Part 11, The meaning-maker’s space


The “Meaning-maker’s space” is a path that winds toward a new narrative system that corresponds with players and the dynamic behavior of games. As part of the “Putting into play” series, it leads the way toward designing engaging and motivating experiences based on how our thoughts, learning, and emotions interact.

From a creator’s perspective, writing a book or designing a game is a choice of expression. Each medium has a unique style to attract engagement and conveys depth to a reader or a player’s experiences and feelings. Yet, the characteristics of the game medium’s mode of expression have not changed the conception of the narrative, which linear structure of introducing, unfolding, and ending events remains rooted in the traditional storytelling of written and oral language.

Considering the narrative as a force that emerges from our internal reasoning and communication of thoughts and feelings through language better aligns with our dynamic thinking activities than the traditional story structure. However, altering the conventional conceptions of the narrative to match the players’ dynamic behavior of thinking and the core expressions of the game is nothing you do with a wave of a hand.

The mentality of “why fix what isn’t broken” seems to be the guiding rule in the game industry to avoid changing the narrative pattern resembling the event-driven story structure we see in films. The narrative is more so considered a genre rather than a technique for establishing the engaging and motivating core of the game’s mechanics, where expectations of seeing the story structure tweaked in an unexpected way result in repetitive use of the same old narrative patterns in games (see also “The Nemesis of Narrative”).

While game creators strive to align the traditional story structure with the dynamic behavior of the game’s mechanics, the narrative pattern often elicits debates about its reluctant behavior.

When applying the story structure’s predetermined sequence of events (start, middle, and end) to the game medium, the form is conceived as linear and static, in contrast to the game’s dynamic behavior and the players’ actions. However, instead of investigating a new narrative rule system that matches the players’ dynamic behavior and the game’s mechanics, anything that does not conform to traditional storytelling is often dismissed as having no narrative.

To say there is no narrative in a game is like saying there are no expressions, gestures, visuals, sounds, or motions intended to engage the player’s thoughts and feelings. Despite game creators knowing this isn’t the case, the industry continues to rely on traditional narrative patterns and organizing teams and strategies around the binary concept of the game narrative as being either a “story” or not a “story.”

Since we all know the narrative has an unquestionable impact on our experiences and emotions, if game creators were to find a new approach to a narrative system corresponding with players and the game’s dynamic behavior, the answer lies in recognizing why we avoid changing our conceptions.

The narrative’s influence on our behavior

The game industry is far from the only context where a binary approach to the narrative as either present or absent implicitly exhibits evasive behavior in recognizing how the narrative’s underlying forces connect to our internal behavior of thinking.

In a recent article on the neural processing of narratives, neuroscientists of language were described as ignoring the narrative’s influence on the brain and how the narrative shapes our perception, learning, emotions, and decision-making.

Figure 1. The illustration of the brain from 1908 is created by Dr. Johannes Sobotta – File:Sobo 1909 624.png Sobotta’s Textbook and Atlas of Human Anatomy 1908), Public Domain.

The reason behind science’s avoidance of the narrative’s forces can be linked to the red-marked region of the brain, Precuneus, which is responsible for the perception of environments and the imaginary activities connected to our episodic memory and emotions.

The debate surrounding the already meticulously detailed segmentation of the brain’s space stems from science and its, to say the least, complicated relationship with the imaginary activities of the mind that can’t be observed or measured.

However, calling the neuroscientists’ avoidance of the narrative “ignorance” simplifies how the meanings we create shape our awareness and spatially guide our navigation and understanding of the world.

Navigating space

Perhaps you’ve had an “aha” moment, a sudden realization of something previously unknown. While it may seem like luck or coincidence, these moments are actually connected to how we navigate space.

The geometric structure of conceptual space (see more links at the end) explains how our brains organize our understanding in a spatial way. For instance, when we think of the concept of “family,” we often create a mental map of the space between the different members. We imagine our immediate family members closest to us, followed by more distant relatives.

Figure 2. Mental map of space

The spatial dynamics of how we move our attention and focus between different targets based on their distances and proximity mirrors how creators convey depth to an audience or player’s experiences and feelings in the context of spatial awareness. By exposing or withholding information, creators can generate surprise, curiosity, or suspense by altering the audience’ or players’ conceptions.

