I think one of the interesting things about the games demos during class were the various interpretations of the narrative structure (or lack thereof) for each game. In particular, I find it difficult to unequivocally state that narrative structure does not underlie the design of any game. My interpretations however may draw from the narrativity, in the case of multiplayer games, rather than inherent narrative structure – though I believe that there are structured elements to games that lack a traditional “story.”
For example, Candy Crush struck me as one game from which even narrativity must be painstakingly drawn in order to tell a traditional “story” using the game’s mechanics. However, if we examine the emotional state and the experiential story that a Candy Crush player would tell, we would find that game does orient itself in a fashion which resembles the path taken in many modern stories. For example, a movie often begins slowly by building a world and introducing characters (or refreshing us on them). It then transitions to periods of higher and higher tension (possibly with minor resolutions and escalations throughout). Finally the film reaches the climax, often the most mind-bending plot twist the creators can imagine, and resolves as rapidly as possible to ensure that moviegoers do not feel the film was too long.
In a similar fashion, Candy Crush begins its “metagame,” the overarching system which contains each individual puzzle level, with a series of small introductory levels. It then accelerates the tension the player experiences by increases each level’s challenge (and consequently increasing the fiero hit upon the level’s completion). Here, the game will capture the player in their height of emotion to further its business considerations by leveraging the player’s friend system. While it tries to hold the player here as long as possible the player is still able to make a slow advance towards a final destination. This end goal is the Last Level, ostensibly the most difficult level in the game, and thus the climax for the metagame. The reward for completing this level is the most significant emotional high of the game, and similar to stories told through more traditional mediums this emotional high is expected and rooted in the implied player-designer contract in a similar fashion to the implied audience-storyteller contract found in all storytelling mediums. The final victory screen serves as the entirety of the resolution, allowing the game to fall away but leaving the emotions – the impact – to linger.
While this narrative lacks anything which might be explicated as “story,” I believe that this emotional journey neatly follows the Freitag triangle and thus is an example of an underlying narrative structure. The difference is that where a book causes a reader to create the world and move through it, a movie causes a viewer to ride through the world and experience it, a game essentially writes the world into the emotions of the player. Unlike any other medium, a game’s story can only roughly be transposed to words and exchanged with another person (though there are very linear, story focused games which simplify this and other gamers can occasionally use the description as a framing to mentally play a game) because it must be experienced.
This does not imply that all games do have a narrative structure. In particular, multiplayer games (such as individual games of Call of Duty) are rarely constructed to provide a framework of transition and emotional exploration. These games might have narrativity, like any other activity, the interactions are completely unscripted and undirected. The movement of a player through the various emotional states of tension and resolution may crop up, and perhaps even be highlighted by gameplay and mechanics, but the structured aspect is almost by definition absent from these games.
In conclusion, this built in game structure is why I find it hard not to disagree with claims that a game which has its narrative structure underlying a non-translatable “story” is in in fact evidence of a game lacking a story.