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A Theoretical War, Part 2

This is the second article in The Academics Are Coming series.

4. defection

In 1998, Jesper Juul presented a paper titled "A Clash between Game and Narrative" at the Digital Arts and Culture conference, based on his ongoing postgraduate research. He asserted that narrative was not just unimportant in games but actually burdensome. Games and narrative were "two phenomena that fight each other" and attempts to merge them would inevitably "zigzag" between the two.

Juul also demonstrated that narrative ended up as digital paint which is a similar to an argument put forward by Brian Moriarty in last year's GDC and also here on Electron Dance:

"I illustrated this [using] a silly platformer with background art by Michelangelo, dialog from Shakespeare, characters from Ingmar Bergman movies and music by Bach... but it was still just a platformer... [Such games] may have an arty veneer, and explore important topics and themes, but it's all bolted on to familiar game mechanisms that are not essentially synergistic."

Clearly both men take issue with propositions like One and One Story (referenced last week) but I found some of Juul's arguments oddly anachronistic. It was published when game story was becoming more and more important to players and 1998 was notable for being the year that Half-Life blew everyone away. Players were no longer shooting blocks and dodging pixel balls; they were sweating and surviving in Black Mesa, fighting their way out of a catastrophe, trying to piece together what had gone so wrong. Was Juul swimming against the tide?

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