Posts By: Matthew Schanuel

Matthew Schanuel

About Matthew Schanuel

Matthew Schanuel lives in Boston, Mass. He's a beer aficionado, a game player (and designer!), an academic-in-exile, a DM, and, most recently, an employee of a financial non-profit. He draws the comic Embers at night over at

An impor­tant part of any nar­ra­tive expe­ri­ence, whether pre­sent­ed in a video game or a pen-and-paper expe­ri­ence, is the sup­port­ing cast. Two weeks ago, I cri­tiqued the over-population of heroes and hero nar­ra­tives in gam­ing, and this week’s dis­cus­sion is sort of con­nect­ed to that issue. A diverse and inter­est­ing sup­port­ing cast does­n’t mere­ly offer more char­ac­ters and dis­trac­tions to a hero­ic nar­ra­tive. The sup­port­ing cast pro­vides most oppor­tu­ni­ties for char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the hero, and this is espe­cial­ly the case in gam­ing. This is as true in BioWare games (after all, we get a much bet­ter idea of who Shepard is in light of his/her treat­ment […]

Bit Players

Hey there! So, I’ve been absurd­ly busy this week; a new job, class­es pick­ing up in pace, and crises arriv­ing and lin­ger­ing. It’s now come down to Saturday, though, and to be hon­est, I don’t have the capac­i­ty right now to real­ly do jus­tice to the con­cept I want­ed to talk about. However, I did just get Gamefly, and so I fig­ured that I would review the games that I get in from a nar­ra­tive per­spec­tive. So essen­tial­ly, I’ll be eval­u­at­ing whether they tell a qual­i­ty story, whether that story has good pac­ing, whether their char­ac­ters are believ­able or inter­est­ing, and so on and so forth. I imag­ine that I’ll […]

Just a Few Reviews

This week, I’ll be exam­in­ing the hero­ic nar­ra­tive and it’s close, close rela­tion­ship to video gam­ing! I’ll start by defin­ing what I mean by hero­ic nar­ra­tive, and then have a short dis­cus­sion on what its propen­si­ty in the world of gam­ing means for games as art. A Narrative Undaunted Now, I should make a dis­tinc­tion here between the hero nar­ra­tive as a form and hero­ism as a con­cept. Though many games con­form to the hero nar­ra­tive, the char­ac­ters in those games may not nec­es­sar­i­ly be all that hero­ic. Heroic activ­i­ties are uni­fied by this trait: the hero fig­ure res­cues anoth­er, typ­i­cal­ly a help­less per­son or per­sons, and […]

We Can Be Heroes

Distance is going to be an impor­tant theme in this arti­cle, and so I’d sug­gest read­ing the arti­cle in which I intro­duce the con­cept, locat­ed here. Low lev­els of dis­tance con­tribute to any nar­ra­tive expe­ri­ence in video games, but it is absolute­ly essen­tial to a hor­ror game. Because of the nature and aims of a hor­ror game, it is very easy to iden­ti­fy games that fail to lessen dis­tance. Such games can be played with­out expe­ri­enc­ing fear, usu­al­ly because of fail­ure to prop­er­ly immerse the play­er in the avatar char­ac­ter. This means that, in order for a hor­ror game to suc­ceed, it must demon­strate […]

No Escape

In case you haven’t already read the intro­duc­tion to this week’s col­umn, in which I dis­cuss how role-playing games can be con­sid­ered art, it’s here. You may find it use­ful. Also use­ful is the first col­umn, in which I describe the term “dis­tance.” I’ll be throw­ing it around quite a bit, so I’d sug­gest read­ing it in full. In short, though, dis­tance refers to the level at which a play­er empathizes with his or her avatar char­ac­ter. Lessened dis­tance is accom­plished by cer­tain mechan­ics that allow the play­er more con­trol over their char­ac­ter, specif­i­cal­ly in dra­mat­ic moments. My pre­vi­ous dis­cus­sion of dis­tance was focused […]

Better Storytelling Through Loss of Self

This week, the col­umn focus­es on role-playing games, or, more specif­i­cal­ly, role ‑play­ing games that aren’t video games. If you’re not famil­iar with the dis­tinc­tion, then allow me to break it down for you. Role-playing games are, in the truest sense, games like Dungeons & Dragons. They are story games in which (typ­i­cal­ly) one per­son nar­rates and the other play­ers con­trol the main char­ac­ters of the story. A por­tion of this arti­cle is from an old piece that exam­ines what D&D does, and why it is impor­tant. Hopefully you will find it use­ful. Make note of this base-line, because it will serve […]

Make a Craft Check

First of all, I’d like to thank Bill for mak­ing that fine dis­tinc­tion between art and enter­tain­ment yes­ter­day, and tak­ing care of a lot of grunt-work for this week’s col­umn. I could­n’t have planned it bet­ter. And so, fair read­er, it may help you to read that post if you haven’t already done so. Multiplayer is Soulless This week’s topic is the mul­ti­play­er phe­nom­e­non, and how it relates to nar­ra­tive. Games almost always involve the con­struc­tion of a nar­ra­tive, even if said nar­ra­tive is mere­ly a paragraph-long excuse for killing num­ber­less crowds of Enemy Type A. However, sim­ple excus­es have become blasé in most […]

Narrative in Multiplayer

As Bill has men­tioned, I’m now writ­ing for the Ontological Geek! I’m excit­ed to be here, and unwill­ing to mince time, so let’s leap right into the meat of my first con­tri­bu­tion: a dis­cus­sion of avatar and play­er. Oh, and as usual, spoil­ers are nigh. Two Very Different Games Since I’ve been on break, I’ve had the chance to play through a num­ber of games I’ve been hop­ing to get around to, includ­ing Enslaved: Journey to the West, but also Call of Duty: Black Ops. If you know any­thing about these titles, you also know that they have lit­tle to noth­ing in […]

Introducing “Distance”