Virtual Reality and Nonlinear Narrative in Games

Nonlinear narrative is an important aspect of the future development of video games and developing new audiences.  The resurgence of VR technology in the context of video games further affirms this idea.  Putting the control of game narrative into the hand s of the player is an important aspect for the future of video game development.

Immersive narrative enriches the gaming experience. There is documentation that nonlinear narrative will bring newcomers to video games. Recent developments in and the popularity of VR games affirms this idea. Putting players in known environments with a known story that they can expand on, is a new direction for games. From cave paintings to radio broadcasts to VR, storytelling is a way of making sense of the present. (Gera, 2019)

Immersion can be conceived in two ways: as a technological effect or as a mental state. The two cannot be totally dissociated, since the immersivity of a technology is always a measure of its ability to induce immersion as a mental state. In VR interactivity leads to immersion because it connects the user to the environment. (Ryan)

The challenge to the gaming industry is to bring this new narrative style to players to create more encompassing stories that they can relate to and ultimately create new myths. ASIMOS, (2018). For the industry this will provide more interesting and immersive experiences for the players. VR technology, VR gaming, further puts the player in the driver’s seat, controlling the narrative.  


  Narrative is about the actions of people, about their relations to other people and to their environment, but not every sequence of actions and events constitutes a well-formed narrative. (Ryan)

Narrative game mechanics create a pathway for gamers to participate in the creation of their own stories, in game. This allows them to feel empowered as they build story from their own imagination within the construct of the game. (Dubbelman, 2016).

            The renewed influx in VR technology gives storyteller’s and developers new avenues to create. In games interactivity has an immersive effect since players are consumed by the desire to solve problems. The immersivity of computer games comes not only from the agency given to the players and from the desire to beat the game or other players. (Ryan)

Current Research

Games, video games in particular, are purchased and played by people in virtually every demographic. The popularity of games higher than ever. Studies and papers are being produced that look at the legitimacy of games, and their narrative myths can be considered as literature. (Domsch 31). Storytelling is one of those ancient crafts that has survived several millennia and will likely continue to exist as a pinnacle achievement of human civilization. Over the years, media has changed and diversified, technology has evolved, but people’s craving for good stories remains. (Melior, 2020)

New developments in VR tech and renewed interest by the public makes this a unique time in game development.  Developers can create entire worlds or place the players in an existing story for them to be in control of a make choices in the story in full control.  But even if their narrative potential does not rival that of novels or film, computer games still have much to gain by trying to realize this potential. (Ryan)

Storytelling, narrative, in entertainment can be experienced differently by different players in the same game. Their perceptions and choices can help determine the focus of the narrative and determine if the narrative becomes myth, or not. (A, 2018)

Like the stories once told as forms of entertainment during feasts, myths are the narratives we use as entertainment, and powerful entertainment. The popularity of a narrative can help point to what could be myth Two players may encounter an aspect of the narrative at different times and thus have different emotional responses to it. Not only that, but a different player may not experience this narrative at all.

The different levels of engagement with a game is what makes video games an interesting cultural artifact. Having studied playthroughs by numerous players in a game, it showed that the player experience was different for each, dependent on their emotional responses and choices. The more popular storylines with players, then became the myth of the game. (A, 2018)

There is no doubt that a 3D, 360 degree representation of an environment will enhance video games by intensifying spatial immersion. (Ryan)

Narrative can assist in game development at nearly every stage and can be found in most games, examples such as (Super Mario Bros.), puzzles (Tetris), fighting (Street Fighter), or narratives (Final Fantasy). (Domsch 31).

This concrete, representational dimension creates a connection between computer games and narrative, for if games construct worlds, and if players can perform actions that change the state of these worlds, there must be some kind of story that unfolds in the game world, thanks to the player’s activity. (Ryan)

Narrative myth is used most obviously in cutscenes, character dialogue and in game text.  These uses of narrative can be found interspersed between player directed action scenes. In exaggerated cases, for some video games, these narrative scenes dominate the game, leaving game play as a minor aspect of a game. A games writers and developers choices determine which may be more accentuated in the final product, giving players control of the narrative myth in a game.  (Domsch 31).

