Authored by: Dominic Arsenault

The Routledge Companion to Video Game Studies

Print publication date:  December  2013
Online publication date:  January  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415533324
eBook ISBN: 9780203114261
Adobe ISBN: 9781136290510


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While the study of storytelling techniques in the Western world dates back to Aristotle’s Poetics, the term “narratology” itself appeared in the 1960s, as an important part of French structuralism. This movement was a paradigm shift more than a single and precise theory, and centered on the belief that the structuring elements and relationships that bind semantic units together form a superstructure of meaning, which must be studied if we are to really understand the events and objects that are spawned through this structure. Given how games remain a process that unfolds from a core structure of rules, structuralism made the connection between game and narrative all the more visible. In the 1966 issue of Communications—which Marie-Laure Ryan refers to as the “birthday of narratology” (Ryan, 2006, p. 3)—Roland Barthes made a quite explicit statement in this regard:

[A] great many narratives set up two opponents at odds with each other over the possession of a stake … This “dual” is all the more interesting because it points out the affinity between narrative and the structure of certain (quite modern) games in which two equal opponents set out to conquer an object placed in circulation by a referee. This scheme recalls the actantial matrix proposed by Greimas, an analogy that is not surprising if one pauses to realize that play, considered as a language, possesses the same symbolic structure as that found in language and narrative.

(Barthes, [1966] 1975, p. 259)

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