Non-textual Narratives in Games

There was a time, not too long ago, when a game through you into the action right away with no explanation. Without any fancy-shmancy cut-scenes, you were suddenly controllling a plumber as he hopped on walking toadstools, or a tiny space ship as it destoryed hostile aliens, or a guy in gi beating up another guy in a gi. Personally, these are my favorite kinds of games; although I do enjoy more narratively intense games from time to time, at the end of the day, I love me some pure action, and long, drawn-out cut scenes get in the way of me being a bad enough dude to save the president.

Now, even though these games don’t present much or any narrative information within the games themselves, they certainly do have narratives. And not just in the way that by presenting a conflict, a narrative is automatically inferred. No, there’s a narrative, and people tend to know it. Mario is trying to save Princess Peach from Bowser and Ryu is trying to defeat M. Bison.

These narratives exists in separate texts, the instruction manual. When you play the game, it doesn’t come up, but if you want, you can read the instructions and find out why Mario or Sonic is doing what he’s doing. Another similar text, one closely related to the cut scene, is the pre-game introduction sequence. If you don’t press start, you can watch a little scene that explains that the mayor’s daughter’s been kidnapped, and that’s why you’re beating up street punks, but who honestly watches those?

Super Mario Bros. is a very interesting example in this vein, as it does in fact contain narrative information within the game. Every time you beat a world, you get a Toad telling you, “Thank you, but our princess is in another castle.” There’s no real reason for this, there’s nothing that says they couldn’t just not frame every boss fight as the potential end of the game, but for some reason, the narrative chooses you to string you along in this tongue-in-cheek way.

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