            The success of the VR narrative extension Vader Immortal demonstrates that even a variety of familiar mechanics can feel fresh and exciting when contained within the framework of a meaningful story, especially when that story has a genuine impact on the rest of the transmedia story world. (Hergenrader, 2020)

Writers in game design have far reaching impact on a project. Evan Skolnick, a former journalist and Marvel Comics writer transitioned into video game development in 2001. Since then, he is worked across different platforms and genres, on dozens of well-known titles, including Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2, Star Wars Battlefront, Mafia III, and The Walking Dead: A New Frontier. (Milano,2019)  Also an author, his book, Video Game Storytelling: What Every Developer Needs to Know About Narrative Techniques published by Penguin Random House, has earned the adoration of some of the most discerning critics in the video game industry. (Milano,2019) 

There are several primary methods to use narrative in a game.  Linear narrative is a story that is being told from start to finish. Linear-Branching, a mostly linear game but with few branching choices that lead to the same ending. There are also Non-Linear narrative games which are full of narrative but allow the character more control to explore the narrative story line that speaks to them. (Harry, 2016)

Some games structure the narrative very tightly and use writing and design and animation  to very clearly put forth their vision of the story , leaving little to the players imagination As an example, the game  Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is so carefully crafted that every little detail made to make it feel alive. A player’s level of involvement and attachment to a narrative in a video game, their emotional connection can extend beyond the time spent playing the game. They relive favorite moments and actions in a game in their mind. They recount these stories to their friends. (Polgar, 2018) 

All aspects of their involvement in the story become the players story to re tell. When they are emotionally engaged in the story of a video game through participation. This builds on the idea that video games are a modern version of myths.

Proposed Direction

The game Industry should skew its products towards nonlinear narrative products, which will create a stronger connection with consumers to their products. Nonlinear narrative is conducive to players forming an emotional connection and their own stories in game, leading to new narrative myths.

There are more tools than ever available to game designers when they integrate narrative storytelling into all aspects of their design.  This creates a challenge to designers- when and where to incorporate these tools to further engage the players.  How to create multidimensional video games with interactive and immersive storylines, where color design choices and subtle interactions are just as important to the storyline as dialogue or setting. And rising to meet the challenge, at the new frontier of immersive storytelling, is an entirely new breed of storyteller: the narrative designer. (Milano, 2019)

            In one of the most popular styles, The player explores a computer simulated world and uncovers a story that took place in this world, often by finding tell-tale objects such as letters and diaries, or simply by listening to voices that narrate past events when the player reaches certain locations in the game world. (Ryan)

            VR Technology lends itself to this style. By immersing the player in a virtual world, removing the presence of a computer (visually) they become one with a story that they can manipulate. (Ryan)

A game that is skewed towards storytelling and creating myth can have narrative scenes interspersed throughout a game at key points to focus this. Game design may dictate the timing of these events relating to player choice.  It can be surprising to non-gaming industry people to find out how much storytelling and myth creation exists in video games, or that it does at all. The research question becomes one looking at what these new narrative myths have to offer to the literary world. Do these stories contribute to the literary world? The research question then becomes whether video games offer the literary world something new and legitimate to work with. Video games are more than the common caricature of mindless entertainment and should carry more weight. (Somerdin, 2016)

An example of this move to nonlinear narrative is the video game, Dark Souls. The narrative is present, and the lore is given in small elements revealed through interaction with the world. How this is revealed, to what level, and in what order, is controlled through the actions and gameplay of the player. The emphasis is on world building, and the few elements of scripted cutscenes are esoteric at best. So, there is a high level of implicit gameplay elements, and a low level of directly scripted narrative. The narrative of the game is present but is hidden and revealed through gameplay rather than through a linear set of events. (A, 2018)


External Validity threat is a conclusion that is arrived at using generalizations relating to the topic or data. This study relies on user experience and each user comes to a game with a different point of view or relationship to a game. Thus, their reactions become generalizations as they relate to the game.

