Embedded Narrative in Dishonored 2

Many games published and/or developed by Bethesda Studios are often known for their use of environmental storytelling, a concept similar to our talks on embedded narratives in class. A fine example of this method comes from the Dishonored franchise of games, specifically the second game. While the game has a coherent story that can be fully summarized by playing through with little deviation from the main plot there is a plethora of lore that is almost never relevant to the current story. This lore comes in the form of letters, books, recordings, and even art work that is scattered throughout the world. While exploring each individual level the player can pick up several of these items and interact with them in some way. A few of these notes contain clues to progressing through the game while others are simply there to build the world, nevertheless each serves a specific purpose in the broader context of the world.

The first and most relevant component to these embedded elements is that they often provide more depth to the main plot of the game. A book may be a biography of a major character in the story or a painting may reveal some aspect of the character’s personality as seen by one of two in universe artists. These small touches are crucial to the game because Dishonored is a franchise built around the concept of player choice affecting the game world. The player has the choice to play through the game in a lethal or nonlethal manner, it is possible to play through every game without killing a single person. That makes these tiny details for each character crucial to the overall meaning of the game, they inform the decision to either kill or spare the main antagonists before it comes time to decide.

The second and broader reason for these minor details is to build up the world past the game’s story. Some books contain a historical record of some kind while others detail the religious practices of the different countries in the game. Not only does this create a large history for dedicated fans to dive into but it also helps build the world for casual players. The fact that a book such as “Litany on the White Cliff” or “The Fishmonger’s Cookbook” exists and can be interacted with sends the message to players that this is a real world with a real history and their actions will have serious consequences within it. So even if players don’t interact with the majority of the content within the game it still serves a purpose in building up the world around them.

One thought on “Embedded Narrative in Dishonored 2

  1. First of all, I wanted to mention that the Dishonored series is one of my favorite game series ever! And I was thinking about it during the spacial narrative class as well. In particular, I was thinking of Dishonored 2, during the mission where you travel to the past and present. I thought this was a rather brilliant use of space to help expand the narrative. As a player, you see the destruction that events of the past have caused in the present, you face different challenges and puzzles depending on the past and present, and, importantly, you are even given the opportunity to change the past, effectively changing the present. Using this past/present mechanic, the game is able to tell two different stories in one space.

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