Understanding Video Game Developer Intention Versus Outcome as it Pertains to Audience Experience with Game Narrative

Hannah Sherwood, Purdue University


This paper is a qualitative study that utilizes game players to learn more about the impact of game narrative, and to use this information to understand more of its role in the production ofgames. Initial research into the topic revealed that many competing interests drive game production, but that if narrative was “down-prioritized” in production, a game was more likely to suffer compounding issues that could result in a poor end-product and launch. This nets monetary consequences for a studio, but also severely impacts the team of developers. As the game industry already faces widespread issues with crunch, long work hours over long periods of time, any additional strain on production exacerbates existing issues. Game production documentation is often held privately as the trade secrets of a given studio, so the most feasible way to address these questions is to seek a successful game with amble published documentation and compare those resources to the experiences players themselves have with the title. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the game chosen.A sample of 18 students from Purdue University completed an initial interest survey and provided demographic information. Of those who played games regularly, 4 participants were randomly selected to move forward with an audio and video recorded gameplay session that utilized a think-aloud protocol to capture moment-to-moment experience, and then an audio recorded interview about their experiences. These methods were employed to generate transcripts of their thoughts and experiences where the researcher conducted a thematic analysis of the content. Fifteen codes were synthesized from these transcripts and found that through the context of narrative, participants expressed that gameplay, aesthetics, and critical paths in a game facilitated their experiences with narrative. Participants approached the game and spoke about narrative in a variety of ways during the game session, but all came away with similar conclusions when interviewed. This suggests that game elements that convey narrative are highly effective and opens questions into how changes to those elements can sway interpretation and if that can be controlled for. Further, studying the patterns between these elements and determining what creates the most meaning for players could open new avenues for efficient game design.




Howard, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Aesthetics|Design|Mechanics|Behavioral psychology|Communication|Psychology

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