What is Narrative Design?

Since this blog focuses primarily on the theory and practice of Narrative Design, it might be helpful to first explain exactly what that is. The term was first coined by Stephen E. Dinehart, who is a "transmedia designer, writer, artist, and Narrative Design evangelist". Having worked on games as diverse as Company Of Heroes, Warhammer 40,000 and Constantine, he certainly has the professional experience to back up his convictions. Stephen has recently founded the Narrative Designer's Network, a community for burgeoning and established Narrative Designers. A post made there goes a long way to explaining what it is a Narrative Designer does exactly, but looking beyond the responsibilities of the specific function, I'm going to delve into the overarching concept of Narrative Design. Videogames are often compared to movies, and the former are described as indebted to the latter because of borrowed mechanics. Games are a unique medium with a unique dialect, and as long as they keep borrowing from other media for a semblance of maturity, they will never be held to the same regard. Often this situation is likened to the first movies ever created, which were no more than stage plays recorded with a static camera. Movies only matured when they discovered their own language and possibilities. Games are still in the process of developing that language, and while significant strides have been made to that end, there is still a long way to go. A current trend in the development of games that require or benefit from an engaging story is to bring in a professional writer. All too often, such writers write what they know, and what they know comes from books, movies and/or television. With a limited understanding of the unique complexities of writing for games, the stories thusly developed end up shoehorned into the game. It is this disconnect between writing and design (and, as a result, between story and gameplay) that often plagues today’s games. This is exactly why the term "Narrative Design" is so apt. Two things are needed for this to work: the involvement of a writer at the very beginning of the development process, and that writer having a clear grasp of how games work and the unique opportunities they present as a medium. As such, the Narrative Designer can not only adapt his story to the gameplay, but vice-versa as well. A confluence of writing and design is better suited to have story and gameplay reinforce one another, rather than the former merely serving as a context for the latter.



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