In the past, a clear distinction could be made between story and game. Print text confined stories to a linear narrative in which the reader was treated as an observer, watching the story unfold. Contemporary games, especially those utilizing digital media have made the distinction uncertain. Works like hypertext narratives and interactive fiction actively blur the line between story and game.
Currently the face of gaming has been molded by the big videogame developers including Activision, Ubisoft, and Blizzard. This has led many to believe that hypertext narratives are stories, and others who do acknowledge these works as videogames just consider them poorly made. From this point, two distinctions need to be made. Firstly, what is a game, and secondly, what makes a game “good”. Analyzing “howling dogs”, a renowned hypertext narrative, we can investigate both of these questions.
The defining features that separate games from stories in my eyes are an active audience and confining their movements and decisions by a set of rules. Games, like cybertexts place the audience in danger. That is, to say that the user is in control of the outcome of the narrative and their decisions will have great impacts. Secondly, a game must have some set of rules through which the user’s interactions are controlled, often times creating a challenge. This challenge is the concept that draws in players. This is similarly aligned to Murray’s comments on games and stories. She states that there are two main similarities between games and stories. She claims that contests and puzzles are the mechanisms upon which stories and games are based.
Some may argue that “Howling dogs” is not a game despite creating an active audience, because there is no governing set of rules, nor challenge. However I disagree with this statement. The game offers the user control of the sequencing in which they experience the world. Through hyperlinks, the user can control the actions of the character to eat or throw out trash. Despite the interactivity it truly becomes a game in the ability of the user to explore. The user is capable of controlling the outcome of the narrative by choosing to explore various aspects of the game. This can be equated to the experience a user receives while playing one of the earliest interactive fiction/dungeon crawler games “Colossal Cave Adventure’.
Once the decision has been made that a work is a game, the manner and criteria in which it is critiqued must be analyzed. As mentioned previously, the works of mainstream developers have caused a detriment in the fact that they have created a standard that doesn’t fit all forms video games take. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie described the dangers of a single story in the manner that they don’t convey the truth of events and perpetuate stereotypes. Similarly, this can be applied to the world of games. If all games are held to the same standard as the big game developers, small developers using different techniques including hypertext are tossed aside and rated poorly. In doing so, we lose out on valuable forms of entertainment and are ignorant to the benefits that other gaming mediums can provide. For example, if “Howling dogs” were compared to Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed on criteria based on those games, then of course it would be marked poorly.
Instead, the value of a video game should be based on the experience and more specifically, the emotion the game evokes. The difference in emotional weight of the game must be considered. For example, Laura Hudson describes “Howling dogs” as a game that provides the audience with a sort of catharsis when they play. She continues to explain that the audience feels relief when an important topic generally considered taboo, is brought to the spotlight. While mainstream games do serve a big role in entertainment, it is equally important to remember that not all games are developed with the same goal in mind and must be considered justly.