Horror films often use jump-scare to surprise audiences by suddenly altering their mental map of space. Similarly, game mechanics like portals in “Portals” reveal new paths and allow players to move through space in unexpected ways, leading to surprising and creative solutions to puzzles.

Spatial awareness refers to the understanding that something exists somewhere and is related to the narrative principle of perception: space, which internally prompts the question of “where” when navigating surroundings, identifying positions and distances, and estimating directions of paths.

The player’s spatial navigation is crucial to setting the game’s engaging and motivating core pillars and stands in contrast to the storyteller’s sequencing of the narrative elements intended to engage a reader.

Considering a reader of a story is a spectator and has no influence on the storyteller’s content. While the reader may find it engaging to see a character being lost and not knowing where to go, being lost is a motivation killer for a player in a game. If the player can’t spatially locate and estimate from where objects and actions emerge in terms of distance and proximity to the body’s position, motivation will immediately drop.

In game development, the “space” often refers to an open game world, which can be divided into smaller, manageable sections by scaling distances, sizing objects, and segmenting levels. The division helps structure and organize the dimensions of the environment and guides players’ understanding and building of experiences.

Since visual navigation commonly overshadows the players’ internal navigation, spatial awareness concerns how we segment our space of understanding, much like how game creators divide the game world and layout levels to represent different paths and regions of meaning.

Figure 3. Imagining a world from the point of the body’s position.

From the point of our body’s position, the segmentation of space helps us to imagine paths and regions of meaning as close or distant, which guide our choices and changes of direction.

To control our spatial navigation, we do like creators and use the technique of exposing and deprioritizing paths.

Figure 4. The Road of Awareness

Imagine driving along a road of spatial awareness, one path is exposed, and the other is deprioritized (withheld).

Deprioritizing one path in favor of another may seem like ignorance or forgetfulness. However, the paths actually work in tandem as we internally segment space by categorizing which paths to expose and which to keep in the background (more precisely, in the memory).

A simple example of exposing and deprioritizing paths is how we spatially define our point of position as “here” in contrast to “there.” However, the process of selecting paths is more intriguing than just localizing the body’s physical position in space.

Imagine looking at a game world map. From your body’s position, you know that the world accommodates more than you can reach, but you feel content tinkering with what you have and deciding for yourself when to expand the space.

The autonomy to choose whether to maintain or expand the space is known as the self-monitoring drive of agency and is used to describe the player’s feeling of freedom in an open game world. However, this feeling of agency may be more of an illusion than a true sense of freedom, as the game world operates within predefined rules and limitations, which the “real world” also does.

The effect of deprioritizing paths

The scientific challenge to access the narrative’s influence on our behavior concerns our imaginary activities.

Due to an implicit agreement of Western culture, science has divided its conceptual space of understanding by exposing the observable space (as here) and deprioritizing the imaginary and fictitious space (as there).

Figure 5. Dividing space

In Western culture, science has traditionally prioritized the observable world and marginalized the importance of the imaginary and fictitious world.

The distance between the point of “here” compared to “there” can be discerned through the meanings we’ve created over time.

Why, for example, the game industry and its predecessors in entertainment sometimes receive a touch of negative response for “going against better judgment” can be traced back to the evolution of language and transmission of meanings regarding the narrative.

The narrative has been associated with myths, folktales, and fantasies in Western culture for a long time. Semantically, the meaning of the narrative has been generalized and categorized as an escapist dimension of stories, fiction (entertainment), and untruths.

The vertical categorization between the bad effects of fiction and the good cause of reality implicitly affects science’s behavior profoundly.

Since untruths constitute a contrast to science’s quest for truth, science has linguistically created a distance to the imaginary activities of

  • imagining, fantasizing, and pretending 

and created a closeness to the activities of

  • remembering, learning, and reasoning 

Even though the internal activities of imagining and reasoning stem from the brain, science extends the distance between observable actions of the body by categorizing the imaginary activities as residing in mind.

Figure 6. Creating distance between the body and mind.

In proximity to the body’s observable actions, science has created distance to the imaginary space of the mind and categorized the activities of reasoning as closer to the body (and computers) than the imaginary activities.

