I have spent the afternoon flat out in bed, reading Jesper Juul's article in Gamestudies. He writes of narratives and games, pointing out that games are not narratives, although narratives can be constructed from games.
I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with him. At one point I would like to expand on what he says: "It is also an oft-repeated but problematic point that game sessions are experienced linearly, just like narratives. (See Aarseth 1997 p.2.) " Espen might say this, but are games truly experienced linearly? And Jesper continues: "I will return to this but briefly note that this idea ignores the player's experience of being an active participant - this experience is so strong that most people will involuntarily change bodily position when encountering interactivity, from the lean backward position of narratives to the lean forward position of games. And playing a game includes the awareness that the game session is just one out of many possible to be had from this game. "
Walking from a to b, we do not experience the walk linearly. Our attention is constantly shifting, and while we might focus consciously on less than one thing at the time, unconsciously we have experienced things we did not realise at the moment. And we are picking up a wide range of stimuli: scent, temperature, sound, the effort of walking, the feeling of the surface beneath our feet. Not even our eyes are seeing linearly, the gaze sees both focused and peripherally, and switches from point to point, darting about, seeing more than we need and at the moment can consciously process. If we are asked later, did you see the tractor in the field, we can often know that yes, we did notice a green tractor in the field, just outside the area on which we focused. But if you ask me how the walk was, I will arrange the story about it linearly, creating a progression, either spatially or chronologically, or centered on some special event.
Playing a game, particularly a graphic, fast-moving game with details and complex actions, we perceive in the same manner. Almost in trance, the experienced player processes several signals at the same time, not experiencing the actions linearly at all, but rather nodally, or perhaps not even that, as the attention focuses nodally, but the perception is a stream of mixed signals. Perception is not limited to the structure of narration - description and verbal language is, however, and when putting experiences into words, linearity insists on making itself known.