Review: Narrative Structure and Player Experience in Role-Playing Games

Moser, C., & Fang, X. (2015). Narrative Structure and Player Experience in Role-Playing Games. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 31(2), 146–156.

Abstract: This article reports an experimental study that investigated the effects of narrative structure and number of salient decision points in a role-playing game (RPG). Previous research has proposed various theories and frameworks and posited that a branching structure with increased complexity (i.e., more salient decision points) will improve player’s enjoyment. However, no empirical study has been conducted to validate these statements. This research attempts to fill in this gap. Two hypotheses were developed based on prior research. In a controlled experiment, participants were asked to view prerecorded game play sessions based on which participant experiences were assessed. The experiment suggests that both narrative structure and number of salient decision points impact on game play experience of RPGs.

Type of Study:



46 Students / College 

Terms as used by the researchers: 

Ludology: Study of games and gaming (Oxford Dictionary)

Embedded Narrative: Pre-authored & Emergent Narrative: Ludonarative; simulation (Salen & Zimmerman, 2003)  

Thoughts: In this study, the participants watched one of six pre-made videos of Mass Effect gameplay. Each video contained different decisions, which led the character down a different path through the game. Some videos displayed the choices being made by the player and some videos edited the choosing portion of the video and went straight to the result - as if there were no choice to be made. The students, simply, watched the narrative unfold in these apx. 22 min. videos. 

The researchers measured Flow using an instrument developed by Fang, Zhang, and Chan. They also looked at perception of narrative complexity and causal-agency. In other words, is it more interesting to take part in a story where choices are made rather than follow one linear path from beginning to end of a story.

They concluded that a branching narrative led to improved enjoyment and flow experience. 

Although I am sure the students enjoyed watching the video game play out, I am not certain such a passive experience can determine whether game playing or RPG playing is an effective way to engage people. This study is more about studying storytelling using a video game than it is about testing whether a video game can increase Flow.