John Noel Buendia De Leon
ENGL 255: Video Games and/as Literature
24 March 2017
The breadth of the world
On the last micro-essay, I argued that the conversation of video games should take both viewpoints of ludology and narratology into account. However, there is yet another perspective when talking about games: spatiality. As discussed by Henry Jenkins in his article “Game Design as Narrative Architecture”, viewing games designers as narrative architects can serve as a middle ground for discussing games for both their unique properties and narrative aspects by analyzing the use of space within games. Evidence of this can be found in many games, even in the newly released Nintendo Switch game “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” (for short, I will refer to the game as BotW). This paper will focus on supporting Jenkin’s argument for discussing video games in terms of spatiality while providing examples of this from personal experience playing BotW and by bringing insight from a video by Hamish Black, “Why Breath of the Wild’s Empty Space is So Important”.
In his paper, Jenkins argued that game design is not only focused with telling stories but also on building spaces that can lead the player to narrative experiences, describing it as spatial/environmental storytelling (122). According to Jenkins, a game can achieve this in one of four ways. The following paper will talk about one of them, enacted narrative, in relation to BotW.
Enacted narrative is when the narrative is delivered to the player by having their character explore the space within a game (124). In essence, the game’s story is dependent on the goals established by the game and how the player goes about reaching them through interactions with the game’s environment. As such, the game designer creates a space including features (objects, non-playable characters, landmarks, enemies etc.) to propel (and hinder) the player forward to reach the desired goal and ultimately learn the game’s story. As discussed in the video by Hamish Black, a game like BotW gives the player next to nothing on what to do or where to go. All that you are given (after progressing through the beginning of the game) is a mission to defeat a greater evil known as Calamity Ganon and an expansive space that surrounds you. But just like you, your character, Link, also knows nothing about the world. This sense of the unknown feeds in to the player’s sense of exploration, inciting them to traverse long stretches of land to try and learn the game’s lore. Black believes that, rather than derailing the plot, the large open spaces and the freedom to explore them contributes to the narrative of the game. The video describes how the empty space between destinations eventually have meaning as they lead you to hidden enemy camps and the discovery of places and people of interest, building upon your understanding of the game’s world. In addition, by exploring the game’s world the player will notice environmental objects such as ruins of buildings and rusted weaponry, implying the downfall of a previous civilization in battle. This provides evidence that space within a game can tell its own story rather than the game just telling the player what happened.
In general, the large world in BotW shows evidence that enacting narrative can be an effective tool in delivering the game’s narrative. The large space in the game allows enough freedom to the player to learn about the world and progressively carve their own path in reaching their goal and the ending of the game’s story.
Black, Hamish. “Why Breath of the Wild’s Empty Space is So Important – Writing on Games.” YouTube, uploaded by Writing on Games, 6 Mar. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=SHnsqXWqaHI
Jenkins, Henry. “Game Design as Narrative Architecture.” First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game, edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan, MIT Press, 2004, pp. 118-130.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nintendo. 2017. Video Game.