Narratives and Storytelling in Video Games
What a better way to draw you in than a well-told story that keeps you wondering, guessing, and marveling at its plot.
Shared a cool story with your friends lately? Creative writing, narratives, and storytelling are a major part of a vast majority of video games. After all, it's a designer's job to make a game so awesome that you're less likely put the controller down. What a better way to draw you in than a well-told story that keeps you wondering, guessing, and marveling at its plot. It's no different from other media like movies and books. In fact, good stories tie into the curiosity element of video games as they make the player eager to know what happens next, and also invoke a sense of excitement about exploring and discovering upcoming places in the story.
For example, in Ubisoft's Child of Light, the protagonist Princess Aurora dies from an illness and wakes up in a magical world called Lemuria. In Lemuria, the sun, moon and stars were taken away by the Queen of the Night. Aurora sets out on a journey across the Kingdom of Lemuria to defeat the Queen of the Night and claim the sun, moon and stars and reunite with her father. In Naughty Dog's Uncharted series (spanning 4 main games), the player is in control of Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter who travels across the world to uncover the truth about various historical mysteries and artifacts. Storytelling is a prominent feature of all games, but specifically in Role-Playing games (RPGs). Square Enix's recent RPG -- Octopath Traveler, features 8 different characters each with their own individual storylines. One of the 8 travelers, Primrose, sets out on a journey across the land of Orsterra to take revenge on the organization that murdered her father.
Just like with books, the way stories are told are also a big part of storytelling in games. Developers often choose to show a glimpse of the plot or foreshadow upcoming chapters of the story with cutscenes from the antagonist's point of view. Sometimes, unknown or new characters appear in these cutscenes, making the player want to know who or what is going to happen in subsequent chapters. Ubisoft's Child of Light is told in a children's storybook kind of way, with dialogue that rhymes and drawings made of watercolor. Video game stories feature a wide variety of topics or themes. For example, Sony's/Santa Monica's God of War 4 contains a heavy dose of norse mythology.
Little research has been done specifically in regards to narratives/storytelling and learning. In Dickey (2011) the goal of the research was to "investigate the impact of narrative-design in a game-based learning environment" in order to build argumentation writing in a group of 20 undergraduate students. The students played Murder on Grimm Isle, a 3-D game environment in which both a wealthy attorney and an environmentalist were found dead in a mansion. The game features 3 suspects and player have to gather clues around the mansion to create a solid argument to justify who they believe to be the suspect. One relevant finding from this study is that the students were motivated by their curiosity to explore the environment and collect evidence to find out who committed the crime.
Like this study, embedding educational content (such as mathematics) within a gripping storyline or a narrative would be a powerful way to get students invested in learning, perhaps without them even knowing it.