The fascinating factor is how science spatially controls their mental map.

To not lose the foothold in the observing space (here) when imagining the “invisible” activities of the mind (there), science refers to the internal activities as mental states, such as awareness, association, perception, attention, desire, consciousness, flow, curiosity, and belief.

Figure 7. The boundary gate of mental states.

Mental states work like a boundary gate, keeping science in close proximity to the visible actions of the body and at a distance from the meaning-making activities creating the gate.

The boundary gate resembles the game creator’s segmentation to guide players’ experiences, preventing them from getting lost by gradually raising players’ awareness of the mechanics driving the progress through levels while highlighting the possibilities ahead (*).

* Boundary gates are also used to technically limit the amount of the game world that needs to be rendered or loaded at any given time. 

The exciting effect of the mental gate ensuring science stays within the intended area of observing our thinking is how the words creating the mental map influence our behavior without being reckoned as narrative constructs.

Despite centuries of meticulous research into the brain’s physical mechanisms of neuronal firing, the narrative construct of meanings still prevents science from passing over to the imaginary space to explore the meaning-making author inside us.

However, in defense of the narrative construct of the barrier, the reason why we don’t easily cross the mental boundary is that we like to compare opposites.

Why we like the familiar

The internal activities of the player’s activities of categorizing and comparing are crucial in segmenting the game’s engagement space, as they help build experiences and memories that influence the players’ behavior.

Figure 8. Navigating by comparing

The arrow’s winding movements illustrate how we spatially compare concepts as close or distant while navigating the space to gain understanding.

Perhaps you’ve experienced an inner feeling of going slalom skiing in search of the right words when speaking to people in contexts you aren’t familiar with. The feeling of movement emerges from how we estimate proximity and distance when trying to find common ground with others. The closer we are to the context, the easier it is to understand and communicate (*), and where comparing connects to our emotions and guides our behavior.

* See also parts 5 and 6 in this series on the cons of conforming to a hierarchy of beliefs.

Figure 9. Comparing connects to emotions

Primarily, the function of categorizing paths as distant and adjacent lies in the enjoyment of comparing similarities and differences in the search for sameness.

An example of how science’s segmentation of space inspires the search for sameness can be found in the context of AI research and the comparison between human and computer thinking. In proximity to observing space, the mental state of consciousness has stimulated questions about whether computers can be conscious and sentient.

Mentioning the imaginary activities of narrative constructs in those contexts of mathematical algorithms exposes how the mental gate triggers the internal activity of locating the region where the meanings (and you) come from. In this vertical and horizontal scan of similarities and differences, the narrative construct of opposites is highly involved in the choice of whether we want to stay within the familiar region of meaning or expand our space of understanding.

Choosing pathway

The engaging activity of comparing similarities and differences in the search for sameness is described by the concept of learning by generalizations, which explains (from an observer’s point of position) how we transfer similar rule systems from past experiences and apply them in the present and future (see also Part 10).

Figure 10. The transferring of similar rule systems of behavior over time.

The process of transferring knowledge from past experiences is sequenced as a series of steps of causes and effects, showing how we:

  • transfer knowledge over time (past, present, future)
  • compare differences with similarities,
  • and choose a rule system of behavior.

A classic example of a rule system is remembering an allergic reaction from eating an apple and how that experience influences our behavior in the future. The rule system of behavior is unlikely to change over time according to old doctrines of evolution, as it would contradict our will to survive.

Our tendency to avoid risks based on past experiences illuminates how we control our navigation by:

  • paying attention to differences, and
  • avoiding differences.

The avoidance of differences reflects how the categorization of exposing and deprioritizing paths through the narrative construct of meanings spatially directs our pathway of learning.

Figure 11.  Differences scaffold a linear path of learning.

Following science’s meaning-making over time shows how the differences scaffold a linear motion of learning that keeps science close to the familiar pattern of experiences learned over time.

The semantic dimensions of opposites constitute how we understand the world (Gärdenfors, 2022) and serve as an internal navigator that sharpens our focus and attention while pointing out the direction.

