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There are also many ways of narrative in games, and this blog will focus on the advantages and disadvantages of fragmented narrative and its application in games.

Yongcheng Liu, Blogger

August 29, 2023

7 Min Read

There are many ways to tell a story, such as novels, movies and many other forms. However, telling a story through games has a unique advantage, which is interactivity. Players play the role of the characters in the story and establish a connection with them, thus advancing the plot. In some games, the player's actions and choices will determine the final outcome of the story, making the player not only the listener, but also the creator of the story. There are also many ways of narrative in games, and this blog will focus on the advantages and disadvantages of fragmented narrative and its application in games.

  1. Common Ways of Narrative in Games

Linear narrative.

Typical linear narratives include games such as Death Stranding and the Call of Duty series. These types of games provide a cinematic experience for players, with a lot of main storyline missions and cutscenes. Linear narratives sacrifice some freedom in exchange for stable story comprehension. Players are more passive in receiving story information, such as watching a cutscene after completing a main mission.

Non-linear/Branching narrative

The overall structure of branching narrative is similar to linear narrative, but the biggest difference is the addition of branching points in the game. Players make different choices and enter different storylines, such as Detroit: Become Human.

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Fragmented narrative

Fragmented narrative means breaking down the overall plot into individual fragments and integrating them with various elements in the game. For example, when a player obtains a certain item, they can get key clues about character relationships or plot from the item description; when a player encounters a boss under certain conditions, they can trigger hidden dialogues to obtain more information. The main plot of a fragmented narrative game is not as clear as linear ways of narrative, and players need to actively explore information hidden in various corners and combine them together (sometimes requiring some imagination).

  1. The form of fragmented storytelling in games

Fragmented narrative is very common in the application of games, such as the integration of information and props in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. At the beginning of the game, players are gradually subconscious about the method of finding information in props and items. The player plays as a wolf who receives an anonymous letter at the beginning of the game. The description of this letter not only includes its content, but also mentions "a letter thrown into the well by someone". The game not only wants to inform the player about the content of the letter but also wants the player to understand where the prop comes from, what information it is related to, who it is related to, and why. This allows players to gradually become accustomed to the narrative method of integrating information into props and gradually arouses their curiosity.

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Many settings in the game are not directly presented to players in the form of animation or text, but are recorded in various props obtained by players.

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In Naraka: Bladepoint, the most direct plot is only an introduction to the game background, that is, various heroes gather on the Island to compete for the immortal mask. But do these heroes have any connections with each other? The game also uses some fragmented narrative techniques to introduce character backgrounds and their relationships.

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For example, in fashion descriptions, adding the origin and story of this skin, and telling the background of Justina Gu and her close friend becoming enemies, this setting also attracts many players to explore the reasons why these two characters became enemies from very close friends.

  1. The advantages and disadvantages of fragmented narrative.

In recent years, fragmented narrative has received widespread attention with the popularity of many AAA games, and has both advantages and disadvantages due to some distinctive features.

Advantages for players:

  • Extend game time for potential better multi playing through experience.

Fragmented narration splits a large amount of information into various corners of the game, giving players a more enriched exploration experience. In contrast, when experiencing linear narrative games, many players may leave the game after completing the main task once, without restarting it for a second time. Fragmented narration provides players with a lot of exploration space. If players want to combine together a more complete storyline, they need to explore more carefully in subsequent playthroughs and obtain more props and clues, enhancing the experience of playing through the game multiple times. This not only eases the repetition of playing the game multiple times but also allows players to discover more game details and surprising connections among characters.

  • High degree of freedom, players can choose to explore the plot direction they want.

Fragmented narrative does not directly display the linear narrative plot in front of players, but allows players to explore on their own, which gives players higher freedom. It is up to the player's initiative to decide what information they want to obtain. Long, unimportant, or uninteresting content can be chosen not to be explored, while interesting plot can be prioritized for exploration.

When players combine clues together, they often add a process of imagination, which allows different players to have different understandings of the game plot. Without clear official settings, various interpretations can become the perfect story in the player's mind as long as they are logically sound and reasonable.

Advantages for games:

  • Relatively low cost, flexible development process

The plot of fragmented narrative can use a large amount of text to bind to props, NPCs, and other content, reducing the production of cutscene animations and real-time calculations, thereby potentially reducing development costs. At the same time, the content of fragmented narrative is relatively discrete, and the connection between the content of the plot is relatively loose. It will become more natural to modify or delete some of them during the development process, and the overall impact on the plot will be smaller comparing to linear games.

  • Players' different understandings of the story can lead to higher levels of discussion.

As mentioned earlier, the plot of fragmented narrative games requires players to collect, combine, and imagine. Players will have different understandings of the plot. The collision of different views will lead to intense discussions. The reposting and discussion of players on social media can increase the popularity of the game and attract more new players.

Disadvantages:

It should be noted that some of the advantages of fragmented narrative are a double-edged sword, which may become a disadvantage for different players.

  • Friendly to multi playing through players, but not the same to casual players. The fragmented narrative game's plot requires a lot of time to explore, and some places in game may need to be revisited, while some clues may be even deeply hidden. For players who enjoy exploration, this is a great pleasure, but for some players who just want a casual experience, the game is relatively adding trouble. For these types of players, a linear narrative movie-style plot experience would be better.

  • High skill requirements for narrative writers. The fragmented narrative presents players with individual plot points, but in the eyes of writers, it must be a rigorous logical framework, and a large number of clues must ensure that they are not contradictory and contain a certain amount of information. If the game is filled with useless clues, players will question whether it is just mystifying and incomprehensible.

If there is a deviation in the focus of the game plot, players will find it difficult to experience the core plot that the game really wants to convey, and excellent narrative writing can ensure that more players move towards key clues and plots, ensuring their experience.

  • High memory cost for players. Although in many games players can check items at any time to look at their descriptions and clues, a large amount of text content described through items or NPC backstory and character relationships still brings a certain memory burden to players. They need to recall which item describes which character among a large number of props to combine together the fragments.

  1. Summary

The fragmented narrative method has been seen in many AAA games and its advantages and disadvantages are very obvious. Players who enjoy this narrative method will be extremely obsessed with exploring the plot.

By optimizing the plot to enhance the experience of casual players while ensuring the exploration experience of hardcore players, but not just loosely connecting storylines, more players can better explore those mysterious worlds of fragmented narrative games.

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