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Henry Jenkin’s piece Game Design as Narrative Architecture offered refreshing look at the narrative demands and potential of video games. However, my biggest critique of his essay is that he presumes some sort of universal player as audience. From personal experience, video games (implying mainstream games such as Halo, Star Craft, and Call of Duty) attract gamers from a wide variety of background with a wide variety of narrative expectations. Much of the time, games can be better thought of as sports—there’s no “narrative” behind basketball except the thrill of competition, for example. Nor is there narrative in the puzzle solving of solitaire. Video games, I feel, can enable this type of game as well—although in more sophisticated or visual means.

Broadly imagined, I could see four types of gamers, based on why they play.

1. Games as challenge

These gamers are least addressed by Jenkin’s essay: These are the people who play for sport and competition. I’d imagine they can be found online and play for the thrill of beating other people, and narrative isn’t a reward in and of itself, but rather for its ability to supplement the competition (i.e. in a game like COD, I not only shot you, but blew you up with an absurdly large missile). This is perhaps imagined as people who thrive on Jenkin’s ideas of micronarrative events.

2. Games as environment

Like type 1 gamers, these aren’t terribly interested with narrative so much as the constructed world. They want to explore all the corners, look in every jar, or talk to every NPC. They might also want to deliberately press the boundaries of the constructed world, to see how far they can stretch the reality (for example, rampaging in Grand Theft Auto). Jenkin’s discussion on spatial story telling would be somewhat applicable to these players, so far as these “virtual playspaces have helped to compensate for the declining place of the traditional backyard.” But it differs in that, like, exploring one’s backyard, they aren’t necessarily looking for a narrative resolution as in an epic story, but simply the process of exploration in and of itself.

3. Games as sandbox

These gamers are similar as type 2 in that they aren’t terribly interested in the prescribed narrative, but they differ in that rather than simply with the environment, they are willing to engage the world to create their own narratives—this can range from facilliatated environments like the Sims, or building massive armies for fun in Age of Empires. This can best be thought as the emergent narratives Jenkin introduces at the end.

4. Games as narrative

This is the player Jenkins describes throughout the piece—one who plays for the story, and whose enjoyment is derived from successful character development, environment building, etc.

In short, Jenkins, for the most part, assumes gamer falls in the fourth and third categories—that their primary interests are to explore and experience the world of the game. However, I feel this overlooks various other reasons why people play and the ways people engage game space. Whether they’re being deliberately absurd, trolling other players, or simply racking up a high score, these are other modes that are just as legitimate as the traditionally perceived narrative arc/architecture.