Since ancient civilization, humans have communicated through narrative means. Myths, legends, stories, memories, dreams, ideas, and predictions are all ways in which the human mind perceives experience and time. Countless books have been published, languages have been created, even new technologies have been developed solely in regards to communicating narrative. Concerts, classrooms, telephones, even computers are mediums in which relationships are constructed to share, create, and remember. Technological innovation seems to advance the form of experience communicated where creativity and emotion control the content and time in which it’s presented.
When technological innovation and creativity intersect, progress is made, and progress was made January 25, 1947, when Thomas T Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann created the Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device. This device enabled interactivity between electronic components and visual display in the form of a World War II radar system. But the interactivity didn’t stop there. 25 years later, in 1972, Pong was created by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. This was the first successful arcade video game that made the “video game” popular. Since then countless video games have been created for entertainment, creativity, socializing, artistic expression, and communicating narrative. But what is narrative?
Narrative is “a story or account of events, experiences, or the like, whether true or fictitious.” Narrative is how we relate experience to time and understand the world around us. We speak about narrative while simultaneously creating narrative for future peoples to narrate.. We don’t necessarily live narrative, but we explain everything we live through narrative..(I hope that makes sense) Anyways, narrative is how we perceive and communicate the world in which we are immersed.
However, games like Space Invaders, Tetris, Asteroids, Pac-man, and Frogger were still predominately ways to interact with visual video display. The narrative created with these experiences happened primarily outside of the game. Users would explain or share their experiences with friends, rack up points in the machines, and lose a lot of quarters in the pocess. It wasn’t until video games like Super Mario Bros., and The Legend of Zelda, or Donkey Kong where we start to see strong interactive narrative.
Character development, plot lines, and relationships with characters in video games began to emerge within these newer games. Narratives in which users could immerse themselves and play along with quickly became the norm for top sellers. Even games based on Hollywood movies were being created like The Adams Family, The Simpsons, E.T., etc. Video games eventually started to become a narrative medium, evolving passed an interactive-functioned-based visual display system. This gave room for new products based on video games which showed a stronger potential for the video game industry. This allowed the industry to progress forward and evolve to a more advanced state.
As game consoles started developing into more complex machines, so did the narratives within them. Users didn’t just have to follow a single narrative from an author, but now had the ability to customize and create their own sub-narratives. Graphic cards and processors were being enhanced tremendously, and network capabilities were being built into to new consoles, allowing users to customize their characters, and play online with users around the world. Games like World of Warcraft, Spore, Grand Theft Auto, Runescape, Little Big Planet, and Black and White are all games in which the user creates their own narrative through character customization and what they decide to do within the game’s context.
The line between winning and losing through narrative, in video game context, began to blur to the point where winning and losing weren’t the primary motives to the game, but rather, the primary focus of the games were to experience, and explore, or customize and create. These ideas can also be found within the Avant Garde. David Lynch is famous for his dark, twisted, non-linear, films in which viewers are confused and meaning is subjective.
Another Avant Garde film maker was Maya Deren. She was known for her contemplative, subjective aesthetic, but was also a pioneer with camera technique. She is quoted saying, “The complexity of the camera creates, at times, the illusion of being almost itself a living intelligence which can inspire its manipulation on the explorative and creative level simultaneously.” An online web browser game called Animator vs Animation does just this, only with the process of making a simple game. The user plays the role of animator, while an intelligent animation is jumping around the user’s desktop, attacking the user’s cursor.
This evolution of narrative through interactive visual display (primarily video) has helped to build the new state in which we currently reside. Video games have now evolved out of the video signal into digital online medias that exist on our computers, our phones, our home appliances, and even our faces. While most of the games we are currently aware of communicate narratives we are comfortable understanding, there is a bigger game with a more complicated narrative we are all a part of.
The game may not have a name yet, however, almost all of us are playing it already. We are using social media to create our avatars, our digital content showcases our skill levels, we use finance apps to keep track of our points that we cash in to consume energy and upgrade skills/equipment. Everyday we have missions, or quests we must achieve, and we have full creative control over how other users or, I guess you could say people, see us. We create clans and parties, we join guilds and collaborate with others. We are constantly updating and editing our narratives that we then post back to our avatar’s profile that the world can see, judge, compete with, and understand.
The point of the game is a little vague, but like most games, users will usually figure it out. Winning and losing are subjective because there are so many aspects that this game has to offer. However, a common goal for almost every user is to survive, and thats where the competition begins unfortunately.
The narrative this game follows is infinite. Infinite in so many angles its impossible to understand. Because we are located within the game, its difficult to imagine what lies beyond, but through better understanding the capabilities of our collected narrative, we can better understand the boundaries of our game. We understand now through the Avant Garde, and the power of creative technology, that we have tremendous capabilities. Immersive environments and narratives are all we have other than the tools allowed within their context. We are creating our narratives while simultaneously living them, and if you aren’t immersed within your own, you are immersed within another’s.