Monday, November 25, 2013

On the term "Narrative Mechanics"

Just to clarify, I've been using the term "narrative mechanics" (I used it twice in the Wild Arms 5 piece, for example) and I will do so more in the future, and I wanted to make important distinctions

In the future, I will use "game mechanics" (or possibly "ludic mechanics" if it fancies me, or I need some variety) to refer to specific elements of play. For example phrases like "platforming mechanics" or "combat mechanics". It's a good "super" phrase to use to refer to a set of subsystems within the game design.

For example "battle mechanics" when discussing, say, Final Fantasy VIII would allow us to refer to all of the subsystems therein contained: basic attacks, drawing and casting magic, using items, summoning Guardian Forces, etc. "Customization mechanics" would refer to junctioning magic and GFs, selecting active and passive abilities in battle, and weapon creation.

The phrase "narrative mechanics" is not, in most cases, intended to refer to play at all, rather I use it when discussing the story as an isolated element of the game, or any other medium of storytelling.

In most cases, I use "narrative mechanics" to describe elements within a story in terms of their pure functionality. Specifically it usually refers to how a trope or some other element of the story helps keep the plot moving forward, or conversely, how it does not. An example:

  • "Chasing Sephiroth around the planet is a clever narrative mechanic, providing the with a solid reason to take us to the places it wants to go, where it can do the work of building the world, developing side characters, and overall making the game's narrative a more convincing and immersive experience."

However, I typically don't use it to describe elements of a story that serve to advance subtextual themes or to create detail in the characters, but again, specifically to discuss how or whether an element keeps "things happening" so to speak. Another example:

  • "The small interrupting cutscenes that occur in dungeons across Wild Arms 5 often serve little to no mechanical purpose, but they do give us tiny intimate moments with the characters that serve to reinforce the emotional backbone of the story, even without necessarily advancing the character arcs or providing additional thematic depth."

Just wanted to clear up some of that stuff because I'm not sure if it's a term I made up, but suffice to say I'll link to this piece when need be for the purposes of clarity considering I'll be using it more in the future.

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