various connotations of death, there are some related to life such as the sun being present, there are some animals that are depicted in the color white. In my opinion, the game depicts a lot of images that can be on both the death and life side. Examples of these depictions are the church which is a place where people pray for their health and life but also a place where they go when there is a death, the temperature which is sunny and cloudy, the old woman which is walking fine for a little amount of time but then limping a lot, and again the colors of black and white. These visual aspects ties to both endings of the game where the woman lies another day or the woman just suddenly dies while the song is still playing and now one notices her death (Tale of Tales, 2008). All these elements tie in together to explain and describe the story of this old woman, giving a reason why whatever ending you “choose” happens.

Cart Life (2011) is the opposite of The Graveyard, it is telling. Throughout the game, you are being told what is happening and what you have to do. The player is given a description of who the character is, what are his/her perks, challenges, addiction, and much more. When starting the game, it shows you how you move about the world and what buttons you have to be familiar with. Starting the story with the character is the same; the character has this conversation with another character stating a bit of your backstory. You want a cart for a particular reason, how to manage the cart, and what tasks you have to do when working. As you are doing the tasks, the game designers made it simple to “figure out” what exactly you need to do. For example, for Andrus, you type the sentences that they are telling you to, and when selling your newspapers, you just do this simple equation. When going shopping, all the items possess a description telling the player what it does. This game holds the player by the hand and tells the player what to do.

Going back to Stern’s reading, the only time he really discussed showing versus telling is about the elements of conventional narrative where he discusses the backstory and NPC character. To summarize, he explains that through a backstory, in other words, the environment surrounding the physical game world, the player does not need a physical backstory to be told what is happening, The NPC does something similar to the backstory meaning, by listening to their “small talk” you can distinguish events or characteristics of the environment and your character (Stern 6-7). Nothing of what this talks about is explained how it is related to showing versus telling. The rest of his essay discusses how it is ironic that we use technology to create medieval worlds, what is MMORPGs, and how artifacts/bugs break the flow of the game, meaning it creates this link between the “real world” which is the world we live presently, and the world of the game. If Stern’s aim was to explain thoroughly what is showing and telling, he did not achieve it. Maybe what he could have done is concentrate on qualities of both showing and telling and explaining how these characteristics are represented in MMORPG world.



Stern, Eddo. “A Touch of Medieval: Narrative, Magic and Computer Technology in Massively Multiplayer Computer RolePlaying Games.” In Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference Proceedings, ed. Frans Mayra. Tampere University Press, 2002.

The Graveyard. Tale of Tales. 2008. Video Game.

Cart Life. Richard Hofmeier. 2011. Video Game.

Micro Essay – Showing versus Telling

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