Environmental Storytelling: A Digital Frontier for Narrative Geography

Jack Lowe

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Digital games have received increasing attention within geography in recent years for the implications that their distinct representational and affective attributes have for understandings of spatiality (e.g. Longan, 2008; Shaw and Warf, 2009; Ash, 2009; 2010). Yet within this scholarship there has been relatively little consideration of their storytelling characteristics, and the significance of space in processes of meaning-making that produce narrative experiences. Spurred in part by improvements in 3D graphics and computer processing power, narrative design in games does not necessitate a process of divulging scripted information, but can instead develop immersive worlds which players navigate to discover and interpret narrative information themselves. This paper delves into this world-building process by focusing on environmental storytelling, a pervasive game design technique distinguished by how “organization of the plot becomes a matter of designing the geography of imaginary worlds, so that obstacles thwart and affordances facilitate the protagonist’s forward movement towards resolution” (Jenkins, 2004: 6). Drawing on autoethnographic study of ‘walking simulator’ games and scholarship across geography, narrative theory and game studies, I will discuss how environmental storytelling functions, arguing that it relies upon an evental process of dwelling in fictional worlds as material hardware, player sensibilities and designed representational landscapes assemble during play to form a contingent sense of place. In turn, I will consider what mileage the concept of environmental storytelling might have for interactive digital narratives more broadly, as projects utilising AR, VR, locative, 360° and mixed-reality media increasingly attempt to produce immersive narrative environments for navigating users.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGeographies of Interactive Digital Narratives session at RGS-IBG 2019
Publication statusUnpublished - 29 Aug 2019

Cite this