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lvl1: cyberdrama


Janet Murray originated the term cyberdrama to describe the interface between active participation and passive reading that is a product of storytelling in computer media, and this section focuses on the relationships (and tensions) between gameplay and story.

The first article in this section, Murray’s “From Game-Story to Cyberdrama,” explores the experience of story in games and the relationship of story to gameplay. She argues that the high level of ambiguity and solipsistic qualities of postmodern world make life more and more like a game, and computers are a natural environment to explore this because of they allow for constant flux, conflict, and variation. Her article anchors one end of the narrative-versus-mechanics debate that has gripped studies of computer games, and Murray notes that, for her, “story comes first” (3). An accompanying response from Aarseth (author of Cybertext), counters that the sequential nature of narrative makes it a poor lens through which to understand games, and terms like cyberdrama are euphemisms that will fall by the wayside as games achieve their own status as texts alongside traditional media such as novels (10).

Similarly, Ken Perlin’s entry, “Can There Be a Form between a Game and a Story?,” places traditional narratives and interactive games in a dialectic relationship, arguing that characters become less believable as they lose agency to player choice (15). His argument is similar to Manovich’s notion of open and closed interactivity; the more closed the interactivity, the more likely that the narrative and characters will be seen as separate from the player (40). Because of this continuum, it may be difficult to achieve high levels of interactivity and a rich story. In response, Michael Mateas argues that the tension between player agency and narrative exists only because we’re not quite sure how to accomplish the balance yet. Mateas attempts to bridge this gap by developing a neo-Aristotelian theory of dramatic interactivity allows for a perception of player agency and a feeling of “dramatic necessity” (27).