Narration Structures

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The underlying structures of stories that games contain or can create.

Games can both contain stories and create new ones as they are being played. In both cases the gameplay structure of the games can influence these Narration Structures.


Records of game instances of Chess can be seen as Narration Structures but this may be even more apparent when the chess pieces are presented as characters. "Through the Looking-Glass"[1] by Lewis Carroll is an example of this although some artistic freedom is taken in the alternation of players moving. Another example is that Samuel Beckett includes an annotated Chess record in the novel "Murphy"[2], and "Reunion"[3] (a project by among others John Cage and Marcel Duchamp) used the structures emerging from Chess game instances to create music.

Tabletop Roleplaying Games have Narration Structures through "adventures" or "campaigns" that consist of a series of "adventures". They are rather unique as Narration Structures in that they have detailed descriptions of interesting locations, important characters, and possible events but typically not the player characters since these are to be created by players for each game instance. Examples of adventures include "The Keep on the Borderlands", "Rahasia", and "Ravenloft" for Dungeons & Dragons and "The Rise of R'lyeh" for Call of Cthulhu, and examples of campaign include "Queen of the Spiders"[4] for Dungeons & Dragons, "Masks of Nyarlathotep" for Call of Cthulhu and "The Enemy Within campaign"[5] for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Live Action Roleplaying Games such as 1942 – Noen å stole på, Prosopopeia, and Mind's Eye Theatre can have planned events but rely heavily on players providing additional input and substance to the narration.

Both Adventure Games such as the Myst, King's Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, and The Secret of Monkey Island series, and Computer-based Roleplaying Games such as the Dragon Age, Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and Final Fantasy series have detailed pre-planned narratives. In contrast Massively Multiplayer Online Games such as MUD2 and World of Warcraft have many Narration Structures to tell players through quests but players can to certain extent create their own narratives in these games as well.

Using the pattern

Narration Structures in games can both be created or told as gameplay evolves. Construction, Emergent Gameplay, Player-Constructed Worlds, and Player-Generated Narratives, Speedruns, and Storytelling are all patterns to support the former while the use of Predetermined Story Structures is the primary way in which narratives are revealed through the gameplay. Dedicated Game Facilitators can be used to not only reveal or present Predetermined Story Structures as appropriate, they can be used to choose between different ones depending on context. In addition, they can create new Narration Structures as needed if they have the right abilities; Game Masters naturally do but computer-based ones need algorithms to create new structures. Ultra-Powerful Events can enforce Narration Structures independent of how they are told, while the structures inherent in goals like Deliver, Evade, Gain Ownership, Overcome, Rescue, and Traverse can help provide Narration Structures.

Having game elements that can carry the Narration Structures is a requirement for the pattern. Most essential is the presence of Characters that can have goals and Agents that can perform actions in accordance to these; Player Characters and Algorithmic Agents can create structures during gameplay, so together with Dedicated Game Facilitators the process can become a joint one but a signification design choice for using Narration Structures is to decide if players should have such Creative Control. When players are given such control, it is quite common to also have Player-Created Characters. The possibility of Player-Planned Development can heavily affect Narration Structures if permitted, but when the Narration Structures are set before gameplay it can work against having Player-Planned Development as a possibility. Linked to this is the question if Characters should have Open Destinies since this may be most relevant to consider for Player Characters. MacGuffins can be the source of these goals while Alien Space Bats can explain settings different from the real world. Enemies are also very common since they can provide resistance to players and can easily be created through introducing Incompatible Goals between Agents, while Game Items, Diegetically Outstanding Features, and Non-Player Characters can bring life to narratives by adding detail. Scenes can be used to separate different parts of gameplay and Narration Structures from each other in a game while Leaps of Faith situations can create uncertainty on how the narration will progress. Narration Structures that are to introduce new elements as gameplay and narration progresses need some type of Game Element Insertion.

