Emotion Analysis: Wind Waker and Live Enjambment

[This analysis concerns the first minute of the video below - this is the scene preceding the final battle.]

I have coined a word to describe a particular type of dialogue delivery that's pretty much exclusive to videogames: "live enjambment"!
Live enjambment is a literary device that is, predictably, a variation on regular literary enjambment. This specifically concerns the affordance that only 'timed' media like lyric videos and videogames can take advantage of.

If you haven't already, I request that you watch the first 60 seconds of the the above video. When you watch, is there a specific line that makes you get particularly emotional? I know it's obviously subjective, but for me, I get a wave of emotion right here:


Me pasting the quote doesn't really have the same impact as when Ganondorf says it in the game, does it? There's a few answers as to why that's the case - for one, it's context. Ingame, the water and the sounds in the background and the way he blinks when speaking obviously pull you into the moment of the scene, whereas my image is nestled in an ocean of words. But I think there's a little something extra that makes it pop, and it's the fact that Nintendo puts effort into modifying how certain lines are delivered.

Wind Waker does this all the time, in fact. Notice the long pause between "I..." and "...coveted that wind". When the words have a temporally spaced delivery like that, it does a few things at once:

1) It links the dialogue to the act of speech.
2) It allows for implied sighs, forlorn pauses, grasping for words, etc.
3) It lets the player slow down and absorb the words at an appropriate pace.

To forcibly gate word delivery for the purpose of modifying the reader's pace is not a new concept. In poetry, to use enjambment is to utilize line breaks to chop up a sentence for effect. Here's an example of some poetic enjambment for you busters out there:

He, who navigated with success
the dangerous river of his own birth
once more set forth

on a voyage of discovery
into the land I floated on
but could not touch to claim.
— "Death of a Young Son by Drowning" by Margaret Atwood, 1969

"into the land I floated on // but could not touch to claim" makes me a little emotional to read even now - I think that's because out of context, this excerpt look like it could have been written by the King of Red Lions himself. But you can see here that you need to pause your reading for 0.25 seconds to ferry your eyes to the next line, and how that pause can alter direct the pacing of the poem. Neat!

The most strategic move would be for Nintendo to just hire Atwood already.

The most strategic move would be for Nintendo to just hire Atwood already.

Meanwhile, in games, you can actually physically pause the dialogue instead of simulating it with line breaks. And to be honest, while enjambment in poetry is fine, I actually think that live enjambment has a stronger effect than regular line-break-enjambment. Or at least, the former produces a more obvious pause, since you can force players to wait a minimum amount of time before continuing.

And this is why I think live enjambment is awesome!

I believe that Nintendo / the Zelda team was really onto something by playing with the delivery of dialogue - it seems like an awesome yet surprisingly under-explored territory with regards to how games can make us feel things.

By letting the player hang onto words more dearly, by having the reader feel the same pauses, sighs and emotional pace of the characters, the player may subsequently feel more attached and immersed into the moment itself.

Live enjambment has a lot more flexibility than regular enjambent with regards to how long one can pause a line of dialogue since you hard-code it on your end instead of hoping the reader will wait. Furthermore, one can tie visuals with the dialogue to further link together a pause with its implied action. For example, if somebody is heaving a boulder, one could synchronize the line delivery with each heavy lift.

A few games take it further by making the player press 'A' between words or lines (with purposeful intent) to really make it feel like the words are being drawn out or difficult to say. While I feel like there's a limit before that gets annoying, I do think it's a unique affordance of videogames that could be used to strong effect.

Throttling dialogue can be way more than just UX to keep players from being overwhelmed with words - when the writers and designers work together, they have the potential to craft some seriously memorable quotes that only work thanks to the dimension of time. I hope more games can take advantage of their unique medium to enhance the delivery of their writing and their games.


I know a few other RPGs do live enjambment, but my memory is murky - if there's any you'd like to mention below, feel free to do so!

[ You can read the entire poem by Margaret Atwood here. ]