An Analysis of Perspectives’ Shaping of Narratives in Games and Art

Author: egggrass
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As Being-in-the-world, we always live in interactions with other beings. Once we start perceiving others, we inevitably adopt a certain perspective, through which we gain understanding and knowledge of specific things. In games which are fundamentally based on interactive events, we can find perspectives being applied throughout.

Taking Unheard-Voice of Crime as an example, which is a typical multi-perspective, non-linear audio-based puzzle game. By overlapping and intertwining different storylines and complex character relations, players are flooded with accumulated information through the entire game process, making the past increasingly mysterious. It is until certain critical moments when the truth is finally revealed.

The application of perspectives primarily shapes players’ emotions and understanding, also implying creators’ vision for the dimensions that their artworks possibly convey. Only by understanding the essence of perspectives, can we approach the core of game.

This essay mainly covers two examples—the puzzle game Samsara Room and the classical film Mulholland Drive, discussing the possibilities of application of perspectives from artistic and phenomenological standpoints, and further analyzing the application of perspective’s shaping on overall narratives.

(Note: Normally, perspective is defined as a particular attitude towards something or a way of thinking about something. The perspective employed in this article refers to its general meaning, “viewpoint”, which is based on the subject of observation, including interpretations of multi-perspective approach in fine arts and phenomenological theories, rather than focusing on physical aspects such as orientation, perspective, or first-person perspective.)

I. Constructed “Stableness” and “reality” in single perspective

Perspective is a fundamental principle in traditional realistic sketch. The closer to the observer, the larger the object looks like, and vice versa. Based on this principle, painters strive to depict stereopsis of 3D space in 2D canvas, making images as if real existence in actual world. Those with practical experience will agree that, in realistic sketch drawing practice, it is important for painters to maintain a consistent viewpoint. Changes of object and observer can both threaten the “illusion of reality” that traditional realistic sketch aims to present to audience. Realistic sketch demands meticulous precision, with every element in its proper place. Single perspective can construct quasi-reality through dedicate drawing techniques. However, it is also fragile and can be disrupted by subtle changes.

Indie game published on itch: Stark County Threat Assessment Test

In Stark County Threat Assessment Test, players will play the role of policeman in a small town plagued by frequent homicides recently. Players need to rate different figures according to conjecture of their menace, in order to raise their sensibility of danger. Throughout the gameplay, players’ perspective remains fixed, they keeping staring at portraits of figures, repeatedly observing and inspecting those possible criminals. In special context, repeated observation in fixed perspective can make an impact on player’s subliminal senses and help to construct immersive experience.

II. Application of multi-perspective in modern art

In modern art, artists like David Hockney no longer settle for depicting objects in a fixed and static view, they turn to multi-perspective approach instead. In this revolutionary way, observers’ vision becomes fluid, skeptical and undecided instead of fixed. We can sense the artist’s hesitation and struggle when deciding on the final presentation of the artwork, meanwhile, his ambition in transcending spatio-temporal constraints and embracing all dimensions of objects.

Pearblossom Hwy., 11 - 18th April 1986, #2, David Hockney

This artwork is one of famous joiners by David Hockney, composed of almost 800 photographs taken by artist at the same location. Overall, there is still a vanishing point, as we can always find in traditional realistic landscape paintings, which creates a sense of depth. However, upon closer inspection, we can notice that each component has its own perspective beneath overall harmony, through which audience can sense artist’s changing interests and lingering gazes at different moments. This artwork shows how multi-perspective presents overlapping spatio-temporal information in one single picture.

In front of a montage image, an integration of intricate perspectives, obedient spectators who are used to passive acceptance inevitably get lost , since they have to make their own choices now: where to stare? Where to stand? Witnessing transition within multiple viewpoints, they cannot help but feel dizzy—initially a kind of hesitation to ascertain their own standpoints, later even evolves to situational loss and doubt.

The Menaced Assassin, Rene Magritte,1927

The mastery of presenting narrative through the approach of multi-perspective is vividly demonstrated in the aforementioned artwork by René Magritte: Inside the room, there is a lifelessly, nude and bloody woman, a well-dressed and calm man who turns his back to the scene of death and engrossed in the phonograph, as if situated in a peaceful environment; Outside, two men stand next to the wall, poised in anticipation, forming a sharp contrast with the man indoors.

As spectators, we observe the aftermath of the murder. Moreover, we are not the only witnesses—there are three men outside the window facing towards us, witnessing the unfolding of the event alongside us. One of them seems to stare at our direction. When we surmise figure relations in the painting, figures in the painting seem to inquire about our identity at the same time, silently asking "who are you".

When multiple perspectives collide, the absolute authority of observers is challenged, on account of the fact that they become the objects of observation themselves. The feeling of “being observed by others” results in the generation of a new perspective. Now, we as observers are compelled to detach from the godlike perspective and transition from being outside the painting to within it. Instead of overlooking figures in painting, we stare at them, just as how they stare at us. With the new perspective, the connections between observers and figures in painting, and between observers and painting, are reconstructed essentially.

