This one seemed to have gotten posted earlier than usual, which is no big deal but I can't double-up on posts without screwing up my larger schedule for the coming months.
This week's intended post is a theory jangle that I put together after reading through a few interesting grad. student papers. I don't know how these things get online, but they are a good bit more useful than most of the other academics publishing about video games. I understand that academic journals are the hip thing to do for someone in that profession, but nobody can read the damn things online because they want you to either subscribe or pay for the individual article. Normally throwing a writer a few bucks is no problem to me, but the average price I've seen so far for these is thirty dollars. I might as well buy a real book at that cost. It's hard to take someone seriously when they are that apathetic to people actually reading their work.
It mostly connects a few unrelated concepts floating around such as video game plots where you're not the main character and focusing on emergent details. The largest statement I made is one that comes from the first paper I cite: video games do not have a narrative arc because of the player. That's actually a much larger statement than the paper really goes into. If there's no narrative arc, there's no dramatic pacing. If there's no dramatic pacing, then by the same argument there's no challenge pacing either. Players are just bopping around, taking breaks, doing whatever they want even in the most linear of games.
There is a fairly extensive branch of thinking about games involving charting the pace of challenge that runs on the same presumptive problem. The challenge graphs and pacing arcs that were all the rage last year at Gamasutra still rely on the notion that the player is going through the game perfectly in a linear fashion.
Or put another way, they keep acting like the player sits and does the entire game in a single sitting.