The story and narrative in Nintendo video games - Lakitu's Packet

The story and narrative in Nintendo video games - Lakitu's Packet

The topic that we will deal with today is extremely complex and to be deepened, even if only in part, it would deserve a much larger space than that granted to us by an article: our goal, with this episode of La Bustina di Lakitu, is precisely to reveal the complexity. With inevitable forays into territories that have no direct connection with the video game. We will talk about what is commonly called "history". And Nintendo games are notoriously lacking in history.

History, however, is a term that does not help us in the slightest to understand the issue. According to the Treccani dictionary available online, the definition relating to the aforementioned use would be this (the number four of the lemma): "story of a set of events, real or imagined". The story involves a tale. The tale is a prose narrative; in our case, a narration in the generic sense, that is, a "narrative text". According to Wikipedia, "a type of text in which a narrator tells a story".

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: A Nintendo game with a more structured story than usual The first distinction to be made is the classic one between fabula and intertwining, introduced by the Russian formalists at the beginning of the last century: in essence, and explaining it without too much refinement, the fabula is the set of events, arranged in chronological order, that make up a story. The plot is made up of the same events, but in the sequence chosen by the narrator.

Already here, by translating the concept into the context we are interested in, things get complicated. And they get very complicated. Because the narrator of a video game is a role that is often covered together, in varying percentages, by developer and user. Basically, the more freedom a video game grants, the closer the narrator will be to the narrator (i.e. the recipient of the text). Freedom could be quantitative, thus offering many alternatives in the order of events to be faced (typical of Western role-playing games, for example). Or qualitative, that is, when it proposes variations that emerge from the interaction. To give a trivial example, a Super Mario koopa can be avoided, crushed, bounced off a wall. It could get stuck between two blocks and roll for eternity.

And yes, if it wasn't clear, we are already talking about "history" with koopas.

Tactile narration

Final Fantasy VII: seeing Midgar for the first time was something incredible We don't want to treat those who say that Nintendo games have no "history" as stupid: that's not our intent. Also because what they mean by this expression is quite clear: Nintendo games often do not propose complex or morally ambiguous themes. Equally often they don't have as many dialogues, and they rarely cater to an exclusively adult audience. What we are trying to argue, rather, is that the richness of the narrative is only minimally influenced by these aspects; and these aspects affect even less the value of the narrative. Let alone the artistic or aesthetic value of a work, a topic that here does not even make sense to mention.

The videogame includes many means of expression within it. Which, when they are cohesive, they are able to tell in a - literally - unique way. However, there are many narrative episodes that have little to do with the specifics of the video game: Final Fantasy VII at the time of its release amazed - also - for the quality of its videos. Videos that were, however, nothing more than animation: animation that could be considered a video game only because it was inserted between one part and another of interactive situations. But in and of themselves, those bewitching footage was nothing more than animation. They did not in any way exploit the potential of the video game in the strict sense. It is perhaps a stupid example (we choose it because it is contemporary), but even a laughable quality video of Ocarina of Time, the one in which Link is amazed before a boss, made better use of the uniqueness of the video game: there was not the slightest gap between the visual aspect in game and that of the movie (so it gained the consistency of the narrative), and Link's equipment changed in relation to what he was really wearing at that moment of the adventure.

The graphics and the sound, if not intertwined with the interaction, are more designed to create a narrative context rather than to narrate. And the same thing happens with the written text. In the dialogues, in the premises and in the synopses that are found at the beginning of the adventure.

If the real-time clashes have gradually taken over the turn-based ones, it is not only because by many they are considered more fun: it has happened also because they are narratively richer. Whether you share the concept or not, whether you are aware of this fact or not: pressing A and seeing a sword stroke allows you to narrate in real time. It is an event that is as banal and obvious as it is underestimated. At that moment the narrative text of the video game is being altered. And the more coherence there is between pressure, effect and consequence, the more cohesive and powerful the text is. The fact that Hollow Knight has an exceptional arcade combat system not only makes it great as a game, but also richer on a narrative level: the slightest impacts, the displacements after damage, all have narrative value.

Hollow Knight: its narrative qualities are not limit to the "lore" This is what we could call "tactile narration". When Nintendo still frequently held - in Japan - seminars for young developers, when Miyamoto still had time to deal with these events, the Japanese master was constantly attentive to this aspect. And he's the first to be part of the paradox: he's the first to say that video games don't need stories. Precisely because, when he says "history", he means exactly what the "gamer of Voghera" alludes to. But the students' stories of him are full of interesting anecdotes, from a narrative point of view: for example, in a prototype - once an enemy had been defeated - a character would finish him off with a stab. A simple skit, an in-game movie. Miyamoto pointed out that it would have been much better if, once he got close, it had been necessary to press A. Not because there were alternatives, not to increase the possibilities of the prototype in question, but because that simple press would have been tactile narration, and without any it the video game would have been less cohesive. [img id = 318033 pos = c size = article text = Metroid: Other M: an episode that could be improved, even at a narrative level. Sapkowski, the writer of The Witcher saga, has said many questionable things about video games, and others that are actually offensive towards gamers. We are not interested in pointing them out here; however, one of the (many) reasons why he doesn't like The Witcher is the freedom he gives the player. The freedom to move Geralt, to make him do what he wants, to narrate his world inside him. To deface it-from his point of view-according to one's will.

