ACHIEVING A GOAL IS MAKING A JOURNEY: the Source-Path-Goal schema in videogames.

Abstract. Roelf Kromhout (
A persistent issue in video game research is the debate between “ludologists” and “narratologists.” Frasca (2003) rightly argued that many of the disagreements and indeed the actual existence of the debate are a result of a series of misunderstandings rather than of fundamentally different insights between the two factions.
This presentation has two goals: (1) To explain how both story-telling and gameplay are rooted in the same mental schema, namely the “source-path-goal” (SPG) schema, but exploit different dimensions of this schema; (2) to explore how this schema can be used as a tool to describe and analyse specific games.
The SPG schema, originating in conceptual metaphor theory, and discussed in detail by Johnson (1987, 1993), presupposes that human beings’ conceptualization of “purposive behaviour” depends on their fundamental experience with bodily movement. Achieving a goal typically often requires literal movement from A to B (ranging from “going to the fridge for a beer” to “finding a long-lost friend”). Crucially, this also takes time. It is thus no coincidence that we conceptualize time metaphorically in terms of space (“the coming week”; “Christmas is still far away”; “in the years that lie behind us”). The basic fact that all goal-directed behaviour involves time, and that time is conceived in terms of space results in an overarching metaphor that can be formulated as PURPOSIVE BEHAVIOUR IS A JOURNEY. The common structure underlying humans’ understanding of literal movement, time, and purposive behaviour is captured in the notion of the SPG schema.
Two major forms of purposive behaviour are: (1) questing and (2) telling stories. The JOURNEY level consists literally of a beginning (source), middle (path) and end (goal). STORY and QUEST can be subdivided into similar components. The fact that all three domains are structured by SPG allows the inference of certain metaphors that arise as a result of this, for instance A QUEST IS A JOURNEY, but also A STORY IS A JOURNEY. In stories about journeys, the structure shared by quests and stories is often exploited for aesthetic purposes. Forceville theorized the “poly-interpretability” that is central to the enjoyment of traditional narrative (Forceville 2006, Forceville in press, Forceville and Jeulink forthcoming). However, while all videogames aim at fulfilling a quest, and typically draw on the notion of a journey, the notion of story-telling is usually far less pertinent.
The aim of this presentation, based on Kromhout (2010), then, is both to contribute to the video game debate, not by looking at video games from a dogmatic ludological or narratological perspective, but by discussing questing and (where pertinent) narrating aspects in games from a bottom-up perspective, and to demonstrate how a more detailed understanding of  the SPG schema  in structuring STORY, JOURNEY and QUEST levels can help focus analyses of videogames. The two video games that will aid in this undertaking are Half-Life 2 (US: Valve Corporation, 2004) and Heavy Rain (FR: Quantic Dream, 2010).
KEYWORDS: Video games, Ludology, Narratology, Conceptual metaphor theory, Multimodality.
Forceville, Charles (2006). “The Source-Path-Goal schema in the autobiographical journey documentary: McElwee, van der Keuken, Cole.” The New Review of Film and Television Studies 4: 241-261.
Forceville, Charles (in press). “The journey metaphor and the Source-Path-Goal schema in Agnès Varda’s autobiographical gleaning documentaries.” In: Monika Fludernik (ed.), Beyond Cognitive Metaphor Theory: Perspectives on Literary Metaphor. London: Routledge, 281-297.
Forceville, Charles, and Marloes Jeulink (forthcoming). “The flesh and blood of embodied understanding”: The source-path-goal schema in animation film. Pragmatics & Cognition.
Frasca, Gonzalo (2003). “Ludologists love stories, too: notes from a debate that never took place.” In: Marinka Copier and Joost Raessens (eds), Digital Games Research Conference Proceedings. <; 20-06-2010, p. 2.
Johnson, Mark (1987). The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination and Reason. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Johnson, Mark (1993). Moral Imagination: Implications of Cognitive Science for Ethics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Kromhout, Roelf (2010). Source-Path-Goal Structure in Multimodal and Interactive Videogames: Half-Life 2, Grim Fandango and Heavy Rain . MA thesis, Dept. of Media Studies, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
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