Week Six

How does Jenkins describe The Sims as utilizing emergent narrative to build story for the player? Define emergent narrative and explain how it can be used within the wider context of special storytelling before considering how it could be used in tangent with embedded narrative.

Jenkins describes emergent narratives as not “pre-structured or pre-programmed” and “taking shape through the game play”. (Jenkins, n.d.).

The Multiverse Narrative website describes emergent narrative by saying: “The story is not designed by developers. It is constructed by the player, through his (inter)actions and explorations, while often influenced by any number of (game-specific) random factors that each game features”. (Grave, 2015)

I find both these definitions very much describe The Sims, which uses a sandbox or ‘dollhouse’ world as the backdrop for players to create their own stories in. I think this opens a game up to a wide audience considering it allows the game to be played in so many ways. Some players of The Sims may work to achieve every goal for their sim and just focus on a ‘rags to riches’ type narrative, some players of The Sims may purposely fail for the sake of story and drama; like letting a teenager not do their homework, or having an affair that gets discovered. Some players of The Sims create 8 sims and put them in a Big Brother style house and do experiments on them while giving them weekly challenges; ‘evicting’ (drowning) the weakest link. At least that’s how I play.

Games with an emergent narrative can work really well with an embedded narrative because it gives the player the option of engaging with a pre-written story if they choose, and at their own leisure. Jenkins discusses embedded narrative by saying “The game designer [develops] two kinds of narratives – one relatively unstructured and controlled by the player as they explore the game space and unlock its secrets; the other pre-structured but embedded within the mise-en-scene awaiting discovery”. (Jenkins, n.d.).

Particularly in The Sims 2 there are hints of an embedded narrative, noticeable in the descriptions of families and objects in the world. For example; part of the description for the Goth family in the town Pleasantview states: “Can Mortimer bounce back after the disappearance of his wife Bella?” However, when you go to the town Strangetown there is a Bella Goth townie living alone there. Maxis has confirmed that this is the same Bella Goth from Pleasantview, but unlike other premade sims and the rest of the Goth family, she has no memories and is different in appearance. (Fandom Wiki, 2019). Players may look Strangetown for clues on the mystery; it’s a town knowing for alien activity; housing alien residents and sporting a crashed UFO site. It seems that the game is suggesting Bella was potentially abducted by aliens and lost her memories in the process. However, this mystery is left vague and unanswered by Maxis, most likely to allow players to draw their own conclusions and maintain control over stories.

References:

Fandom Wiki. (2019). Bella Goth (Strangetown). Retrieved from: https://sims.fandom.com/wiki/Bella_Goth_(Strangetown)

Fandom Wiki. (2019). Goth Family. Retrieved from:
https://sims.fandom.com/wiki/Goth_family

Grave, G. (May 7, 2015). Emergent narratives in games. Retrieved from:
https://multiverse-narratives.com/2015/05/07/emergent-narratives-in-games/

Jenkins, H. (n.d.) Game Design as Narrative Architecture. Retrieved from: http://web.mit.edu/~21fms/People/henry3/games&narrative.html

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