Obra Dinn & Game Design As Narrative Architecture

For this blog post, I am going to talk about the game Return of the Obra Dinn as well as Henry Jenkins’s Game Design As Narrative Architecture. Honestly, I am not super into video games. I appreciate them, but was never quite good. However, I had a great time playing this game due to its narrative. As discussed in class, the game relies on the premise that you are an insurance agent and that you need to discover how sixty people died on the ship. This game is unique to other games that I have played because it requires a little more thinking. In the game you have a device that can let you go back to when a person on the ship dies and then you are given clues from there. The game is like a murder mystery with many misdirections. It is set in the early 1800’s on a merchant ship called the Obra Dinn which returns to the port years after it was reported to be missing. You as the character are the insurance agent who is in charge of figuring out what happened. When I first started playing the game the clues were pretty helpful in figuring out what was going on, but as I progressed things got more complex and confusing. I am not going to go into everything in the game because I do not want to spoil it, but It was truly engaging and challenging.

In Jenkins’s Game Design as Narrative Architecture, he discusses 5 main topics: spatial stories and environmental storytelling, evocative space, enacted stories, embedded narratives, and emergent narratives. In the section on spatial stories and environmental storytelling, he says “Game designers don’t simply tell stories, they design worlds and sculpt spaces” (Jenkins 4). In Obra Dinn, the game designer does just this. They are sending you to a new world and time period and sculpting a space that makes the gamer feel like a part of that time period. He is able to craft stories with the surrounding environment via clues. He then goes into evocative spaces. He talks about using stories that we are already familiar with to let us explore that space even more. For example a star wars game is only useful because it doesn’t just recap the entire movie, but adds another dimension to the narrative. In Obra Dinn, we can imagine a world on a ship that we have seen in movies and shows and use the narrative to further our understanding of life on a ship. The third concept Jenkins writes about are enacted stories. Jenkins argues that games do not need to me super constructed in its stories, but be multifaceted and allow the player to feel as though they have some sort of choice. In Obra Dinn, I felt as though I was paving my own path at my own pace. It was not a direct narrative. Obra Dinn also has the embedded narratives where there are clues placed throughout the game. Finally, I think the coolest part of a game are emerging narratives. Emerging narratives are interesting because they were not meant to be part of the game. In class we talked about an ARG where people formed different roles than what was expected, but a game that is able to adapt to me is a very sophisticated one in my opinion. In Obra Dinn, I’m not sure if this really occurs but in ARG’s this is very common as we learned.

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