A scene in The Great Buddha+

The intermingled application of black-and-white perspective and color perspective is one of major features of The Great Buddha+. Using paintings as an analogy, when most of the composition consists of colors with low saturation and brightnes, the sudden appearance of a small area with high saturation and brightness will definitely attract audience and become the visual center. The Great Buddha+ utilizes black-and-white perspective to portray mundane life, while utilizing color perspective to depict extravagant life full of desires, thus enhancing the contrasts in the story. When the allocation of perspectives perfectly matches sentiments, plots and themes, the application of perspective itself forms a primary narrative clue, endowed with special meanings, therefore becoming an integral part of the story.

III. Shifts of perspectives in SAMSARA ROOM

i) Perspectives in SAMSARA ROOM

Delicate utilization of perspectives contributes to enrichment of tension and character relations, also shaping audience’ subtle feelings. SAMSARA ROOM can be regarded as the paradigm of utilization of multi-perspective.

With the changes of sacrificial offerings on the altar (top left: heart; top right: fish; bottom left: gecko; bottom right: worm), players’ perspective transforms subsequently according to attributes of sacrificial offerings: if the sacrificial offering is a heart, perspective remains unchanged; if the offering changes to fish, objects levitate in the air since space under current perspective is filled with water; if the offering is a gecko, perspective becomes upside down; if the offering is a worm, players’ vision is limited, only allowed to interact with objects near the ground.

There are a group of four hidden items in each perspective. For instance, in the fish perspective as shown in the image, there are four seashells hidden. Only by collecting all of them, can players activate the altar and enter another perspective by placing corresponding offering. Before four items are all collected, players are confined to current perspective.

By creating the sense of confinement, players can be rewarded with instant feedback upon unlocking new perspectives. Here, different perspectives can be regarded as different game levels, transition of perspectives means passing game level. This setting includes the implication of “samsara”, also presents a well-structured progression. Such structural arrangements help to sustain players' enthusiasm when they are experiencing a prolonged and single-linear puzzle game. Some players tend to quit the game if they haven’t seen any advancement or achievements for a long time.

Different perspectives share an interdependent connection. For example, when the branches and leaves of the flower within the “human perspective” grow too high to observe, players need to switch to the “gecko perspective” for a complete view, which enables players to acquire the item beyond the height of the field of view within the “human perspective”.

It is noteworthy that the method how perspectives shape narratives in SAMSARA ROOM goes beyond being merely conceptual, but also situational. In the “worm perspective”, it is obvious that players’ vision is limited, moreover, players can genuinely feel the weakening of their “physical power” in interactions.

In above scene, players are unable to flip the book pages themselves and have to turn to external tools (such as a matchbox) for help.

This corpse has already existed before players activate the “worm perspective”. However, only in the “worm perspective”, can players be able to approach the mouth of corpse, and further unlock the scene-in-body.

All the details mentioned perfectly match the attributes of current “worm perspective”, which illustrates that designer has a deep insight when shaping perspectives, making it consistent with main storyline and environment, thus having tangible situational influence on players.

ii) Phenomenological implication

Reflections on Merleau-Ponty’s pathology analysis are essential for understanding how utilization of perspectives shapes narratives.

When a person suffering from perceptional disorder is asked to point out the exact body position where he is being externally stimulated, he fails to complete the task. However, he can successfully kill a mosquito that is biting him, [1] which indicates that he still holds certain “perceptions” of his own body. Although such perceptions cannot be physical or orientational since he fails to recognize the specific position being stimulated. In what sense should we define this kind of perception then? The answer Merleau-Ponty provides is “situational spatiality”. In this sense, we cannot hold the opinion that the patient has cognitive understanding of the stimulated body position. On the other hand, we cannot deny the patient does have bodily awareness. Obviously, the patient under this situation still has access to perceptions of body, though non-typical. This bodily space open to the patient, is actually beyond the category of western philosophical tradition which inherited from Plato, and well developed by Kant, also beyond the category of psychological explanation, which is therefore defined by Merleau-Ponty as “bodily space as phenomenon”. The situation of the patient can be described as “I can instead of I think” according to Merleau-Ponty’s interpretation.

In addition to the pathological example mentioned above, there is another example accounts for the limitations of traditional epistemology and psychology when providing valid explanations for bodily space. For a blind man who depends on a cane to walk for most of his life, the cane has already become one of his unique sensory “organs” for perceptions of directions , just as sight for normal people. We find that body scheme of this blind man is different from normal people. We can even claim that the cane is part of his body. The extension of bodily boundary is a mystery in traditional understanding of body. However, this revolutionary interpretation of body should be taken into consideration when we try to figure out human beings. Human body is changing rather than invariable, lifeful instead of inanimate. All the surroundings that share connections with human body can be incorporated into bodily space, therefore constituting new form of body, also creating new form of bodily space. Contextual, complicated and undetermined—this is how we should understand bodily scheme, since as Being-in-the-world, human beings have been constituting their own body, defining their connections with world.

