Just a short note to set out my position.
In my reading I’ve again and again come across an academic division in the study of games, between ludology and narratology. (Ludology being a word I hadn’t heard before, meaning “game studies”.) For the most part, its seems to me, the debate consists mostly of ludologists saying “Hey, games are our thing! You narratologists can clear off back to your novels and your TV and your films and the like, we don’t want you round here,” but that may be my own prejudice in reading. So for the benefit of balance, I’ll quote from what wikipedia says (today).
This disagreement has been called the ludology vs. narratology debates. The narratological view is that games should be understood as novel forms of narrative and can thus be studied using theories of narrative. The ludological position is that games should be understood on their own terms. Ludologists have proposed that the study of games should concern the analysis of the abstract and formal systems they describe. In other words, the focus of game studies should be on the rules of a game, not on the representational elements which are only incidental.
Earlier this week I found this very gentlemanly exchange of emails, which was for me the most enlightening version of the debate that I’ve read so far.
For my studies of course, wherein I’m looking to learn about how a particular sort of “open world” games use narrative, I tend towards the narrativist viewpoint. Which isn’t to say the ludic approach isn’t valid, its just that I’m not trying to turn cultural heritage interpretation into a game.
Edit: my views on Ludology vs. Narratology are getting better informed, check out this post too.