Some events may be desirable for Narration Structures regardless if they are pre-planned or ones that game designers wish will occur from circumstances regarding gameplay because they will make the narratives memorable. Examples of such events include Betrayal, Character Defining Actions, Character Development, Internal Rivalry, and Social Dilemmas and designers may consider both designing these and making it more likely that situations in which they can occur will happen. More generally, the use of Predefined Goals can tie player goals into the Narration Structures both by being triggered by specific events in the narration as well as having as a goal a game state than is suitable for a next intended narrative event.

Games that support Pottering at least partly work against Narration Structures since the Pottering activity specifically does not result in noteworthy events.

Diegetic Aspects

Thematic Consistency is often a requirement for Narration Structures to be intelligible or enjoyable for people.

Interface Aspects

Narration Structures is not an Interface Pattern but a game's choice of Focus Loci can affect which types of Narration Structures can work, e.g. Detective Structures do not work with God Views.

The use of Feigned Die Rolls allow Game Masters to ignore Randomness in favor of developing a narration in accordance with their own wishes.

Narrative Aspects

Narration Structures is a Narration Pattern. Using Non-Consistent Narration is an option for Narration Structures which mainly concerns its structural aspects, and Detective Structures and Melodramatic Structures are two different forms of Narration Structures based on how players get information. In most cases, Narration Structures are designed to have Higher-Level Closures as Gameplay Progresses. The actual structure of a narration is likely to influence or create Goal Hierarchies in a game, meaning that the two patterns can instantiate each other depending on which part of a game design is initiated first (and Factions together with Goal Hierarchies are especially likely to create or affect Narration Structures).


Narration Structures of any type in a game offers a chance for players' to have Narrative Engrossment and often contain both Hovering Closures and Closure Points, the latter which in turn can be Goal Indicators. The context provided by Narration Structures can provide Game State Overviews and cause Tension but so can also just wanting to know what will happen next or how the narrative will end. However, Narration Structures can also work against Tension if the Narration Structures contains no Tension or if players that want to interact with a game system is hindered from this due to the narration.

Narration Structures can work as a supporting structure for Complex Gameplay, helping players understand the evolving gameplay not only from a game system perspective but a narrative one as well. One such example is using the narration to explain why individual players have may Secret Goals (note that this pattern relates to gameplay goals not narrative goals).


Can Instantiate

Closure Points, Goal Indicators, Game State Overviews, Hovering Closures, Narrative Engrossment, Secret Goals, Tension

Can Modulate

Complex Gameplay

Deliver, Evade, Gain Ownership, Overcome, Rescue, and Traverse

Can Be Instantiated By

Agents, Algorithmic Agents, Alien Space Bats, Character Defining Actions, Characters, Collections, Construction, Deliver, Emergent Gameplay, Enemies, Evade, Game Items, Goal Hierarchies, Gain Ownership, MacGuffins, Non-Player Characters, Overcome, Player Characters, Player-Constructed Worlds, Player-Generated Narratives, Predetermined Story Structures, Rescue, Scenes, Speedruns, Storytelling, Traverse, Ultra-Powerful Events

Factions together with Goal Hierarchies

Can Be Modulated By

Betrayal, Character Development, Creative Control, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Detective Structures, Diegetically Outstanding Features, Feigned Die Rolls, Focus Loci, Game Element Insertion, Game Masters, Goal Hierarchies, Higher-Level Closures as Gameplay Progresses, Inaccessible Areas, Incompatible Goals, Internal Rivalry, Leaps of Faith, Melodramatic Structures, Non-Consistent Narration, Open Destiny, Player-Created Characters, Player-Planned Development, Predefined Goals, Social Dilemmas, Thematic Consistency

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Player-Planned Development, Pottering, Tension


An revised version of the pattern Narrative Structures that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[6]. Large aspects of it has been refactored to be part of Predetermined Story Structures.


  1. Entry for "Through the Looking-Glass" on Wikipedia.
  2. Entry for the novel "Murphy" on Wikipedia.
  3. Information about the original and digital form of "Reunion" of the web site
  4. Entry for "Queen of the Spiders" on Wikipedia.
  5. Entry for "The Enemy Within campaign" on Wikipedia.
  6. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.