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Evolution of Narratives in Games


by May Iren Vedal Lorentsen

Applied and academic English applied (ENG199)

Professor: Ronan Kelly

Institution: Southampton Solent University


Evolution of Narratives in Games

Evolution of Narrative in Games

The art of storytelling is ancient. Narrative refers to the culmination of thoughts and stories of
people across the world through time (Rowley, 2011). Since the 1980’s, the video game industry
continues to experience exponential growth, due to advancement of technology and increased
innovations. The art of storytelling in video games has experienced a lot of changes throughout
the years as one can clearly see the differences in the narration of the recent games as compared
to ones of several years ago. This essay will seek to address the evolution of narratives in video
games throughout the years by highlighting the things that have changed the most as well as the
strengths and weaknesses of the different types of narratives in video games.

History of Video Game Narratives

Video game narratives are equally informative although they do not apply similar methods to the
ones used in films and other forms of media literature. The narratives of videogames are
interactive in a way as to encourage the users to remain hooked to the game while at the same
time effectively passing the desired message. Over time the storytelling technique has
continually changed to cater for the new trends and needs (Ostenson, 2013). For instance, when
video game narratives debuted in the 1980’s, in the game Mario, players were requested to aid
one character in rescuing his girlfriend through some tactics which kept the player deeply
engrossed in the game. Following the success of this game more game creators incorporated
narratives in video games such as Final Fantasy in which the sequels told different stories while
employing similar gameplay structure. This technique showed the emphasis and the importance
that was associated with video game narratives in the 1990’s. In modern times, games utilize
narrative in a completely different manner as game creators have incorporated game mechanics
which sometimes allow the player to decide how the game advances based on the decisions, they
make (Hurme, 2016, pp. 21-22).
Evolution of Narratives in Games

Types of Narratives

Video game narratives can be classified into three types; that is linear, non-linear and parallel
narrative. Each category has a unique structure and strengths and weaknesses which game
developers weigh before deciding which one to incorporate into the games.

Linear Narrative

Linear narratives follow the typical structure of a normal story in which there is a definite
beginning, the middle and an end. It follows the Plot Diagram which has the introduction, climax
and resolution phases. The introduction has a start base that exponentially rises to the climax
stage which is the summit of the triangle. The resolution phase is the last phase of this diagram
(Ip, 2010). A linear narrative could also follow the Five Act Structure, a structure which employs
the elements of the Plot Diagram in five sections. The first phase is the exposition phase which
gives a prologue of the game and gives the setting and theme of the game. The second phase is
the rising phase. In the second phase, drama ensues between characters while the third phase, the
climax shows the peak of the drama. The fourth phase and fifth phases portray the end of drama
and coming to terms with the actions of characters respectively (Hurme, 2016, pp. 12, 15).
Which in many cases entails returning to the original setting found in the beginning of the game
before the main plot brought on the disruption. I.e. returning everything to normal.
Evolution of Narratives in Games


The biggest strength of linear narratives in video games is that they allow the player to balance
through the narrative by proceeding from one point to another, a style which is common in most
arcade games which involve progressing from one level to another (Stone, 2019). The points are
set in a linear manner which means the player is required to follow them from the beginning to
the end like in movies.


The downside of this category of video game narrative is that it limits the interactivity of the
player with the game as they lack control of the events that occur in the game. The player has to
follow the laid-out steps to be able to progress to the next levels.

Non-Linear narrative

The non-linear narrative category entails several different paths which the player can select from.
In non-linear narratives events are portrayed out of chronological order such that the story lacks
a definite beginning, climax and ending. In many instances, they are used to portray the minds of
characters who have unusual methods of reason (Hurme, 2016, p. 20). Unlike the linear narrative
this category allows the player to alter the story as well as the endings that do not necessarily
have to be based on the choices of the player. It is an interactive type of narrative as it gives the
players a realistic experience which helps them identify and bond with their avatars (Hurme,
2016). Non-linear narratives in video games have multiple undefined storylines and their ends
are often determined by the choices the player made throughout the storyline.


The main advantage of non-linear narratives is that they give the player an opportunity to tailor
the narrative experience to suit their preferences (Ostenson, 2013). This is because the games
allow them to make various choices, which creates an emotional investment toward the character
and the setting (Stone, 2019). RPG games (Role playing games) puts a big emphasis on the
Evolution of Narratives in Games

players ability to decide for themselves whether they wish to portray their avatar as evil or good.
RPG games have mechanics to support the choices and outlook on the world that the player has
decided to act upon. For instance, in the game Oblivion players can choose to steal items while in
shops around town or kill other characters. It is an evil act, and to increase the immersion and
support the narrative behind these actions the game has mechanics that punishes the player if
they are caught doing any of said action. Much like in real life you can get arrested, put in jail,
fined or executed.


Non-linear narratives in video games although very successful are not usually preferred by game
developers due to their high production costs and difficulty in creating. According to Hurme, due
to the many options given to the player and all the possible branches they have to take into
consideration, in the long run more resources are utilized in developing these types of games,
and that in turn makes the cost outweigh the benefits (Hurme, 2016, p. 24).

Parallel narrative

This is a form of narrative which mimics the non-linear narrative. It allows the player to
command how the story unfolds without offering similar emotional investment as the non-linear


Since the players are not in full control of the story, this narrative is less expensive and more
practical that the non-linear narrative. It often feels like the player has direct control over the
story, but in theory the story is more linear and focused on a certain goal.
Evolution of Narratives in Games


There exists a misunderstanding between the vision of the developers and the practicality of
procedural generation (Hurme, 2016, p. 25).


In conclusion, it is clear that the art of storytelling in video games has progressed through
different stages to reach its current status. Narratives in video games enable the players to
interact with their characters while at the same time making the choices which they deem best for
them. This creates a sense of belonging and builds emotional attachment towards the characters
and settings which makes the players invested in the games.

Different categories and styles of narratives are employed by narratives to tell the stories in video
games. Although each category comes with different advantages and disadvantages, developers
analyze these to determine the methods that are best suited for their video games and their target
audience. The chosen categories notwithstanding, it is important to note that each category plays
its ultimate role in narrating the story of the game.
Evolution of Narratives in Games


Hurme, J., 2016. Storytelling in Video Game; Creating a Narrative for Management Game.

Turku University of Applied Sciences, pp. 1-53.

Ip, B., 2010. Narrative Structures in Computer and Video Games: Part 1: Context, Definitions,

and Initial Findings. SAGE Journals.

Ostenson, J., 2013. Exploring the Boundaries of Narrative: Video Games in the English

Classroom. The English Journal, Volume 102, pp. 71-78.

Rowley, C., 2011. The Evolution Of Video Game Narrative. [Online]

Available at:


Stone, C., 2019. The Evolution of Video games as a Storytelling Medium and The Role of

Narrative in Modern Games. [Online]

Available at:


[Accessed 31 March 2019].