Playing for the Plot
Blade Runner as Paradigm of the Graphic Adventure Game

by Susana Pajares Tosca

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The digital medium has an increasing significance in the cultural panorama of the end of a millennium whose advances have been measured in terms of first written and then print documents. Computer games are a lively corner of the electronic arena, and both their economical success and the widening of their audience suggest that their influence will go beyond the mere entertainment role where some literati seem glad to cast them.

Adventure games form a genre of their own, and are direct descendants of the first text-based adventures that can be said to have inaugurated digital narrative. The puzzle solving and plot development were afterwards combined with the powerful visual element evolved from action games and others, first incorporating moving images and then videos and 3D landscapes to the story-driven games. These games present a new challenge to literary studies, as their acknowledged aim is to let the user "live" a story. She solves enigmas, participates in dialogues and makes the argument advance, so that the result is very similar to a traditional genre fiction (mystery, sci-fi or fantasy) story, where the user has played the main character. (Game developer Jane Jensen makes this explicit by writing books that follow her adventure games in the Gabriel Knight series word by word). But adventure games are not only narratives at the end, because the player is aware of the storytelling process unfolding before her all along. What kind of stories are these? What are their conventions? Are they really interactive?

This article takes one of such games, Blade Runner, to explore the relationship between adventure games and narrative, and to see how the genre could evolve towards a more participatory exchange between the reader and the text. Blade Runner is at the same time a paradigm and a contradiction, as it draws on some of the more explicitly marked genre conventions and at the same time wants to go a "step beyond" towards narrative interactivity providing a "constantly changing plot" (from the game´s package). How does it try to achieve this? Does it succeed? Is this a revolution in storytelling?