Shining Force: Legacy of the Great Intention is one of the most beloved titles of RPG fans the world over. The large roster of bright and colorful characters, the vast setting, and the numerous approaches to play one could take triggered the imagination of SEGA fans the world over, but what caught players’ attention the most – where the game really shines – is in its story.
The game opens with the protagonist, Max, training under Lord Varios, a centaur and the head of the Guardiana Knights. Max is summoned to the castle and is given a mission: to take a small team of warriors, wizards, archers, and priests to the nearby ruins where the armies of Runefaust – a rival kingdom – had recently been spotted. I won’t summarize the game’s full story as others have done so elsewhere (Swalchy 2012), but I will comment briefly on the game’s approach to storytelling.
Two weeks ago I successfully defended my dissertation, thus earning a Ph.D. During my defense, I made the argument that game mechanics can serve as the foundation for the construction of a narrative. I am by no means the first one to make this claim – indeed, in their video titled Game Mechanics as Narrative, Daniel Floyd of Extra Credits makes a similar argument. In my dissertation, I provided additional examples and took the concept a step further by combining it with other play elements. It’s all very interesting and you can read about it in my book once it’s published. What’s important, however, is that one of the committee members objected to the idea of mechanics as narrative. He said “I think there’s a difference between stuff happening and a narrative.” I explained that my argument was not that mechanics and play are a narrative in the traditional sense of the word, but that mechanics and play create a space in which narrative emerges. Another committee member suggested sports games and chess commentary as examples, and we moved forward with the defense.
However, I have since continued to consider the possibility of “stuff happening” being “a narrative”, and the more I think about it, the more I come to accept the idea that everything is narrative.
In one of the classic works of the study of narrative, “Fictional Truth”, Michael Riffaterre makes the argument that fiction is, in fact, truth. This is not to say that Riffaterre argues that the events which transpire in any given work of fiction are as factual as recorded history, although at times this sentiment is certainly present, but he does make the argument that because fiction is grounded on linguistic forms, repetitive structure, mimetic considerations, representations of veracity, and what he calls “the suppression of verisimilitude and the suppression of the component of time”, it can be argued that narrative is, in fact, truth.
I recently wrote a book review of Marie-Lynn Ryan’s “Narrative Across Media” – a solid book that explains how narrative applies to various disciplines. One of its units – Music and Narrative – had essays explaining this very same concept: how narrative exists and is manifested through music. The essays in these chapters state that narrative is present in all aspects of music, including the instrumental arrangements, and that classical pieces tell stories. Authors even pushed the notion that these musical arrangements not only contained a narrative, but also told stories. I’d like to make some remarks (that will probably be considered uneducated hogwash because they are published on a blog, but would be considered a worthwhile academic argument if elaborated on and published on print) on the topic.