Story as a function of gameplay in First Person Shooters and an analysis of FPS diegetic content 1998-2007

  • Daniel Mcguire Pinchbeck

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The relationship between game content and gameplay remains underexplored. High level debate about the relative narrativity of games remains common, but there is a gap in the understanding about the particularities of how diegetic objects relates to the business of managing player experience and behaviour at the heart of gameplay.

The first half of this thesis proposes a new model for understanding gameplay as a network of affordance relationships which define supported actions. The theoretical focus upon supported actions rather than object characteristics enables a better understanding of the framework of gameplay created by a complex system of interrelated objects. In particular, it illustrates how the essential ludic structure of first-person games can be described in very simple terms, thus defining a discontinuity between complexity of experience and simplicity of structure. It is proposed that story is a primary means of managing this discontinuity to provide an immersive and seamless experience.

Traditional models of narrative and interactive narrative are discussed to illustrate the problems of attempting to apply them directly to gameplay, and this is summarised in a discussion of the narratology/ludology debate. Instead, a new conceptualisation of narrative, drawn from the use of narrative as a model and metaphor in psychology, and based on schema theory is offered. It is argued that this new, game-specific conceptualisation - of a network of protonarrative units - maps efficiently and effectively onto the affordance model of gameplay and thus resolves the historical problem.

In the second half of the thesis, evidence is offered to support the argument that not only can story be understood as a form of affordance, but that by examining commercial FPS titles, it is clear that story is used to manipulate player behaviour - that it serves a distinct gameplay function. This is achieved by analysing core elements of story: worlds and their populations; the avatar as a key device in managing the player/system relationship; and plot as the predetermined changes to object relationships over the course of a game.

It is concluded that when gameplay is understood as a network of affordances, and story as a network of proto narrative units, and when the genre is analysed with this model in mind, not only is an understanding of the gameplay function of story evident, but this analysis yields a deeper level of understanding about the nature of FPS games and gameplay than has previously been available.
Date of Award2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorBrett Stevens (Supervisor), Darren Van Laar (Supervisor) & Anthony Kalus (Supervisor)

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