The Construction of Narrativity in Every Day the Same Dream
From a narratological perspective, one might say that video games should be considered for their story-telling potentialities and seen as a form of narrative expression similar to books and films. Ludologists on the other hand, believe that video games should instead be examined by the systems they create, such as gameplay mechanics, and studied on their own as they exist separate from other traditional forms of media. In “Games Telling Stories? A Brief Note on Games and Narrative”, Jesper Juul, approaches this debate between narratology versus ludology by asking if games do indeed tell stories through the introspection of narrative possibilities and impossibilities within video games. Time, translation, and player game relations are each explored in terms of how the medium both contributes and problematizes the definition of a traditional narrative.
In his final argument, which is in essence a counter-argument to the text in whole, Juul speaks about the experimental narratives of 20th century works. He explains that these types of narratives are able to activate viewers/readers/players’ in more meaningful ways when compared to a “story/discourse” means. By this, Every Day the Same Dream (Molleindustria, 2009), is an example of a game that encompasses what Juul speaks of as an avant-garde narrative because it lacks a traditional sense of story. What is presented instead is a looping structure of the same narrative in which the player has to endlessly toil through if they do not end up performing “the 5 steps of becoming a new person”. The game challenges the basic progression of events starting with a beginning and supplying an end as it encompasses an abstracted goal which is only made obtainable through the curiosity of the player.
As Juul states that games have a “configurative dominant while narratives have an interpretative dominant”, Every Day the Same Dream fuses configuration with interpretation by having it’s game mechanics reinforce it’s narrative content. Game mechanics, such as the limit of only being able to move your character left or right, are integral to the narrative world of the game because they reflect the restricted and repetitive reality of life through constraint. This is communicated as the main theme of the work and is also reflected through the game’s expected norms of play. A norm in that there is a desire to complete the game in which eventually results in a narrative branching of events.
Furthermore, by having no instructions and barely any clues on how to progress, the game embeds and enacts narrative elements within it’s gameplay and aesthetics to guide the player. These embedded narratives are revealed in the game as the player has to explore the space to unlock important events. For example, the player’s narrative action of choosing to catch a falling leaf triggers a next step to the game. In addition, the minimal mies-en-scene of bleak, greyscale tones, humans rendered as 2-D shapes de-voided of features, and dreary ambience of the work communicates a fictional world which abides by conditions of narrativity. These conditions usually basic plot features comprised of characters, settings, and events.
On a last note, Every Day the Same Dream not only illustrates a fictional place, but a reality that can be experienced in a world outside of the game. This is a human reality that is routinized, dull, and isolated. By favouring the action of the player by giving them the agency to take over one’s narrative, the player inhabits what Juul calls a “twilight zone” in which they undertake a role within the game while also existing as an external subject. Narrative here resides not just in the game but addresses the game’s relation to it’s outside world. In gist, Every Day the Same Dream demonstrates how narrative can be experienced through video games and answers to Juul, that yes games can indeed tell stories.
Juul, Jesper. “Games Telling Stories? A Brief Note on Games and Narratives.” Game Studies 1.1 (July 2001). http://gamestudies.org/0101/juul-gts/
Molleindustria. (2009). Every Day the Same Dream [Flash game]. Retrieved from http://www.molleindustria.org/everydaythesamedream/everydaythesamedream.html