Emergent narrative, a phenomenon of unexpected contextual stories arising through play, has been researched in the field of game studies since 1999. However, that discussion largely lies in the realm of theoretical stories which are generated by either the system or the player. The purpose of this dissertation is to deepen our understanding of emergent narrative by examining real-world examples of the phenomenon. Four hundred player posts were gathered from forums relating to the video game Skyrim (a large, open world fantasy roleplaying game) and analyzed using a mixed-method framework which is informed by digital ethnography, fan studies, and game studies. Using a cluster sampling method, the posts were divided into categories based on theme. This work outlines the historical trajectory of the term emergent narrative and proposes that player created emergent narratives are novel as they capitalize on random events during play in order to create stories which are both contextual and surprising. Each chapter explores a different kind of storytelling in one hundred of the posts, showcasing the diverse subjects that players explore. This work demonstrates that upon reflection, players are not passive recipients of information from games. By participating in these online activities, players become cocreators of their own stories. This work expands our understanding of players, interactive systems, and narrative by arguing that the act of play is collaborative rather than receptive.
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
College of Arts and Humanities
Texts and Technology
Length of Campus-only Access
Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)
Murnane, Eric, "Emergent Narrative: Stories of Play, Playing with Stories" (2018). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 5799.