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Video Games and Hypertext

September 19, 2013 by kimberlyteoh   

When this course started talking about hypertext this and hypertext that, I did come to a point where I thought some video games can be considered to have hypertext narratives. Of course, I’m only talking about this generation’s video games and not the ones that were created from before and around the 90’s like Tetris and Space Invaders.

Since I’m talking about video games though, I want to first get this out of my chest. Why do video games made in this day and age have a narrative? To me, the answer’s real simple.

One, the narrative is like a cherry on a cake; they don’t need to have a narrative but it certainly adds to the experience when it does have one.

Second, the narrative becomes an element of the game whereby it motivates the player to complete an objective. For example, in Mario, you have to save Princess Peach, no personal reason why, you just do and that’s part of its “story”.

Finally,  the video game industry is slowly getting bigger and it’s becoming one of the biggest entertainment industries. As of late, the narratives in them have become very cinematic. What’s really pushing it though, is that the graphics are improving so rapidly that the characters and settings look realistic. No, no, it’s actually because many consumers and some developers are obsessed with making them look realistic AND be realistic. Therefore, most of the games made today can be considered to be “interactive cinema” because they look so gosh darn real, except unlike films, the player fully controls the protagonist’s actions and you can do other stuff (like killing random, virtual people on the street) besides continuing with the storyline. A good example of an “interactive film” game would be Beyond: Two Souls, because one, David Cage the creator keeps calling it “interactive storytelling” and second, from the looks of it, you can only go with the storyline (so no sidequests, and random killing) and you cannot make other decisions for the protag. Of course, I may be mistaken since I haven’t played it yet.

Anyway, back onto hypertext. I once considered that video games that have multiple, different endings can be said to have a hypertext narrative. After all, the decisions you make will ultimately affect the ending you will end up with. I rejected and abandoned the idea though, because I figured that a hypertext narrative would have different railroads that end up at different destinations. I’m not very good with explaining so I drew this to show what I mean.

As you can see from this terrible and not thoroughly thought out diagram, in a hypertext narrative, the way I see it, each decision you make will lead to a different story path and ending. I also thought about the possibility of how some decisions will lead you back on another track, hence the reason why you see some are linked. Video games with multiple endings on the other hand, don’t do it like this. Instead they do it, like this: 

I have to be honest though, this diagram is heavily influenced from how Heavy Rain handled it but otherwise, I would assume that games with multiple endings do it this way. The only thing hypertext about it, is just the endings and there is no divergence in the story’s path. There was another game called InFamous a few years ago and it did it this way, you make decisions throughout the game that total up to give you an ending based on the decisions you made, there were about 3 endings (?) in total that you can end up with.

My verdict is no, video games cannot be considered as hypertext narratives. It is possible to make one, however I assume it will be extremely exhausting to make one like in Diagram 1.

1 Comment

  1. […] Kimberly picks up similar points and uses Mario Bros as an example. The issue though is that saving Princess Peach doesn’t ‘matter’ to the game play. In other words Mario Bros is a successful game not because of its story, but because of its game play, which uses some very simple things to provide a frame for the game play. Afer all, it’s a pretty long reach to claim that Mario Bros is a good game because it is such a good story. It’s a good game because of the quality of its game play, the story, if we treated that as legitimately a narrative we’d have to recognise pretty quickly it is even less sophisticated than most stories told to children. (We have to save Princess Peach – why? i.e. as a ‘story’ what is the narrative motivation and justification here?) Similarly the motivation is to level up, not save the Princess, levelling up comes first (who asks how many characters have you rescued versus what level?) and the Princess is some decoration. Finally the multiple endings described by Kimberely are not hypertextual (this post and another on Maths and English and finally the one on Ted Nelson where I use some diagrams to explain hypertext are useful. […]

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