Tacoma as a Spatial Story

The discussion on how videogame designers and videogame studies should combine and separate modes of perspective when looking at similar storytelling mediums seems like a very necessary one to be had. I agree with Henry Jenkins–with two viewpoints on the radical ends of the spectrum, the ludologists and narratologists, there needs to be some middle ground to leave possibilities of “what video games can be” open to allow for creativity and experimentation to thrive, since the medium of video games is relatively new compared with other mediums (such as books, movies, music, etc).

I see many of Jenkins’ ideas on spatial stories translating onto Tacoma, which is the game I chose to play a bit of last weekend. The game has a unique approach to what could have been a normal visual-novel-like game, which is allowing the player the explore the various strands of “present” within a single past moment. The affordances that come with this is the ability to choose how deeply you want to know the sub-plots and characters. It isn’t necessary to listen to the entirety of all strands (or to listen to them at all sometimes), but the game helps the players to understand the main narrative through a mechanic of indicating where you need to go at what point in a given scene time to catch key conversations in a strand.

When you go to a different area of the ship, you encounter different recordings of the past, with the order that you encounter them not necessarily matching up with the order that they happened. In this sense, there is some showings of an “episodic” feature, where the order in which you see something doesn’t affect your understanding of the overall plot (pg.7). One example of this is a scene where one of the characters is playing the guitar in their bedrooms; with this room and recording of the past, we are presented with details that allow the player to imagine this fictional world on a deeper narrative level. It wasn’t necessary, however, to see it in the first place, since it didn’t act as a device for furthering the plot. Instead, this scene acts as an encouragement for spatial exploration; the result of playing into this spatial exploration is the reward of a more rich glimpse into the world of Tacoma.

3 thoughts on “Tacoma as a Spatial Story

  1. One of the things I found most compelling in Tacoma was that many of the recordings contained multiple scenes occurring simultaneously, meaning I had to choose which characters to listen to or follow (or rewind to see more). I felt this added to the sense of space and atmosphere, as it felt like there were more scenes occurring on the ship than just the ones I was directly witnessing. In this way, it fleshed out a sense of the world’s fullness, making it feel like the story and world existed beyond my perception of it.

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  2. The notion of not requring a particular path to understand the story is very interesting. And I think in some sense this notion have even evolved into a notion of “you choice matters”.

    There is a drama/game a friend of mine has participated in. The show is located in a hotel where the participants watch different parts of a story (played by actors) unfold in different floors. After a scene has ended, the player can choose to follow any of the actors, whom will follow through with his/her part of the story by going into another scene. Thus there is the notion of the path the player choose in the drama. Yet interestingly, it is said that few has really comprehensively followed the story, as in few are able to witness every scene in the drama. And my friend said that the choice the player makes of choosing which scenes to see, which character to follow, will end up in different interpretations and understandings of the story as a whole.

    Of course, this notion of “your choice matters” is also seen in videogames, as the games will try to make you choose your actions at certain scenes. Yet different from my friend’s experience at the drama, the different choices often lead to different endings, whilst not really affecting the understanding of the story as a whole. I think it is very interesting to think about how chronology and sequencing may really effect the story, and how one understands the story, whilst not being bereft of a fuid plot that makes it a story in the first place.

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  3. I’ve noticed this before, and I allude to it in my post on the topic, but Tacoma’s use of spatial storytelling on a deeper level is very similar to Sleep No More: the fact is, you could follow the Scottish Play characters in Sleep No More and more or less get the story that everyone knows. But if you dig deeper into the McKittrick Hotel’s secrets you get more information going on than what you would get at a cursory glance. It’s actually quite similar to Fullbright’s previous game Gone Home, where there is of course its main narrative regarding the player characters’ sister but also minor storylines hidden within the cracks of it about things that have been going on in the house.

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