Exploring narrative complexity in Outer Wilds: A textual analysis on how user agency and a time-loop influence the narrative complexity
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The aim of this research is to investigate how a time-loop and the concept of user agency influence the narrative complexity in Outer Wilds. Countless of stories have been told and experienced through different forms of media. While many films had a classical Aristotelian framework, newer films have moved away from this framework and included nonlinearity like for example a time-loop. Games seem to add another complex layer to this, by allowing players certain freedom, letting them explore, retrace steps, or perform unexpected actions, which complexified the dramatic structure of a narrative. In addition players can disrupt linear time by dying, saving, reloading and taking different paths. Outer Wilds adds another complex layer, by forcing the players into a time-loop, which in combination with the player’s agency can influence the narrative complexity, hence the aim of this research. To get a better understanding of this I have focused on narrative complexity by looking at Warren Buckland among other people and at the difference between story (fabula) and plot (syuzhet). The framework of Agency Play by Fox Harrel and Jichen Zhu is used to get a better understanding of user agency. While a framework of time in games was first attempted by Jesper Juul, Michael Hitchens adapted this framework and included nonlinearity in it. The game will be analysed according to textual analysis as suggested by Clara Fernández-Vara. Both an ‘object’ and ‘process’ approach has been used to analyse this game, to show where the complexity lies in both the system (object) and the player’s experience (process). Results of the analysis seems to indicate that a part of the complexity lies in the interrelationship between the systems time-loop and the player’s freedom to navigate the game. In addition a high degree of local agency and a low degree of global agency is determined and how this impacts the narrative. Finally the notion of game progress time in Outer Wilds seemed faulty on a certain level, thus an attempt was made to introduce a new term, called player progress time. Not only to unveil the progress made correctly but also to show the complexity of the narrative.