In VR game development, the very nature of player control may be a detriment to enjoyment. If a story truly captivates the reader, the effort needed to discover it by finding a way to progress through the game world may be more annoying than gratifying. (Ryan)

Why do big-budget AAA games tend to favor the full linear narrative game style. First, games intended for huge audiences do best when they can guarantee a good experience to the largest amount of people. Having a possibility of missing interesting plot points or going down the uninteresting storyline means that a percentage of their players are not recommending the game as highly to their friends. Second, it takes a lot of money to create content. If you are paying big-name actors to voice and mo-cap your games, you are much less inclined to want to create content for dozens of optional side-quests and alternate story paths. (Harry, 2016)

Games with more cinematics than game play, more forced narrative, draw lots of criticism. The selections that large game studios produced for E3 2016 are a prime example. The clips that game companies provided often relied on nothing but cinematics to involve viewers. But is that because the publishers do not have anything else to show? Is it because their gameplay is nothing special? Or is it because the “interactive movie” is what people really want? (Harry, 2016)

Some of the more successful VR products are VR experiences, rather than interactive games. AN experience puts a player in an existing space that they can be immersed in and explore. Without having to solve game puzzles or determine paths of success, they truly are “in” the VR space, not thinking about its story but are in the story, exploring. (Ryan)

Too much realism can be another limitation to nonlinear narrative. Games that imitate real life or mirror it run the risk of alienating players with too much repetition and “real” real life action of everyday mundane tasks. Rettberg (2008) writes: ‘Though playing the game itself a form of escapism from the demands of life in the real world, it is somewhat paradoxically a kind of escapism into a second professional life, a world of work’.  Repeating tasks to accrue resources or make progress can be rewarding, although they can become mundane. However, this kind of activity in game can lead to boredom and remove the incentive of playing a game for fun. (Kim, 2014)


Virtual Reality technology is ideal for incorporating nonlinear narrative storytelling into game development. Additionally, narrative storytelling through video games can become myth. As stated in Games as a Myth (A, 2018) it is possible for games to have a larger impact on a person, if players are given the leeway to become as involved in a story as they would like, or the game designers will allow. Their encouraged emotional connection to a story makes video games more than “Just a game”.

Virtual Reality technology lends itself to successful nonlinear narrative and the future is very bright for its potential, which remains to be seen, a potential that is only just beginning to get tapped. (Ryan)


Somerdin, M. (2016). “The Game Debate: Video Games as Innovative Storytelling … Retrieved May, from

Milano, D., Mercante, A., & Neville, R. (2019, June 07). Narrative Design and the Future of Video Game Storytelling. Retrieved May 30, 2020, from

Harry, Fernando, Dact, & DarkForestCrow. (2016, November 05). Does Linear Narrative Belong in Video Games? Retrieved May 30, 2020, from

Polgar, A. (2018). Plot, Participation, and Playing Pretend: Narrative Pleasure in Single-Player Video Games.

ASIMOS, V. (2018). Playing the Myth: Video Games as Contemporary Mythology. Implicit Religion, 21(1), 93–111.

Kim, J. (2014). Interactivity, user-generated content and video game: an ethnographic study of Animal Crossing: Wild World. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 28(3), 357–370

Bruns, A. 2008. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage.

New York: Peter Lang.

Milano, D., Mercante, A., & Neville, R. (2019, June 7). Narrative Design and the Future of Video Game Storytelling. Retrieved from

Hergenrader, T. (n.d.). Transmedia St ansmedia Storytelling, Immersiv storytelling, Immersive Storyworlds, and Vir yworlds, and Virtual Reality. Retrieved 2020.

Dubbelman, T. (2016). Narrative Game Mechanics. Interactive Storytelling Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 39–50. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-48279-8_4

Ryan, M. (n.d.). Narrative in Virtual Reality? Anatomy of a Dream Reborn.

Gera. (2019, May 02). Not quite film, or games … is interactive mixed reality the future of storytelling? Retrieved December 18, 2020, from

The Importance of Storyline in Mobile Games. (2020, May 04). Retrieved December 18, 2020, from

Till Next Month

Dylan Smith