Merleau-Ponty’s unique interpretations of body indicates that, as a phenomenological philosopher, he transcends traditional western metaphysics and epistemology. Both phenomenological understanding of body and multi-perspective in modern arts show deep concerns for human as subject. When we perceive and stare at something, in which perspectives are generated, the situations and sentiments of subject should not be ignored. Understanding of subject can lead us to the essence of perspective and authentic vision.

SAMSARA ROOM’s interactive design puts emphasis on physical perceptions in different perspectives, which brings more immersive experience for players. It is a paradigm showing us, if designers take players’ subtle feelings into consideration when designing interactive activities, and construct perspectives that align with specific situations, the storytelling will definitely be more authentic and attractive.

IV. Shifts of perspectives and method of non-linear narrative in Mulholland Drive

The comparative pair of black-and-white and color perspectives in The Great Buddha+ is fundamental for storytelling. Similarly, there is a contrasting pair of realistic and dreamlike perspectives underlying narratives in Mulholland Drive. However, it is not easy to identify the boundary of two perspectives in Mulholland Drive compared to the straightforward contrast in The Great Buddha+, whose distinction of perspectives is obviously shown by color. Certainly, audience may be aware of the complexity of plots according to uncanny atmosphere from the very beginning, it is still demanding for them to fully comprehend complicated and interlaced storylines in a non-linear narrative film, which requires audience’s instant reflection on every entanglement and implication between numerous story elements. It is normal that the perspectives have already changed, audience is still left far behind, undetermined of which perspective to adopt.

A scene in the film Mulholland Drive

Diana (Betty) refuses to acknowledge the fact that she hired a murderer to kill her lover, she therefore seeks refuge in dream, attempting to escape from reality as far as possible. However, the shadow of reality is projected into dream in the form of various symbols and imageries, making her struggle in the intersection of dream and reality

The blue box shown above is the symbol indicating the success of murder, also the “key” implying swift of perspectives. In the Silent Theater, a place described as “no bands, all sounds are recordings”, where all performances observed are illusions, Diana (Betty) picked up the blue box. This action means Diana’s belief of reality is challenged again. It was the moment when Diana (Betty) came to realize she was standing at the intersection of dream and reality, nowhere to escape.

Audience possesses absolute freedom when interpreting the plots of film: they can either analyze complex storylines based on Freudian theory, or choose to be totally immersed in the fantasy created by David Lynch, discarding deliberate analysis and considerations. Frequent and unpredictable shifts of perspectives lead to confusion and hesitation. Nevertheless, for great storytellers, it is never their primary intention to confuse audience by making storylines and elements fragmented and illogical. Even for Mulholland Drive which is known for obscure, there are still many "keys" hidden throughout that remind audience of shifts of perceptions.

How to make delicate "keys", how to provide players with both struggles and satisfactions when solving puzzles, have always been the most challenging issues which game designers devote themselves to.


Ideal constitution of perspectives does not mechanically present objects in front of audience without any arrangements, but rather consciously creating certain atmosphere for observation, endowing all objects and affairs with sentiments according to context. In such presentation, all the objects in vision seem to establish tangible connections with audience, rather than being inanimate existence.

Repeated observations in single perspective contribute to stable connections between observers and objects, while multiple storylines and multi-level narratives in multi-perspective method can create paradoxical atmosphere as depicted in Rashomon. All in all, the core of construction of perspectives is not the quantity or variation of perspectives, not even the objects in vision, but the audience as the subject of observation. The method of Merleau-Ponty’s epistemology enlightens us to treat the feelings of subject as the primary considerations, and pay attention to situational cognition of subject, which help to construct a meaningful world for observation.

The Room: Old Sins is a delicate escape room puzzle game which presents marvelous 3D design and richness of perspectives from overall scenes to tiny mechanical parts. Although impressive in visual elements, audience is much easier to distract from narratives if there are no attractive plots and details. The asymmetry of quality between visual arts and narratives may make audience lost in complicated machines and architectures, therefore ignoring the main storyline. When audience no longer cares about narratives, but feeling more like bystanders to the events, it is impossible for them to gain immersive experiences.

It requires excellent control over the whole structure of narratives for designers to make perspectives fit into narratives. When designers realize the intended atmosphere and present all elements according to the understanding, everything under shaped perspectives therefore obtains the attribute of existence, leading audience to gaze upon “reality” to some extent.

[1] The Spatiality of One’s own Body and Motricity, Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Phenomenology of Perception, Florence: Routledge, 2012.

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