Navigating points of opposites

The narrative construct of contrasts such as Bad/Good, Body/Mind, Reality/Fiction, and Truths/Untruths work as navigating points that connect to our attention, control of paths, and balance emotions.

For example, when someone communicates untruths in contrast to truth, the contrast draws our attention and increases emotional tension. To regain control, we compare the contrast between the real world and the fictional world and communicate that reality seems to surpass fiction.

Control, achieved through comparing contrasts, restores balance like a hub  does to a game world, providing recovery and relief. Control balances the emotional contrasts of tension and relief. Returning to the familiar space of understanding is commonly associated with perceiving an event as meaningful.

Control also explains how the mental gate ensures science maintains its point of position in the observable space and maintains distance. Attempting to change direction to explore the narrative as a meaning-making force, the mental gate implicitly issues a warning signal to avoid entering the imaginary land of trolls and fairies.

Considering the signal as an internal choice of pathway, the navigational prompt also applies to the game industry’s binary approach to the narrative as absent or present and illuminates how the dimensions of the opposite constitute a choice of altering the mental map. By saying yes or no to the narrative story structure, the game industry ensures general understanding, navigation, and communication stay within the familiar region of meaning.

However, as long as the similar parameters of contrasts define the choice, what may seem like a change are usually alternative paths of the similar. The sensation of novelty generated from recurring themes based on contrasts, such as Good vs. Evil, Life vs. Death, or Human vs. Computers, is created by packaging the familiar pattern differently.

But there is a limit to the repetitions we can take.

Game creators know this limit as a feeling of boredom, which drives creators to make the game dynamic by responding to players’ choices and providing a unique experience for each player. Despite these efforts, a subtle desire for change can be heard from the players and resemble the game creators’ and neuroscientists’ feelings that something exists beyond the familiar pattern of thinking.

Changes can have many expressions, but they often stem from a gut feeling.

Changing pathway

The desire for change is a signal indicating how our internal activities are building up towards an “aha” moment. The tension elevating the change can be noticed in debates, such as those between game creators and neuroscientists, about the nature of the narrative.

The inner drive urging change we commonly call curiosity, which mental state is described as a desire to learn. But how can we tell as creators that the curious drive leads us to genuine change and not just a repetition of the same patterns?

If we want to change our path of thinking and explore the narrative forces, we need to embrace the author inside us instead of avoiding how the meanings we create influence our behavior.

Figure 12. Changing path from the similar to the difference.

Changing the pathway of thinking is a matter of reducing the distance between the opposites of the narrative as a linear structure in contrast to the game’s dynamics.

Dynamics constitute the core expressions of the game and refer to the forces and processes that produce change. Game dynamics are conveyed through mechanics that change gameplay elements based on players’ actions and decisions. Dynamics can explain a change in our linear motion of learning to distinguish the meaning-maker inside us.

According to the language of physics, a change in motion is caused by a force that is exerted on an object. In linguistics, the term “agent” is used to describe an entity or object whose actions are defined as preventing, causing, or enabling events to unfold (Gärdenfors, 2021).

An “agent” is derived from the Latin word “agens,” which means “doer” or “driver. By recognizing ourselves as creator-agents, we are the doers and drivers who externally or internally prompt changes to happen through language. As meaning-making agents, we can overcome mental barriers preventing us from changing our path of thinking.

External and internal prompts

According to the creator-agent technique of exposing and withholding information to increase emotional engagement, a surprise is created by reducing the spatial distance between concepts.

Figure 13. Reducing the distance between concepts.

The storyteller’s spatial trick of drawing the audience’s attention by reducing the distance between contrasts is an external prompt accelerating the speed of altering the audience’s mental maps and evoking emotions.

Given the longevity and depth the meanings we create have on our experiences and emotions, the external prompt of stating “ignorance” to change neuroscience’s mental map to explore the narrative’s influence on our perception, emotions, and decision-making may not suffice.

When a larger group of people undergoes a change in thinking, it is commonly referred to as a paradigm shift. The shift can be described as a stepwise process in which the distance between opposing paths is reduced while the space of understanding expands (*).

* The opposite effect of increasing the distance between opposites contracts the space of understanding, which explains, for example, the technique behind the creation of suspense or forces behind polarization.

