- Narrative Constitution for Instructional Game DesignA Semiotic-Cognitive Model of Narrative
Serious and learning game design is a highly interdisciplinary challenge—both practically and from a conceptual perspective. How can the player's learning be supported by narrative in instructional game design?1 To be more precise, how could the narrative constitution be modeled so that an instructional game designer could benefit from the insights of distinct narrative theories, from classical narratology to cognitive narratology and others? The main challenge is that the concept of narrative used in distinct disciplines of narrative studies is often defined in differing ways. Currently, the research discussion considering narrative utilization as a learning support in game design tends to be quite haphazard and inconsistent.
In this article, I propose a model of narrative constitution through which two separate narrative theory lines from narrative studies could be put into perspective to construct a working framework for the instructional [End Page 53] game narrative designer. I call the model the semiotic-cognitive model of narrative. The model is proposed as a powerful aid for practical instructional game design, because it allows us to separate and point out the objects of narrative design, which together with game rules constitute the context of game narrative. The meanings of game narrative constructed by the player during game playing must largely be designed indirectly, as a player's ponderings and meaning negotiations have to be forecast by the game designer. In narrative learning games, however, those ponderings and meaning negotiations can be central for what may be learned during game playing. Besides, the model could help the game designer manage multiple cognitive prerequisites and advantages that the narrative mode entails for its author and the recipient. Thereby, utilizing the model, it could be confirmed that the learning objective is deeply and appropriately incorporated in the game design.
After summarizing the applied ideas from the semiotic and cognitive approaches to narrative, I will scrutinize how the coherence between the two approaches is constructed in the form of a composite model of narrative constitution. I close with a brief and tentative discussion of how the model could serve as a conceptual tool in the encounters of theory and practice in instructional game narrative design.
Narrative as a Semiotic-Cognitive Phenomenon
Wolf Schmid (2003) defines narrative as a text representing a change (or changes) of state(s), where "a state" means "a set of properties which refer to an agent or to the setting at a particular point in time" (19). Further, he says, narrative denotes a story and implies or explicitly represents a narrator behind it. "The story" includes the changes of state as well as the static elements, that is, "the states or situations themselves, the settings and the agents or patients within them" (21). According to Seymour Chatman, the "transposability of the story is the strongest reason for arguing that narratives are indeed structures independent of any medium" (1978/1986: 20). Marie-Laure Ryan (2004, 2005a, 2005b) points out that if narrative is considered to be a media-independent phenomenon, then it has to be recognized as a cognitive construction. According to Ryan (2005a), this response to narrative stimuli is a [End Page 54] mental image that represents the world, where agents (characters) and objects exist and where at least partially unexpected changes of state emerge. These can be accidents and/or actions and occur in both physical and mental stages.
But if we now have a picture of requisite story components, what kind of semiotic structures cause the narrative meaning construction? John Pier (2003) elaborates, drawing on Claude Bremond: "The narrative (récit), without which there cannot be a 'narrative message,' tells (raconté) a story (histoire) that possesses a structure 'independent of the techniques by which it is taken over.' . . . 'The raconté has its own signifiers, its racontants: these are not words, images or gestures, but the events, situations and behaviors signified by these words, these images, these gestures'" (78). Pier (2003) further explains that the Saussurean components of a linguistic sign, signified and signifier, cannot be equated to the story content and its telling (raconté), respectively. This is because, although narration utilizes...