So far on the Journey (to the West)

Posted on 19/11/2010


So far on my investigation into narrative, I have covered most of the evolution and some of the academic principles of what makes up a narrative.  I was very intrigued to think about how narrative develops over time and its classification as either fables, legends myth etc…  and the differing elements of realism and symbolism that come into play.  Many classic stories have been adapted and re-written in modern media, such as the works of Shakespeare, traditional mythology and fairy tales.  For instance, I am currently nearing the end of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (PS3), a great game in my opinion, and although criticised for being linear in it’s platforming gameplay, it was the story that drew me to it.  In a review for The Telegraph, writer Tom Hoggins comments

“The upshot of all this is that Enslaved’s story – and storytelling – is really rather good. Inspired by the Chinese classical novel Journey to the West, Enslaved’s tale is co-written by Ninja Theory’s creative director Tameem Antionades and novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later). With the magnificent setting providing the stage, Enslaved is a witty, engaging character piece built around Monkey and Trip’s taut relationship.”

For those who don’t know the story, Journey to the west, by Wu Cheng’en it is worth looking at traditional Chinese mythology about the creation story first.  This same story can also be seen in the opening graphics of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

The game also features an appearance from actor Andy Serkis, who also contributed to the script writing, he is notable for his Motion Capture work including his performance as The Lord of the Ring’s Gollum and King Kong.

Due to studying digital media, I have developed a habit of analysing animations and visual effects, this is now also true for narrative.  From Barthe’s codes I find myself analysing the content of stories, which has given me an insight into what and how the creator is trying to grab the attention of the reader.  With Enslaved, one of these that would be the use of the Semic code; the story is set 150 years in the future, after a war which has left the Earth in a post-apocalyptic state.  This vision of the future enables the player to be engrossed in the game world whilst still in a vaguely familiar setting; we know things about these that the characters don’t, and we get a glimpse of what may have happened during the war .

The other big narrative hold is the relationship between Monkey and Trip, as they make their way to Pyramid, and the changing dynamics between them.  One of the first things I noticed about Trip was the way she looked at Monkey.  The eyes in a human character are possibly the most expressive tool we have, and it gives us the ability to read emotion without a single word being said.  Another use of expression comes from body language.  Monkey is a very expressive character in this way; just by the way he stands and walks gives off exactly how we feels and mirrors the fantastic dialogue perfectly.

Games are also a prime example of non-linear narrative.  In a game, you can be faced with a number of tasks and abilities, and you can choose how and in which order you want to do them in.  Some games even have the ability to change the main over-arching storyline, depending on the choices the player makes, which is one of the reasons games have such a broad appeal, because of their diversity.

Posted in: Narrative