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Commentaries on this Media!

Narrative forms in The Game

by Jimmy Gorham

As a narrative driven by participation in a complicated experience, The Game represents a unique opportunity to use film as a tool to understand game narrative forms.  As argued by Gonzalo Frasca, when a viewer is added to the traditional dual relationship between player and game, narrative is formed for the new arrival.  In this way The Game offers the ability to analyze potential game narrative structures when the assumption is made that Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is participating in an elaborate game with significant strategic options.  This particular clip of home movie memories suggests both an evocative space and an embedded narrative.


The clip of home movie memories suggests that the narrative experience told to Nicholas Van Orton in The Game is an evocative space, one of four forms of environmental storytelling outlined by Henry Jenkins.  According to Mr. Jenkins, evocative spaces rely on preexisting memories and the imagination of the participant to help augment the narrative space of a game.  For Van Orton, the memories outlined in this clip represent several psychological motivations for his participation within the game.  The memory of his birthday party revolves around his perception of family, something CRS takes advantage of when designing a game specifically for Mr. Van Orton.  Working with Nicholas' brother, CRS is able to create an evocative game space by allowing Nicholas' own memories to enhance his experience, specifically the memories surrounding his family, his father, and his father's suicide.


The second of Henry Jenkins' four forms represented in the Game is embedded narrative. By relying directly on the memories of Nicholas Van Orton, the game designers at CRS are able to craft a space specifically formatted to engage the intellectual participation of the player.  Embedded narratives rely as much on "the viewer's mental construction" of events as on the events themselves, and this clip provides the underpinning for this narrative device.  By understanding the personal memories of Nicholas Van Orton, CRS is able to construct a game designed to trigger specific intellectual processes within the mind of the player, and in the case of Nicholas Van Orton predict the players response to varied strategic choices.  In this way CRS is able to create both an evocative space and an embedded narrative for its player, which in this case is one individual.  By analyzing his participation within this carefully constructed game, we as viewers are able to appreciate two distinct forms of game narrative structure. 

Authenticity and Memory in The Game

by Talia Squires

          This is one of the home movie/flashback sequences from The Game. Although they are made to look like old home movies, they are positioned within the film like the protagonist, Nicholas Van Orton’s, flashbacks. He is shown staring into space before they happen and suddenly “waking up” out of these memories. The tension between these segments as subjective memory and objective representation of Nicholas Van Orton’s childhood immediately brings into question the trustworthiness of any filmic representation and of memory.

        They look like old Super 8 home movies, scratchy and jumpy, the camera surprises its subjects, people interact with the camera, and there is no clear narrative to these segments. Yet these memories are also clearly edited, repeatedly returning to the image of a young Nicholas Van Orton and his father. The use of the home movie effect carries the aesthetic of authenticity, while the editing shows that someone is organizing these images in an attempt to create some kind of narrative. The viewer recognizes that these home movies are in the same place that Nicholas Van Orton’s flashbacks belong, leading us to believe that he is the one editing these sequences.

            We want to trust photographic evidence that carries these signs of authenticity, the flickering of the film makes it seem like the images cannot have been altered, even if they have been rearranged. They are somehow more real than the more realistic images of the rest of the film. But as Bolter and Grusin point out in their discussion of digital photography, this distinction between unaltered photographic images and digitally altered ones is largely artificial. Both methods are still highly mediated experiences, just as Nicholas Van Orton’s subconscious mediates our experience of his childhood, and CRS mediates Nicholas Van Orton’s experiences.

            By juxtaposing these indicators of “authenticity” with the character’s own confusion about the authenticity of his experiences, the film is questioning not just the state of the present, but also Nicholas Van Orton’s interpretation of his own past. This becomes especially important as Nicholas Van Orton’s experience in the film’s present causes him to reevaluate his interpretations of the past. His relationship to his brother, ex-wife, her new husband, and his own father are changed by his experience in the game.  We in turn, as the viewers, are invited to question the authenticity of the image on the screen and our own experiences. By investigating the trustworthiness of memory, much like Blade Runner, it forces us to question the very nature of our own realities. 

The Game home movie memories

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The visual vernacular of super-8 home movies is once again invoked to signify "memory" in a Hollywood feature film

from The Game (1997)
Creator: David Fincher
Posted by Critical Commons Manager