3rd International Conference

Digital Culture & AudioVisual Challenges

Interdisciplinary Creativity in Arts and Technology

Online, May 28-29, 2021

Metalepsis in Digital Games: Embedded Narratives and their Effects on Dimensionality in Gameworld
Date and Time: 28/05/2021 (15:45-17:50)
Angelos Papavlasopoulos, Agnes Papadopoulou, Andreas Floros, Andreas Giannakoulopoulos

This paper examines how metalepsis (Genette, 1972, p. 234) achieves the formation of alternative dimensional levels via embedded narratives in digital games. By using previous taxonomic references on horizontal, vertical and modal embedding narratives (Wei, 2010, p. 248) we are seeking to clarify the factors that are associated with dimensionality in gameworlds. Embedded narratives are narratives within narratives that may affect the narrative level in video games as traversing into another dimension, where the player’s agency is translocated to other in-game components, that may exist on another plane of the gameworld. This experiential traverse from fiction towards virtual (Aarseth, 2007, p. 36) questions the “spatiotemporal circumscribed place” (Laas, 2014, p. 34) of embedded narratives and their relation with the first encountered gameworld.


In narrative theory, embedding describes “a story within a story” in which in-game components are telling a story in the same or different level of narration as the first encountered game. Especially in game design there is a problematic way to define embedded narratives commonly described as a way to unravel a background story within the game. Through the use of various embedded narrative forms (horizontal, vertical, modal) games create alternate dimensions within the gameworlds. Metalepsis is interweaved as a transgressive shift of narrative levels happening during embedded narratives (Backe, 2018, p. 6) and when such sorts of narratives occur the reduction into higher levels of narration creates alternate dimensions (Schlarb, 2019, p. 199). The narrative levels and the notion of dimensionality are affected by the modification of operational rules, the translocation of the game space, the perceptual distortion of time, the identification of in-game components, the alternation of manipulation of controls, the transference of player’s agency over the game and finally the shift of aesthetics. The multiple involved factors distinguish embedded narratives from the first encountered game world and create a gap between the first encountered game world and the world of the embedded narrative affecting the dimensional perception of players. Game space creates a link between the narrative and the game world underlying that narration actually takes place in a certain dimension.


With the use of previous groundwork on the field of embedded narratives, the main element of focus of this paper is to prioritize the factors that affect the presence of dimensionality of these narratives set through exemplification in digital games. We will present a classification of embedded narratives according to their narrative level and their relation with dimensionality by using the narratological term of metalepsis.


To support our proposal we will focus on digital games with extensive use of storytelling as their main element specifying the game genre. In order to provide an embedded narrative classification, we will analyze the weight of factors as rules, space, time, in-game components, agency controls and aesthetics and their demiurgic capabilities on altering the dimensionality of game worlds.

The current work presents what separates the notion of dimensionality in relation with the narrative levels of embedded narratives in gameworlds through the use of the narratological term of metalepsis. In order to achieve this purpose, we will define the structural factors that affect dimensionality as well as the ones that create the reduction of narrative levels in embedded narratives and classify them according to their potential influence. With the use of a selection of embedded narratives in digital games we will exemplify the manner that these structural factors manage to create an alternate dimension within gameworlds.


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