Video Games as literature
March 22, 2017
Genre Tropes in Game Design
The first thing we are shown in a video game is its design. The way a video game presents itself to us can either make or break the product. Visually, a game tells you many things just by the way objects are arranged, the locations, among other things. The use of tropes are very related to a way a video game is designed. We understand the themes and atmosphere that are characteristic of some genre tropes, and Gone Home uses horror tropes to create its world.
Spatial narrative plays an important part in Gone Home. As soon as the game begins we are introduced to a horror-like atmosphere. The rain, the mysterious note and the old house add information to the way the player is preparing for what is to come. “When game designers draw story elements from existing film or literary genres, they are most apt to tap those genres [such as] horror, […] which are most invested in world-making and spatial storytelling,” Says Jenkins (122). Throughout the entire house you find elements of the supernatural, a ghost story that might be tied to the disappearance of your sister, Ouija boards and blood on the bathroom. The horror genre tropes are creating expectations in the players’ minds. The mystery of the main story is enhanced by the particular way in which this game is designed. It is a complex use of genre tropes and video game design that makes for a gloomy aura.
Moreover, the power of design mixed with genre tropes is further explored in last sequence, inside the cellar room of the game (where you find the diary). This room is filled with eerie elements that belong to the horror genre: the dark cellar with red lights, the pentagram, the photo of a dead relative, among other things. Jenkins says, “It is the physical space that does much of the work of conveying the story the designers are trying to tell” (123). The way Gone Home is designed and how it plays with our previous knowledge of various genre tropes is of much importance in order to understand the power of game design as a narrative tool. Done right, the design can completely change the way a player understands and interacts with the game. It is a constant conversation between player and designer.
The mise en scène of the video game is extremely powerful. Every detail shown to the player adds value to the game and deepens the story. The designers of Gone Home understand that they can change how we experience a game just by switching locations or colour palette. Placing a horror game in a sunny valley does not make much sense if you want to use people’s expectations to your favor. In order to create a good mix of genre tropes and design, the writing team and the designers must work closely to avoid any problems that might arise.
Gone Home. The Fullbright Company. 2013.
Jenkins, Henry. “Game Design as Narrative Architecture.” First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Eds. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan.