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[en] This paper will present the results of an ongoing research on video game tutorials. Although being a widespread feature of video games, tutorials have been little studied in the field of game studies so far. The few research works on that topic address it indirectly, either as a game design issue (how to design a good tutorial? See Schell, 2008 or Koster, 2013, for instance) or as an illustration of a broader problem (educational sciences, especially, find interest in video games’ “tutorial strategies”; see Alvarez, 2007 or Steinkuehler et al., 2012). These studies have surely laid a solid foundation for future research, but none of them developed a systematic approach of tutorials or a theoretical framework able to map their ludo-narrative properties. Yet, since learning video game rules is done through experimentation, is integrated into the playing activity (or even into the narrative) and is often the first interaction that the player has with the game world, tutorials constitute a node where many central issues for the understanding of video games are concentrated.
The research presented in this paper will take as a starting point a database of video game tutorials that we will exploit following the method of correspondence analysis. In this database, we will isolate the Japanese games released on NES in order to reveal the specificities of their tutorials. These will be analyzed through two axes: a narratological axis and a rhetorical axis.
First, from a narratological point of view, video game tutorials are ambiguous ludo-narrative devices: in these passages, the game addresses directly the player through hybrid expressions, mixing references to the fictional world and to the player’s empirical gesture (such as “press B to run”; see Therrien and Julien 2015). The integration of these user instructions in the game world implies, in other words, the production of many metalepses (Genette, 2004) and mises en abyme – metadiscursive processes thus instituted into narrative conventions in video games (see Ryan, 2004 and Ensslin, 2015). In tutorials, the constraints imposed by the gameplay on the construction of video game fictional universes appear very prominently. For these reasons, these passages represent an ideal gateway to study the “narrativization” mechanisms of rules and to bring a new light to the relations between play and fiction.
Secondly, we will expose NES tutorial’s rhetorical mechanisms. Using the notion of “procedural rhetoric” defined by Bogost (2010), according to which the video game is able to convey a message and to convince its receiver thanks to its very gameplay mechanics, we will try to show how tutorials can convey values and ideas, or even build a particular ethic (see Voorhees, 2012 and Sicart, 2013). By employing processes such as failure, victory, repetition, accumulation of points, confrontation (or lack thereof), choice (or powerlessness), etc., games develop a singular rhetoric that tutorials – since they lay down the bases of the game’s discourse – use with a particular intensity.