February 16, 2012 by davionc
This time around I decided to do an article report that revolved around the idea of narratives in video games, and so I chose to deconstruct Margaret Mackey’s “To Automaticity and Beyond: Narrative Interpretation in Game and Novel.” This article entailed a focus on finding out the answer to what it is that we can learn about how people process stories if we record their reactions over the time of the encounter, rather than relying on retrospective description?
As such, Mackey establishes how she will demonstrate this by discussing her earlier studies, which were conducted in 1995, as well as her most recent studies, which had been performed in 2011. This time around, her studies consisted of twelve teenagers, whom she divided into three groups, and watched them as they read one complete novel(Monster by Walter Dean Myers), watched one movie (Run Lola Run), and played one Playstation game (Shadow of Colossus.)
Her studies basically compared people’s perception of novels to games and film. Though, Mackey really honed in on books and games. She answered the question of “how do different people process stories” of different types by stating that people feel they have more control in video games, but they are more easily emotionally manipulated when it came to reading books. And ultimately, people expressed more interest in having that control factor.
Another interesting thing about this article is that Mackey broke down book reading as a straightforward and linear activity in terms of narrative style. This basically means that a book and even a film is going to have a set ending and occurrence of events regardless of how the partaker feels. However, video games were described to have a multi-directional aspect in reference to narratives. This is important to note because it re-establishes the idea that games do allow more freedom to impact the story that occurs, and this is true.
Nonetheless, here is where I draw the line and stop to think about the all of the information above. For one, there were two women included in the study, but they were only included in the portion where Mackey analyzed how people played the games. Their actual viewpoints about narrative in novels versus narrative in video games were not actually included in her study. As such, this is an issue because without sufficient information from both genders about how PEOPLE process narratives, then the research is insufficient because it is not well rounded.
In addition, the age range of the gamers was not very wide at all. In fact, the majority of the people that played the game, watched movie, and read the book were not even experts in either field. And this is fair, because such representation of the general public should be present. Nevertheless, the latter should also be present in Mackey’s studies because expert gamers/novelists/film critics are just as key to determining how people process narrative in each medium (books, films, or games.)
Secondly, I wondered about the games where the story ends up the same at the end of the game regardless of how you play it. And in this case, one does not actually have the liberty of determining the outcome of the game, but they only fool themselves into believing that they have more control.
Here’s an example using video games to illustrate the idea of leading someone to believe that they have control that they actually do not have:
Think about it this way, you have a little brother or sister who want to play Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King with you, and you really do not want them to play the game with you, but you want for them to believe that they are really playing with you. If you have a system like a Playstation 2, then you would do something like plug the controller in just enough so that it looks like they are playing, and you arrange the game so that it appears they have a player. You also tell them that they are playing as you character, probably Legolas, and that you are the monsters. Yet the controller’s really not plugged in, you are actually Legolas, and the monsters are definitely the CPU.
This is a concept that directly parallels into having that feel of control in a video game. The company already knows what the ending will be when they produce it, and yes you get to play and perhaps change your outfit, but the story is still the same.
Of course there are exceptions to this rule with newer video games like GTA (Grand Theft Auto) and such, but at the end of the day, programmers can only input so many different endings, which is ultimately the same in film or even a book. This is a challenge I would love to see Mackey deal with in her studies.
The other points I put forth are pretty self-explanatory as far as the need for a wider range of gender and age focus in the studies, and I would also like to see Mackey attack these issues in her next study as well.
To conclude, but not really to conclude, just to close my remarks for this article, I would like to propose a couple of open-ended thoughts to anyone who does a study on how people process the narrative of games. Are we really in control of the narratives of video games? And Do we really enjoy having so much control in life? (because imagine if someone else took care of everything we wanted/needed, and we were fully satisfied, I am pretty sure, we’d love that!)
(The original article can be found here: