Week 3 – “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” (due before class on F, Sep 24 Vernon section and M, Sep 27 Kelowna section)

“Heaven Is a Place on Earth”

Please comment on any of the readings attached to this week’s class on narratives, narratology and interactivity in relation to “Black Mirror”, season 3, episode 4 “San Junipero”. Include a paraphrase, a quote and an in-text reference. Here is a link to a nice reflection on this episode that may help you in your reflection.

12 thoughts on “Week 3 – “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” (due before class on F, Sep 24 Vernon section and M, Sep 27 Kelowna section)

  1. The concerns of narrative and interactivity raised by Henry Jenkins in the article “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” are explored in season 3, episode 4 of Black Mirror, “San Junipero.” The artificial reality within which Charlie Brooker’s episode takes place shares a resemblance with and is constructed around similar principles as many modern video games.

    As explained in Jenkins’ article, plot and structure can typically be aided through narrative in four ways: through evocative narrative, enacted narrative, embedded narrative, and emergent narrative (Jenkins). “San Junipero” touches on each to construct a world for its characters and viewers, with emergent and evocative narratives being perhaps the most demonstrable.
    Yorkie is our ‘video gamer,’ navigating a new world full of potential and learning the rules and parameters as she moves from experience to new experience, first drawing on evocative themes such as music and clothing she finds relatable. She is encouraged in this by Kelly, who is in some ways the arbitrator of this new realm, a device employed by most modern games via a helpful NPC. An exchange between the two lead characters illustrates the potential for emergent narrative: “dance floors aren’t my thing” … “let’s not limit ourselves.” (Brooker, C. (2016). San Junipero. Black Mirror. episode. 4).

    Brooker’s works in Black Mirror are interested in the effects and consequences of a rapidly developing technological culture, and in “San Junipero” this is articulated in the broad scope of possibilities made possible in the titular realm. At the same time, as the potential of video game software expands, the concepts of world building and narrative grow in significance.
    To counter the original arguments referenced by Jenkins, video games and other forms of digital media do not represent a regression in the potential to create narrative but expand and build upon traditional means. In this light, “it makes sense to think of game designers less as storytellers than as narrative architects” (Jenkins, 129).

    A final takeaway from “San Junipero” supports this idea. Kelly’s participation in the artificial world, and even her real life, becomes reshaped after inadvertently falling in love. When the potential for action, decision and outcome is broadened, meaning is arrived at through interactivity and participation.

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  2. As someone who has in the past really enjoyed RPG (role-playing game) computer games I find this topic of stories found within games to be so interesting. I’m already a big fan of Black Mirror so I had no problem watching San Junipero again, for the fourth time, as it does relate to this fascinating topic. This article, “First person: new media as story, performance, and game (2004): Game Design as Narrative” by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan, explores the relationship between the landscape within a computer game and the narrative that the game follows. RPGs are described “as a mode of collaborative storytelling,” which is precisely why I prefer them to classically structured games. They give the player a certain independence to make various decisions to advance along through the narrative, basically the story within the game play, without it always being that one path is right to continue and one path is wrong.

    Authors Wardrip-Fruin & Harrigan say that in the past game designers have placed greater emphasis on the virtual space as compared to the stories being told in that space, but while that is changing, the story is still dependent on the space. “Game designers don’t simply tell stories; they design worlds and sculpt spaces.” (Wardrip-Fruin & Harrigan 5) and that’s exactly what happens in San Junipero: a digital world is created, much like a computer game, where people can live the life that they for whatever reason couldn’t outside of VR (virtual reality). In that same article, the authors explore how the virtual game space affects the story inside the game. Some stories are pre-known, and players want to immerse themselves further into that familiar world. This is where San Junipero finds itself. Because its world is created to mimic the real world, players have expectations of that space. In San Junipero they can continue playing the game of life and each player gets to pick their own story within the framework of the space. On the opposite end of the spectrum would be more traditionally structured games: here’s a fun maze, now, Player, find your way through!

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    1. I referenced the wrong paper in my comment so amendment; the only paper I am referencing is “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” by Henry Jenkins. The direct quote is still on page 5 though.

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  3. The connections I found between the article “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” by Henry Jenkins and the Black Mirror episode “San Junipero” are the following. Yorkie and Kelly’s relationship reflect how interactivity shapes the narrative of the episode. Both women are faced with the same choice which is to spend they’re after life in a simulation of paradise or to just except death. Yorkie was paralyzed when she was 21 years old which caused her to miss out on her own life, Kelly was married for 50 years and when her husband was on his death bed, he was given the choice to except death or enter the simulation and he chose death due to his late daughter not given the choice. Throughout her life, Kelly always carried this guilt and used the simulation to have as much fun as she could to distract herself from the memory of her late husband and daughter, Kelly feels she owes it to her family to pick the same fate. Kelly influences Yorkie by showing her some of the things she missed out on in her real life. She teaches her to dance, party and find true love. Yorkie helped Kelly come to her own decision about the afterlife and take full advantage of the opportunity they are given.
    According to Jenkin’s, “A model of narrative, one preoccupied with the rules and conventions of classical linear story telling at the expense of consideration of other kinds of narratives…including… popular traditions that emphasize spatial exploration over casual event chains which seek to balance the competing demands of narrative and spectacle”. This sentiment applies to the gaming industry especially with the give and take of writers and developers when creating different games. Writers might see it as a game being “bad” because it doesn’t have a story or narrative and on the other side developers could see a game as ‘bad’ for not having good gameplay or graphics. But this quote can be true for almost all types of media, if we avoid using spatial exploration or casual event chains, we are neglecting to use these principles, and this could slow down advancements in media. The episode San Junipero uses spatial exploration and casual event chains to create an innovative form of media. The use of spatial exploration was evident by the lead characters being a lesbian couple and experiencing a “happy ever after” ending which is rare in Hollywood. As stated in the Vanity Fair reflection, “It’s still pretty rare these days to see same-sex couples on TV, let alone female same-sex couples. But even when lesbians and other queer women make it on-screen, they tend to get killed off or treated as tragic figures”. Interactivity is used throughout the episode by showing the process of two people working together and influencing each other’s decisions as Kelly and Yorkie did. The final decision made was based on their effort to work together. Both the article and episode used narrative and spectacle to push a part of media that hopefully will be developed on and used Interactivity to push a more powerful narrative for the viewer.

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  4. I’ve already seen this episode before and I don’t feel like rewatching it since I hate Black Mirror. It’s boring at best and pretentious as worst. While San Junperio is one of the better episodes, I just don’t want to force myself to watch a series that regularly ends in the depressingly dumb message of technlogy is bad. I’ve had friends and folks online go “Oh, you should rewatch Black Mirror it’s so good” or “Oh, you only watched one episode, you should watch every other episode”. I just don’t want to watch it.

    On a more positive note, I will say that Undertale by Toby Fox manages to seamlessly blend narrative, interactivety and mechanics better than any game. In most other story-driven games such as Mass Effect, mechanics such as leveling up and saving are ignored by the narrative. This is due to narratives in video games largely attempting to initiate narrative than embrace the uniqueness that games provide as a Narrative medium. This can often times led to conflict between gameplay and narrative. By stripping interactivity during story moments such as during cutscenes, the Player may become disengaged or even resentful of the narrative for having taken control from them. Furthermore, as noted by Henry Jenkin’s “Game Design as Narrative Architecture”, the interactivity of the player can derail the narrative laid out by the author. And thus sacrifices must sometimes be made for the sake of the other. Visual novels greatly limit interactivity for the sake of narrative while sandbox and multiplayer games largely forgo story for the sake of gameplay. It is unrealistic for a game to account for every player choice and action in its story.

    Except for Undertale which is one of the few games that doesn’t have conflict between gameplay and story. Every mechanic that is commonplace to RPGs and games in general such as XP, LVLs, Saving, reloading and resetting are directly acknowledged by the story and incorporated into the narrative and themes. Even the existence of you, the player, and your relationship with games is directly acknowledged by the game. Not your player character but you the person. While Undertale has multiple themes, it’s primary theme is our relationship with stories in video games by asking us to analyze our relationship with games and their stories through its themes and mechanics.

    (Okay this longer than it should be. It’s late and I need to sleep since I have more to say than I have time for. Just Undertale is a really great game and I love it and it’s not pretentious like Black Mirror is.) Man I really hate Black Mirror.

    I do like collegehumor’s skit on it though https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1aSqZ23ydk

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  5. The relationship between video game design and narrative is a topic that interests me greatly. I didn’t play very many video games in my childhood, and that holds true even today. However, it is perhaps due to this that I find video games as a narrative medium so fascinating. The media I prefer to consume primarily includes books, films, and music; because of this, I tend to analyze games through the lens of these other mediums.

    Video games seem like, to me, an unfairly maligned form of artistic expression. I believe that they hold the greatest potential for immersion and communication of themes in a narrative medium due to the agency granted to the player taking part in the game’s story. When watching films or theatre we are merely observers; video games invite us to join the performers on stage.

    Unfortunately, this potential has yet to be reached due to the nature of the video game industry. It is sadly ironic how the exponential financial growth of the industry over the past few decades has simultaneously made it possible to push the medium into new creative territory while stifling the creative freedom of game designers in favor of whatever is likely to sell. In the article “Game Design as Narrative” by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan, they state that “[t]he experience of games can never be simply reduced to the experience of a story.” I wholeheartedly agree with this statement; it would be a waste of the medium’s unique characteristics and strengths to simply play out like some interactive film.

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  6. Apart from the occasional dive into the Sims and Super Mario universes, I have little to no gaming experience. Thus any commentary on my part of the place of narratives within gaming should be taken with a grain of salt, but I’ll take a stab at it nonetheless. I do however have a plethora of experience with Black Mirror and have watched episodes such as San Junipero several times. When reading these articles within the context of San Junipero what struck me was the similarities between the principles of embedded and emergent narratives explored in Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harriugan’s Game Design as Narrative Architecture (2004) and the simulated reality of the town of San Junipero.

    At face value, San Junipero is a rare happy ending in the Black Mirror universe. Although I still choose to believe this is a joyous and romantic episode, when comparing it to the ideas of narratives within gaming, it makes me question to what extent a person “living” in virtual reality is independent. When I imagine a simulated reality I imagine, regardless of how advanced the technology of Black Mirror’s universe is, someone has to have programmed it, just as one would develop a video game. So that begs the question, would San Junipero contain embedded narratives? Was Yorkie and Kelly’s love story really within their own control if it wasn’t in “real life”? “Game worlds, ultimately are not real worlds” (Game Design as Narrative Architecture, 2004 p.12) If we compare San Junipero to a game, and games are not “real” is their love story really real at all? Did they fall in love with people or did they fall in love with a simulated persona?

    Ultimately I’d prefer to just enjoy San Junipero as the rare glimmer of optimism in a rather cynical series rather than deep dive into the ways any embedded narratives could possibly falsify Yorkie and Kelly’s love and happy ending. Perhaps this is the reason some people dislike Black Mirror, it turns us all into cynics, but I enjoy the way it makes me think critically of technology and opens my lens to the ways my choices may not really be my own when interacting with it.

    Works cited:
    Brooker, C. (Writer) & Harris, O. (director).(October 21, 2016) San Junipero (Season 3, Episode 4) [TV series episode] in C. Brooker, A. Jones, B. Reisz (executive producers) Black Mirror. Netflix

    Wardrip-Fruin, N. & Harrigan, P. (2004) Game Design as Narrative Architecture. First person: new media as story, performance, and game (pp. 118-129)

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  7. I believe that storytelling and technology work well together; they both need each other as complementary partners. In the areas that a book can no longer reach, technology is ready to fulfill the challenge, aiding with images, videos or sound to give the story a deeper connection with the audience.

    In the Chapter Game Design as Narrative Architecture, from the book “In First Person: new media as story, performance, and game” Henry Jenkins argues that a well created space, based either on a movie or a book will be helpful for the player to get an autonomous experience and a better understanding even if the narrative is wider. (Jenkins, 124)

    I couldn’t say I totally understand the critics among storytellers and game designers. I have rarely played videogames. However, the few times I had the chance to do it, I enjoyed more those that had a story going on and even better if I could recognize the spaces or locations from the movie. It is easier to know the goal of that game according to its story, even if the narrative is not exactly the same.

    The option offered by technology in “San Junipero” episode from the Black Mirror series, shows how the “players” can be in control of the story by choosing to stay there after passing over, and living life as it best suits their interests and likes. Though a scenario is previously set, you get to move and play with the narrative you want to create once you get into “San Junipero”, choosing decade, clothes, cars, partners, etc.

    What I liked about the episode and it’s related to the storytelling and gaming design, is that the characters were able to create the world they both needed in a previously designed set. They were in charge of their narrative.

    Narrative and game design must find a sweet spot to work hand in hand.

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  8. San Junipero Narrative

    The Black Mirror episode, San Junipero’s, narrative is about youth and their social interactions in the ’80s, 90’s and 2000s. It is the gender exploration of the two main characters in this Story.

    This episode of Black Mirror is Spatial storytelling, (‘Game Design as Narrative Architecture’, Henry Jenkins). San Junipero is the main space. This Story is a nonlinear narrative style. The story moves in different times realms.

    The two characters are both females exploring their gender identity. Experiencing life and having fun in a Night club, this is the place where Yorkie and Kelly meet for the first time.

    Yorkie is portrayed as a troubled and awkward young girl. Kelly is a happy free spirit young girl on a mission to enjoy life without attachments or complications with her relationships.

    This Story’s narratology is intricate; the narrative presented is deceiving and takes the viewer in an assumption; it makes you believe the interaction of two young women and their exploration of their sexual preferences is in a typical real setting. It is later that you discover the reality is very different.

    As the Story develops, you realize both have met in a virtual world, travelling between both realities weekly. Yorkie and Kelly in real life are very old, and both are about to die.

    Then at the end, they are given a second chance to experience their gender identity life as they were not allowed before. Kelly was in love and married for many years to a man, and even though she knew she liked women never actively engage in any such encounter or relationship. In Yorkie’s case, she tried to let her parents know her gender preference, and her parents didn’t accept her; that is when she had a car accident that left her paraplegic.

    In the end, they both fall in love and married in the real world, and both decide to take the permanent option of uploading their consciousness and live in San Junipero virtual world forever and die in the real one.

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  9. This week I chose to write about “Introduction – A book lover longs for cyberdrama” from Janet Murray’s “Hamlet on the Holodeck: the Future of Narrative in Cyberspace.” Pairing it with Black Mirror was a very exciting experience for me, due to my love of the series. Like the author, I find myself in the optimistic side of this cultural war between traditional and online, pervasive media. Not until recently though, as I once swear that I would never read a book on my phone or tablet, alas nothing can compare the feeling, the smell, the confidence between a paper copy book and its reader. Then the pandemic hit, I had to study online and well, things happened.

    Disregarding books though, I have always been in favour of technology and new media. I find it amazing and magical how much it has evolved. I am someone that, just like the author, can be pleased and amazed by things like “making the dumb machines sing.” As technology develops, we have been witness of some magnificent pieces of art that without the aid of technology would’ve never been able to exist. Murray talks about how she has been teaching a class in how to write electronic fiction and how her students are drawn to it because they want to write stories that cannot be told in other ways. What does it mean though? Is the author speaking about the context of the medium as such? Well, according to Marshall McLuhan “the medium is the message”, so it could be both.

    In “San Junipero”, Kelly replies to Yorkie’s concerns about being seen dancing together at the bar saying “Okay, one, folks are way less uptight than they used to be. And two, this is a party town. No one’s judging.” Kelly felt safe and chilled because she knew she could do anything in this fake, virtual environment; both of them were drawn to it because her story could not be told in other place except for that one. This narrative works not only for the characters within Black Mirror, but also for the creators, who have the “freedom” of developing whichever story they dream about, within the safety of a series that is already known by its polemic plot.

    I don’t think the relation between the reading and the chapter rely in the fact that one day technology will evolved so much that it will become a war between who wants to permanently die against the ones who want to be uploaded to the cloud (just like the war between bards and hackers that the author describes). I think it lies upon fact that humanity will always be hungry for new ways to communicate the truest desires of our minds and souls.

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  10. “The ability to design your own skins encourages players to create characters who are emotionally significant to them, to rehearse their own relationships friends, family, or coworkers” is an extremely interesting quote from Harry Jenkins 2004 text “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” in relation to the Black Mirror episode titled “San Junipero” (Brooker, C. season 3, episode 4) as both relate to the idea of a person finding their true self within a digital, non-consequential world.
    First of all, in the episode Brooker shows the world of San Junipero, a world where people can immerse their best or favourite versions of themselves into whatever era they please, all while alongside thousands of others as they escape reality. In addition, once someone is close to their death, they may decide to put themselves into the world of San Junipero forever, giving them essentially the option eternal life. This idea of eternal life is somewhat comparable to the Sims, in the sense that the player can experience hundreds of lifetimes within a matter of days or even hours.
    Additionally, these people are given complete freedom while living in these worlds without the fear of societal norms or the views of those around them, making both platforms places where the player can find their true self. For example, in the text Jenkins discusses how game developers make decisions in production about what players will and will not be allowed to do, including loving characters of the same-sex (Jenkins, H. p. 129, 2004). This concept of a player exploring a new life directly relates to the story of San Junipero, as both the female characters decide to explore their sexuality in this virtual world, and inevitably decide to spend the rest of eternity within it.
    Both the Sims and the concept of San Junipero are examples of the level of escapism that video games provide. The ability to make new relationships with others and ones self in a virtual world where the person doesn’t have to be concerned with how they look in the eyes of those around them is simply beautiful, and in the perspective of the characters within this episode of Black Mirror, is a life changing experience.

    Works Cited

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  11. Unyielding amounts of possibilities can lay within a game. One person’s game play will be different than another person’s. Some may not like the games with fighting or violence, and another may not like dialogue-dependent games. In Yorkie and Kelly’s case, they prefer to go the romance route.

    In “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” by Henry Jenkins, the author refers to The Sims, a game where the player is given absolute freedom to build their own life and world. This connects to “Black Mirror” (Season 3, Episode 4) in very similar ways. In San Junipero, the concept of escaping into a fantasy world really builds into a beautiful story of self discovery and love. The two same-sex lovers are able to create a life for themselves while escaping their own reality, and in turn, making a new reality.

    In The Sims, the concept is the same. There are other games like this, even movies, that carry out the exact same concept; the concept of escaping reality. In their real lives, the year 1987 did not accept Yorkie and Kelly to be lovers, but their made up world, they can be lovers until the end of time. The narrative in San Junipero works for players, giving them freedom to do whatever they please without repercussions. Video games is a direct link to a whole different source of media and can be used as such. It connects old and young, quiet and loud.
    Will Wright describes the concept as “(a kind of) authoring environment within which players can define their own goals and write their own stories.” When humans are given the freedom to create, that is when beauty is made and stories can be told, just like the story of Yorkie and Kelly.

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