Lab 2 (Narrative Architecture)

Portal and Spatial Storytelling

In “Game Design as Narrative Architecture,” Henry Jenkins argues that many games enable “players to move through narratively compelling spaces.” Jenkins goes on to suggest that “before we can talk about game narratives…we need to talk about game spaces.”

Jenkins details several ways environmental storytelling can infuse narrative into a physical—or virtual—space:

  • By evoking pre-existing narrative associations (through intertextuality and transmedia storytelling)
  • By providing a staging ground where narrative events are enacted (through spatial stories and micronarratives)
  • By embedding narrative information in the mise-en-scene (lighting, sound, set design, costuming, etc.)
  • By providing resources for emergent narratives (enabling spatial interactions that foster poetic, symbolic, and narrative potential)

One final point worth keeping in mind…Jenkins mentions the difference between plot and story. Plot refers to events we see and hear directly, in the order that we encounter them. Story is the actual chronology of events, regardless of the order we learn of them, and this chronology includes both those events presented directly on the screen and the events we can only infer.

Lab Procedure
  1. Take turns playing Portal in groups of three. When you’re the observer, take notes about the various of environmental storytelling at work.
  2. Toss around ideas with your group about the way Portal employs spatial storytelling, taking care to address all four of Jenkin’s categories.
  3. Outside of class, write up your lab report (400-500 words) in a Google Doc. In your report consider the some of the following questions as starting points for your analysis:
    1. What forms of spatial storytelling does Portal rely on? Which type of spatial storytelling in Portal interests you most, and why? Be sure to provide specific examples from the game.
    2. Why is the distinction between story and plot important with Portal? And what does it have to do with narrative architecture?
    3. Are there ways that the mechanics and other formal elements of Portal work against the spatial storytelling of the game?
    4. What other insights or revelations occurred to you by looking at Portal through the lens of spatial storytelling?

Append legible photos of your notes to the Google Doc. When you’re finished, share the document with and be sure to give me commenting privileges.