Staying in the Nintendo environment, Metroid: Other M is the practical demonstration of how much the narrative is only partially affected by the characterization of the characters, by the films of animation, from the dialogues. It is the title of the series that focuses most on these elements, yet it is also one of the most narratively poor Metroids of all: without any dialogue, the first Metroid made you feel inside Alien. Moving Samus in those dark, black and gloomy corridors, with that distressing and adventurous music, was enough: from the narrative point of view, there was no need for anything else. Everything was already there, between running, shooting and cohesive audiovisual context.

Limits and arguments

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: one of the most narratively esteemed games of recent years Just considering every single one an intrinsically also narrative interactive instance, great limits arise, and great problems, for the videogame as a means to tell a story. Both because they are often first playful experiences, and only consequently interactive, and because the narrative potential of the user could generate inconsistencies. In a situation where the world is in danger, the fact that many other activities can be done unrelated to the main purpose, but which are satisfying at a playful level, creates obvious problems of internal coherence.

Descending into the microstructures , the possibility that we are granted, after an excited dialogue, to start hopping and crawling around a character who has just asked us, because he is desperate, to save his daughter ... well, imagine the same situation in a book. "The Bloody Baron, still shaken by emotion, had just finished confessing to Geralt. Geralt then began to jump around him, skimming all the walls of the room, looking for money behind the curtains, while the Baron, suddenly impassive, no longer seemed notice his presence ". Strange, isn't it? Limiting these possibilities is enormously complicated. In Breath of the Wild, entering a club in their underwear, the characters point out the obscenity of the choice: a valuable gem, but the fact remains that entering an inn undressed, without any sensible reason, is not exactly credible. br>
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: rain generates temporary puddles of water Staying at Nintendo you could do dozens, hundreds of examples that belie their alleged disinterest in fiction. Still talking about Breath of the Wild, and maybe you haven't even noticed it because it's not easy at all, the hollows in the ground collect rain. It is an uninteresting feature in a playful key, but it is pure interactive and environmental storytelling. Basically, when it rains heavily, where there are cavities - just like in our world - pools of water tend to form. Small, but also large; to the point that small woods can appear completely dry, or even marshy. With the sun, the water then tends to evaporate, until it disappears. And this is just a recent example. In the old The Legend of Zelda there are rooms inserted only for rhythmic and narrative reasons: just think of the Water Temple, of what hazy precedes Dark Link (sorry for the vagueness, maybe someone hasn't played it yet). Think of the first Metroid, where to end the game, after defeating Mother Brain, you have to perform a very easy platform sequence, which would not make sense in terms of increasing difficulty: it is just a way to tell, in tactile and interrative terms, without relying on movies, the end of the adventure.

If there is one accusation that can sensibly be leveled at Nintendo, however, it is not to use one's narrative skills for greater purposes. In the literary field, it would be as if one of the greatest writers in the world concentrated only on entertaining and delighting his readers, with crystalline and relatively frivolous phrases. And here we return to the problem (from a narrative point of view) set out above: the main purpose of video games, and in particular those of Nintendo, is to entertain. Not to tell a story. All the extraordinariness of the narrative proposed in Kyoto is often an end in itself, not addressed to broad themes. Of course there are exceptions, such as the tragic nature of certain Pikmin deaths, or some particularly touching moments from The Legend of Zelda or Metroid. But in general, telling a meaningful story is not a company priority.

Red Dead Redemption 2: Rockstar game offered exceptional environmental storytelling Tactile and interactive storytelling has taken hold, in the last decade, too in large western productions. If you can criticize Red Dead Redemption 2 in terms of fun and you can also write that it has an overly woody control system, but Rockstar must be credited for having circumscribed these elements to increase the game's narrative coherence: many of the limitations imposed on the character. they serve precisely to prevent the inconsistencies we talked about earlier. For the realism of the work, it would have been ridiculously ridiculous to be able to climb anywhere like Link in Breath of the Wild (for example).

The Last Guardian: Fumito Ueda's latest game, one of the best storytellers ever There is perhaps no other author, in video games, who has been able to narrate as well - through interaction and game design - as Fumito Ueda. In Ico, he recounted a relationship of friendship with the need to take each other by the hand. He exposed the superficiality of killing in video games. In Shadow of the Colossus you can't enjoy the victory, the killing of those immense creatures. He dared, strongly dared to leave out the fun between one Colossus and another, proposing empty and desolate plains. In The Last Guardian he talked about the difficulties in communicating with animals, their wild nature; the instinctive, fierce and pure affection they can generate. The enormous pain of separation; those seconds at the top of the almost labyrinthine structure, full of relief and fear. He told all this through a multimedia narrative context, but he told it above all through buttons and game design.

Video games can hardly compete, in the textual context, with the great literary narrative. They will have no hope, in the immediate future, of approaching the directorial and photographic magnificence of the best films. The soundtracks, however courageous or sophisticated, will not have intrinsic artistic prestige. The video game, to mature on an aesthetic level, will have to deepen the narrative potential granted by the interaction. There is no other way, there is no other way.

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