Tetris: A Storyline in a Different Shape

In “Games telling Stories? A Brief Note on Games and Narrative”, Jesper Juul raises the questions “do games tell stories?” and “how does the player and game interact?” In order to answer these questions, Juul discusses different forms of narratives, how different elements in games can be presented as narratives, and the roles these narratives play to the player in videogames. Alexey Pajitnov’s Tetris demonstrates how two forms of narratives are presented along with the role it provides to the player on both a story telling and interactive standpoint as the game highlights how games tell stories through their capability of interaction and vice versa.

Tetris does not have a visible actor or apparent narrative framework other than the purpose of combining a series of falling blocks (Juul, Games Telling Stories?) but does incorporate a visual and written form of narrative that enables the player’s interaction leading to a storyline being projected. In Tetris, the game projects a series of descending blocks that the player must rearrange in an organized manner in order to earn points and advance to the following levels. In terms of a visual narrative, this projection allows the player to become interactive with the game as they take control of each block that descends and manipulate its shape before placing it on the grid. Through gameplay, the player is motivated to invest energy, attention, and time since they have complete control of the movement and placement of each block which highlights how games involve the player in a direct way (Juul, Games Telling Stories?). The players interaction can be seen as they become accustomed to the set of rules of the game by attempting to avoid and overcome obstacles throughout different levels. The player must avoid leaving gaps when placing each shape on top of one another and adjusting to the increase in speed of the descending blocks all while refraining from letting the blocks pile to the top of the grid which results in the game being over. In this sense, the rules of the game enable the player and the game to interact since the player focuses their attention on completing the game without failing.

Additionally, as the player plays the game, their performance becomes evaluated with the appearance of a score and level indicator on the right hand side of the grid. These indicators are used as a narrative element to indicate the players efficiency as it changes with each players progression throughout the game. As players aim to clear as many rows as they can in order to accumulate points and advance to other levels, the increase in points and levels display a storyline to the player. From a narratology point of view, the focus on the story telling of games, these indicators act as a narrative form since it constantly reminds players that they are progressing, the rate at which they are progressing, playing the game effectively, and the amount of work it takes to arrive at an achievement. The game presents a success/progression purpose that is dependent on one’s performance whereas without this narrative form, the player is aimlessly placing blocks with no apparent purpose and no indication of where the game is headed. This would prevent the player from interacting with the game since there is no story or purpose to fulfill. The ability to strategize and work for an achievement in levels or points highlights the reward that can follow since this increase in score and level project feedback for both the storyline and the players performance. The narrative element indicates a player’s work ethic and performance as the result of points earned and advancement since the greater one’s performance, the greater the end result.

Games have the ability to tell stories through a player’s interaction while a player’s interaction enables them to uncover the story being told. In his conclusion, Juul states that “many computer games contain narrative elements and in many cases, the player may play to see or realise a narrative sequence.” Juul also states how “the non-determined state of the story/game world and the active state of the player when playing a game has huge implications for how we perceive games.” The rules and goals that are presented throughout Tetris invites the player to devote their attention and interact while the score and level indicators’ evaluation of their performance is a narrative element that enables the player to understand the storyline in place. The story becomes evident to the player through their interaction with the game just as their interaction is a result of the narrative elements incorporated.

Juul, Jesper. “Games Telling Stories? A Brief Note on Games and Narratives.” Game Studies 1.1 (July 2001). http://gamestudies.org/0101/juul-gts/

Pajitnov, Alexey. Tetris, 1984

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Tetris: A Storyline in a Different Shape

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