Games, Cognition, and Emotion

University of Hamburg, 5-6 July 2013

Panel I.3: Games and Cognition

Jan-Noël Thon, University of Tübingen

Narrative Comprehension and Video Games. Simulated Gameplay, Narrative Representation, and the Intersubjective Construction of ‘Interactive’ Storyworlds

Located within a larger project on transmedial narratology, the paper examines how contemporary (‘narrative’) video games may represent not only game spaces in which the gameplay takes place but also storyworlds in which these game spaces are located. Building on research from philosophy and cognitive narratology, I will argue that storyworlds are best understood as intersubjective communicative constructs that recipients construct on the basis of (more or less) narrative representations, guided by mental dispositions (including perceptual and cognitive capacities) as well as communicative rules (including medial and generic conventions), and oriented by hypotheses about authorial intentions.

Video games’ interactive nature, however, makes this process of storyworld construction comparatively complex: on the one hand, the ‘local’ representation of simulated gameplay may cue players to construct mental representations of something resembling a storyworld, but most players will recognize that the resulting mental representations may differ significantly from player to player and from playing session to playing session. On the other hand, certain parts of video games—cut-scenes and scripted events, in particular, but also game spaces and certain ‘common’ elements of the simulated gameplay—are ‘stable’ enough to contribute reliably to the detailed representation of an ‘intersubjective’ storyworld.

Against this background, I propose not only that there is an intersubjectively ‘stable’ core of representations generated by contemporary video games, but also that recipients will apply medium-specific ‘charity’ when attempting to intersubjectively construct a storyworld on the basis of a combination of narrative strategies of representation and interactive simulation: in coping with the inconsistencies that commonly occur between the simulated gameplay and more prototypically narrative elements of video games, players refer to their knowledge of video game-specific medial conventions, which allows them to ignore certain ‘unstable’ or ‘inconsistent’ aspects of the representation.

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Jan-Noël Thon is a Research Associate at the Department of Media Studies of the University of Tübingen, Germany. He received a Ph.D. scholarship from the German National Academic Foundation from January 2009 to December 2011 and was Research Associate to Marie-Laure Ryan during her GFK Fellowship at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz from September 2010 to September 2011. His research interests include transmedial narratology, transmedial character theory, comics studies, film theory, game studies, and convergent media culture.

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