Narrative Segmentation

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Dividing gameplay to put it at the service of the storyline of a game.

The impact of narrative segmentation on gameplay is still questionable, since so far it seems to be inextricable from other forms of segmentation, particularly spatial and challenge segmentation. Breaking down gameplay into chapters or acts usually brings along a change of space and/or finishing a set of challenges to start a new one. However, there have been attempts to structure gameplay around a dramatic structure, such as the use of the so-called ‘beats” in Mateas and Stern’s Façade. At this point, this type of fragmentation needs further research to establish whether it can be considered a primary mode of segmentation, or one ancillary to the other segmentation types.


Strong Example

The Colonels Bequest

In The Colonels Bequest (an adventure game by Roberta Williams), the player plays a young university student who has been invited to a mansion for the weekend. A friend of the players uncle is dying and has invited his relatives to announce how he will split up his inheritance. In a typical murder-myestery fashion, the guests start to disappear with only the protagonist finding the bodies. Slowly but surely, the player must unravel the mystery.

This game is a strong example of narrative segmentation because it is divided into 8 acts each corresponding to an hour of game time (not gameplay time). The ending of each act is triggered by different events (including the player witnessing certain things). It is also interesting to note that the games narrative is exposed anyways, and that it is possible to reach the end without knowing the truth about the murders.

King's Quest 7

King's Quest 7 is a strong example of narrative segmentation because the whole game is based on a narrative. As the Queen and her daughter, the player must reunite the two characters. Both characters travel through different lands and learn about the whereabouts of the other. Every objective the player completes as each character is to learn more information about the story: where has the character been, where is she headed...etc. Often times the main character has to collect an item to give to another character to bribe them into giving up information. And finishing the game also finished the story within the game.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Phoenix Wright for Nintendo DS follows several stories that revolve around investigation and questioning. The player must pay attention to the game's narrative and travel to new locations in order to uncover evidence. This evidence is eventually presented in trial in order to complete each day or chapter. After a few days' trial and investigation the chapter ends and the player may join into a new story with a new plot, evidence, and analysis needed. (Davehansen)

Weak Examples

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge

The actions in this graphic adventure are structured in “Parts”, which are announced by its correspondent title card (“Part I: The Largo Embargo”, “Part II: Four Map Pieces”, Part III: LeChuck’s Fortress”, “Part IV: Dinky Island”). Each part has distinctive objectives, and also takes place in a different set of spaces, so that the narrative segmentation goes along spatial and challenge segmentation

Diablo II

Diablo II: Lord of Destruction for the PC could be considered a weak example of Narrative Segmentation, because of the progression of the story. The game is divided into "Acts" in which the player must complete quests to traverse the story. Each of these acts have a setting, plot, and cinematic introduction. The actual gameplay, however, is more challenge segmented.


In Starcraft (PC), the game is split up into 3 campaigns in which the player learns how to use the Terran, Zerg and Protoss armies. The overall story of the game is told through each of these three campaigns. The player is not only presented with an advancing plot, but also learns things from the perspective of each of the three races he plays.

Seiken Densetsu 3

As an action-RPG, the story of this game is told via dialogue and in a style common to RPGs which traditionally progress according to the narrative. However, the ability of the narrative to progress in this case is entirely dependent on the player making their way through the next dungeon and defeating the boss at the end, with almost no other challenges in-between segments.

Relations with other elements of the Ontology


Segmentation of Gameplay


Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. (1991) LucasArts: PC.