Portfolio > Academic Essays

Essay 1: Absurdism in Narrative Game Design

Independent Research Paper


Document Name: Absurdism in Narrative Game Design

Date Started: 10/2007

Intended Audience: Academic

Purpose/Context: Academic Journal/Potential Thesis Proposal

My Comments:

I started researching this paper topic mainly out of personal curiosity after attending a talk by Bernie Dekoven late last year on the subject of improvisational games & theatre. After the talk, I found myself remembering the drama and improvisational theater classes I had taken in a high school theater camp (a millennia ago); and how the collaborative culture they encouraged had segued so neatly (for me at least) into tabletop role-playing games in college. Tabletop role-playing offered the same collaboration, and mutability of character that I loved in improv, with enough stability of form that longer narratives could be developed. While not all tabletop role-players delve particularly deeply into those shared theatrical roots, their presence in and affect on role-playing was always particularly evident to me. But while the rules of tabletop role-playing have defined the structure of a wide swath of games, few of those games seem to really embrace the performative and collaborative aspects of tabletop role-playing games.

I went on to consider why (if games have so much more in common with plays than with novels), so little conscious attention was payed to the evolution of theatrical form. While modernist drama is beginning to receive some recognition (Facade is essentially a re-telling of 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'), very little has been done with absurdist drama (outside of Josephine Anstey's work). So I wondered, what *would* a game of 'Waiting for Godot' (or even 'Lost Highway', once we're in the realm of adpaptation) look like? How could a lack of goals or obvious narrative coherency produce an experience which does not deny the player agency?

At this stage of development, I have an abstract and a preliminary reading list, available here.