Suppose we were to use the creator’s technique to accelerate science’s speed of thinking as agents; we need to remove the mental barrier and move science into the imaginary land of trolls and fairies. At most, the external prompt may inspire exchanges of concepts about computers versus humans like Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics has done. 

If we instead look at science as an entity of a meaning-making agent that internally prompts itself to explore the narrative as a meaning-making force. In that case, neuroscientists would need to initiate change by reducing the distance between observable and imaginary space and bringing opposite meanings to the surface.

Figure 14. Horizontally comparing opposites as equal

By bringing opposite meanings to the forefront of awareness, the invisible activities of the mind can be compared to the visible actions of the body as horizontally equal.

In the future, the collective mind of science will eventually remove the mental gate and produce an internal “aha” signal accompanied by more arguments. In the meantime, I will act as an agent and move science into the world of entertainment, where game creators are located in their quest to make the linear story structure dynamic.

Visit the world of entertainment

The purpose of bringing science (and you) to the world of entertainment is to highlight why game creators conceive the narrative story structure as a constraint when applying it to games.

The storyteller and the scientists happen to share the same rule system of behavior, which exposes the barrier preventing game creators from investigating a narrative rule system that matches the players’ dynamic thinking and the game’s mechanics.

When scientists analyze our thinking process as a series of cause-and-effect steps (as shown earlier in the example with the concept of learning), they sequence the process by defining when the thinking event occurs in terms of past, present, and future.

Figure 15. Temporal sequencing.

The temporal sequencing reflects the author’s perspective and reveals the differences between writing a text and designing a game.

Both scientists and storytellers use a writing system, which includes elements like timing, tone, and intonation, to visualize and communicate their thoughts. This ancient rule system of writing is what game creators must navigate to make their games dynamic when applying a story structure.

When determining the order in which objects, actions, and places are presented to a reader, scientists and storytellers prioritize the narrative principle of perception: time, which prompts the question of when events occur.

Figure 16. Writing system prioritizing time

Considering the players’ spatial navigation is crucial to building a dynamic game world, the players’ awareness of when events occur is to no avail if they cannot perceive “the where.”

Time vs Space

Spatial dynamics concerns how we move our attention and focus between different targets in a game world. In 2D games, spatial cues of contrasts are used to visually direct player attention to elements on the screen. In 3D games, spatial cues reflect how the player can move and interact with the game world from different angles and distances.

Prioritizing the players’ perception of space (where) over time (when) in building a dynamic game world is essential from the game creators’ perspective. In a dynamic game world, players’ experiences vary based on their spatial perception of distance and proximity relative to their location in the world.

Figure 17. Different perspectives.

The player’s spatial cues of directions differ depending on angles and perspectives, which means players’ choices and changes are perceived differently from other players’ or objects’ points of positions within the game world.

Applying a predetermined story structure’s sequence of events, such as start, middle, and end, to a game world creates a linear progression with a single direction.

Figure 18. Temporal cueing of perspective, attention, and direction 

The temporal linearity defined by a start (here) and end (there) exposes how the point of time of events is prioritized over the spatial dimensions and cues players’ point of view, attention, and direction to locate the moment.

The temporal cueing’s impact on game creators’ sequencing of the order in which the events are presented to the player can be seen in how the navigating points of contrast are conveyed through environments, landscapes, and terrains to direct the player’s attention and behavior.

For example, exposing the contrast between a distant mountain towering above a low terrain from where the player begins the play draws the player’s attention and directs the spatial trajectory of thoughts to locate the end. What lies in between the player’s point and the mountain is spatially balanced by game creators (*).

* Directing the player’s perception to spatially “find the end” can quickly become overloaded by texts and visuals. An example of too much guidance perceived as removing the autonomy of solving puzzles can be seen in Game Maker’sToolkit “Why do God of War’s Characters spoiling puzzles?”.

Temporal entities defining the time and interval of an event work as an extrinsic prompt of a schedule.

For example, the concept of reinforcing the feeling of missing out on an event (FOMO) is a time-driven “schedule” that engages the player to act quickly to avoid missing the moment, but engagement tends to drop off quickly compared to the longevity and emotional depth of autonomous choices made at the player’s own pace.

* If participating in a time-driven event leaves you feeling stressed and unfulfilled, it may be because it requires significant spatial effort to regain agency. See “How Fortnite exploits your FOMO” by Mark Brown in the Game Maker’s Toolkit for more information on this topic.

By prioritizing the perception of space over time, it is easier to access the space-driven design and access the players’ dynamic behavior of thinking and the core expressions of the game.

Figure 19. Prioritizing space over time

By exposing space and deprioritizing time, we have reached the point where we can reduce the distance between the linear narrative and the dynamic game and access the meaning-maker inside us.

The meaning-maker’s space

Inside the meaning-maker’s space, the mental gate is removed, and the internal activities of the mind are united with the body.

Figure 20. The body’s point of position inside the Meaning-maker’s space.

The cogwheel represents the body’s point of position from where our thoughts and feelings emerge.

We can get a pretty good picture of the dynamic behavior of thinking inside the body (cogwheel) due to ongoing scientific developments in visualizing our internal activities of causal reasoning.

The following quote, describing how we think of causes and effects in terms of forces, has been frequently used throughout this series, “Putting into play.” (links can be found at the end).

“(…) generate inter-domain causal networks, use network understanding to speculate about potential outcomes, test, and re-adjust our imaginative hypotheses, and to shift attention from one target to another, while keeping in mind the ultimate goal (e.g., subsistence) over an extended period of time (…)” (Gärdenfors and Lombard, 2017). (*)

In Part 7 of “Putting into play” (“The Hidden Art of Pacing“), I introduced the rule of thumb to consider our thinking as a dynamic and constantly evolving system whose continuous flow of changing states has no start or end.

To facilitate access to the dynamics of thinking, I will segment the activities into managable building blocks, where the activities below reflect the linear motion (M) of learning:

  • Understand causal networks
  • Generate causal networks
  • Speculate about outcomes
  • Keep the ultimate goal in mind

The motion of learning (M) can be visualized by adding a diagonal line to the cogwheel to illustrate how the continuous flow of learning builds experiences and memories over time (*)

* Diagonal lines are commonly used in game development to create a sense of progression, movement, and engagement for players, also referred to as a mental state of flow.

Figure 21. Linear motion of learning

From a creator-agent position, the motion of learning can be imagined as a driving force that continues to move in a straight line unless acted upon by an external force that changes its direction.

The changes (C) in the motion of learning can be depicted by the following activities.

  • Shifting attention between targets
  • Testing and readjusting hypotheses (conceptions, meanings, ideas, beliefs, expectations)

The changes of shifting targets, testing, and adjusting concepts correspond to how we horizontally compare and vertically categorize opposites as close or distant, related to the body’s position when we internally move from one place to another.

Adding a line crossing the motion of learning (M) visualizes the change (C) emerging from the rotating point of the body (cogwheel).

Figure 22. Dynamics of changes and motions emerging from the body

Viewing the narrative construct of contrast as navigating points that direct our attention, control paths, and balance emotions, the game creator’s guiding principle is that as long as players experience changes in their actions, such as shifting, testing, and adjusting their conceptions, there will be a force that adds depth (D) to their experiences and emotions.

An example of how the navigating points cause a force of shifting attention between targets can be seen in the storyteller’s spatial sequencing of a text.

Figure 23. A storyteller’s spatial sequencing of a text.

Viewed from the storyteller-agent’s position, the ordering of spatial elements where events occur can vary. As the reader or audience moves along the linear path of direction, the force emerging inside the reader/audience is a shift of moving back and forth (*) when comparing the past, present, and future.

* The movement of shifting back and forth when comparing contrasts also corresponds to the inner rhythm associated with pacing (see Parts 7, 8, and 9, “The Hidden Art of Pacing”).

The movement of shifting attention between targets — back and forth — can be applied to the player-object’s position in the game world.

Figure 24. A linear force with two directions of back and forth

Applying the spatial dynamics of shifting attention generates a linear force with two directions of back and forth.

Viewed from a game-creator-agent’s position, a linear force with one direction resembles driving along a road without changing direction. A motion with two different directions — back and forth — mirrors how the player compares contrasts.

Since our thinking is not limited to one-dimension — forward — or two-dimensions — backward and forward —  we can add more directions to visualize our three-dimensional thinking.

Figure 25. Three-dimensional thinking

The linear force of directions — Back/Forth, Up/Down, and Left/Right — illustrates how we spatially think in three dimensions when rotating and translating the world by shifting attention, direction, and perspective when testing and adjusting our conceptions.

Considering how we spatially create opposites paths and regions of meanings that help us navigate the game’s space, the directions illustrating our three-dimensional thinking are also reflected in the gamepad, which connects the players’ inputs to the game mechanics.

Game mechanics are built on physics, where different forces determine how the player-object should move and how the mechanics respond to player inputs. Since we think of causes and effects in terms of forces, our meaning-making also permeates the physical forces, which are commonly expressed through the language of mathematics and geometric symbols.

In a 2D platformer like “Super Mario,” gravity is a force affecting the player-object’s movement and interaction with the game world. Gravity is represented by a vector pointing downwards, pulling the player-object toward the ground and preventing it from jumping. The force of velocity is characterized by a vector pointing upwards, which can counteract gravity and enable the player-object to jump and move horizontally in different directions. Adding up the forces of velocity and change of direction gives us the net force, which determines the overall direction and speed of the player-object’s movement.

The physical forces can be used to visualize how the internal forces emerging from our meaning-making influence our behavior.

For example, the physical force of gravity can be seen as equivalent to the meaning-making forces that hold us back from changing direction. Inertia is another force that mirrors the linear motion of learning (M) that moves us in a straight line unless it’s counteracted by an external force that changes its direction. Adding a net force of change to the linear motion of learning resembles the internal/external prompt of reducing distance and expanding the space of understanding based on distance and proximity between contrasts.

Bringing the opposites to the surface and horizontally comparing and vertically categorizing contrasts involves how we test and adjust our mental maps. The collection of maps and movements generates a dynamic tension forming the depth of our experiences and emotions over time.

For example, as the player spatially navigates through the game world, contrasts, such as Good/Evil, Life/Death, and Tension/Relief, the regions of opposite meanings either pull the player toward one or another region as the player navigates the world.

Figure 26. Opposite regions

In terms of withholding and exposing paths, the testing and adjusting of concepts involves several opposing regions where the players update their mental maps by adjusting the distances between contrasts.

In a game that presents the player with choices between Good and Evil, the opposites are represented as distinct regions in a two-dimensional space, with good on one side and evil on the other. The opposite regions of Tension and Relief display the third dimension of emotional depth that pulls the player — back and forth –(here and there) when controlling and balancing the tension between Good and Bad, Life and Death.

An example of how the mental maps form the players’ experience and behaviors over time can be seen in the survival game “The Long Dark.” The hostile environment (representing Evil) presents the player with the choice between Life and Death (more precisely, permadeath), which generates a mental map where the player chooses to stay close to the regions of safety (representing Relief) by hibernating in a safe cottage (representing Good) to avoid Death (Evil).

Viewed from the game-creator-agent’s position, the important thing is to notice how the forces emerging from the players’ testing and adjustment of their mental maps emotionally decelerate the driving force to physically extend the space and where the player’s understanding turns into friction force of resistance to leave the region of meaning: “Good, Life, and Relief.”

Figure 27. Hibernating in a cottage to survive in the game The Long Dark.

The example illuminates the conveyance of the state of suspense in a three-dimensional world and how the player’s control increases the distance between opposite regions, which contracts the extension of space while reinforcing the emotional depth (*).

* See also “Narrative bridging on testing an experience” and how the developers in “The Long Dark” added new mechanics to accelerate the players’ drive to leave the safe cottage.

The player’s control and balance of the opposite regions of tension and relief resemble the same forces influencing science’s and game creators’ avoiding behavior to explore the nature of the narrative. The only thing differing is the semantics of the words, but the internal forces directing the behavior are the same.

If looking at game creators’ navigation and how the opposite regions of meaning are organized by their proximity and distance to each other. The game’s mechanics are considered as located at the Bottom. The high level concepts, such as the game’s overall theme, narrative, and aesthetic direction, are considered positioned at the Top.

When game creators communicate their positions and perspectives on the game design process, they spatially define the directions of thoughts as going Bottom-Up and Top-Down.

Figure 28. Shifting between Bottom-Up and Top-Down

Going Bottom-Up and Top-Down is commonly called iterating, which act mirrors the feeling of moving back and forth. Scrolling the image Up and Down gives an idea of how we perceive the internal shift of attention between opposite regions in a two-dimensional space.

If focusing on the position where the Change/Shift of attention emerges between the Top and Bottom, the point displays the game industry’s mental map and the barrier parting the linear story from the dynamic game. The mental map has a tendency to create a distance between those who work with the narrative and the technical team.

At the top, the narrative team commonly imports or produces a story and breaks down its events into manageable pieces of word classes such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. The elements are transferred Downwards to the Bottom, where the technical team converts the narrative elements into mechanics and transmits the algorithms Upwards to the Top.

The narrative forces emerging from the team’s opposites positions of moving back and forth resemble the classic game of tug-of-war, where two teams pull on opposite ends of a rope over a centerline to change the rope’s direction and bring the other team towards their side.

Recent advancements in the game industry have led to the hiring of hybrids who can bridge the gap between storytelling and computing, thereby reducing the divide. However, as long as the distance remains, it doesn’t matter how much net force each team puts into adjusting its strategies to pull the rope over the centerline. The state of equilibrium when the rope resists change will continue to cause friction and maintain the debate about the narrative’s resistant behavior.

Meanwhile, the meaning-making forces will continue to invisibly control the direction of our behavior.

Figure 29. The meaning-making forces.

Having focused on the navigating points of contrasts as paths or regions of meaning and their influence on our internal activities of shifting attention between targets, testing, and adjusting concepts, I will move on to the final part, “The Meaning-maker’s forces,” where I will add the activities of causal thinking (M) to the changes (C). These dynamic activities are reflected in the narrative principle of perception logic, which concerns how we spatially navigate relations between objects, actions, and places.

Logic refers to the internal consistency and coherence of a game world, which relies on the narrative principle of space to be exposed. Hence, establishing the Meaning-maker’s space was important to enable showing how you create narrative forces that trigger players’ meaning-making in a three-dimensional world.

Thank you for joining me on this journey to explore the meaning-maker inside us. I hope you found this journey inspiring and insightful. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, so please do not hesitate to contact me directly at the address below.

Until next time, stay safe and curious!


Previous posts:

Part 1 Putting into play – A model of causal cognition on game design.
Part 2, Putting into play – On narrative from a cognitive perspective I
Part 3, Putting into play – On narrative from a cognitive perspective II

Part 4, Putting into play – How to trigger the narrative vehicle
Part 5, Putting into play – On organizing thoughts and feelings
Part 6, Putting into play – On organizing engaging and dynamic forces

Part 7, Putting into play – The Hidden Art of Pacing 1 (3)
Part 8, Putting into play – The Hidden Art of Pacing 2 (3)
Part 9, Putting into play – The Hidden Art of Pacing 3 (3)

Part 10, Putting into play – The Meaning-maker’s techniques

The Nemesis of Narrative


The “Meaning-maker’s space” extends the theory on conceptual spaces proposed by Peter Gärdenfors by accounting for the role of agent creators exerting forces on the space to create meaning.

Research portal, Peter Gärdenfors, Senior Professor at Lund’s University, Sweden.

Gärdenfors, P 2022. Hur orden får mening (How Words Get Their Meaning), Natur och Kultur, Stockholm.

Gärdenfors, P 2021, ‘Causal reasoning and event cognition as evolutionary determinants of language structure‘, Entropy, vol. 23, nr. 7, 843. 

Gärdenfors, P 2020, ‘Events and Causal Mappings Modeled in Conceptual Spaces‘, Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 11, 630. 

Gärdenfors, P 2020, ‘Primary Cognitive Categories Are Determined by Their Invariances‘, Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 11, 584017. 

Lombard, M & Gärdenfors, P 2017, ‘Tracking the evolution of causal cognition in humans’, Journal of Anthropological Sciences, vol. 95, s. 219-234. 




Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.