While digital interactive narrative games are invariably narrative, there are two key distinctions between traditional text-based narratives and digital interactive narrative games that affect how the latter are constructed and how we experience them: 1) in interactive narratives the narrator agent and character agent of text-based narratives are collapsed into a singular player agent, 2) in digital interactive narrative games, spatial construction is of a higher order of importance than in text-based narratives, and it is through this shift that player agency and interactivity are created.
The status of the player within the game is still a subject of multidisciplinary research, and it changes along with videogame industry, the platforms, genres and particular titles. The most recognisable and interesting form of in-game presence are avatars: the visual (and sometimes auditory) representation of players. Avatars are said to create culture, influence human behaviour and change the way one performs as a player. Avatars, their look and agency, also influence players outside the game environment and be used therapeutically. Avatars can influence not only the gamers’ behaviour but can also empower them; solving in-game problems can help players transport causative feelings into their lives. This paper will focus on the results of an interdisciplinary questionnaire conducted among Polish gamers who experience various levels of social exclusion due to their gender, size, and/or socio-economic status. To compare, similar research was conducted among groups of males not threatened by either social exclusion nor discrimination. The study shows what aspects of avatars help with stress management and what mechanisms of avatar-gamer relations empower, enrich and influence behaviour.
‘Is your masculinity threatened? Then you're not man enough to play’, the tagline for Adult Swim’s 2010 game Robot Unicorn Attack, boldly captures the challenge the game offers. Robot Unicorn Attack (rua) confronts the player’s personal boundaries through its use of intentionally feminised visual material and the use of the gay club anthem ‘Always’ by Erasure. By comparison, its sequel, Robot Unicorn Attack 2 developed three years later, was forged under circumstances that fundamentally changed the trajectory of the game and franchise. This paper highlights how the fan reception of the original game altered the context under which the sequel was made, and how concepts of gender and choice informed the sequel’s design development.
Videogames are ‘ethical objects’ (, 4) and therefore constitute an excellent medium through which to teach users about ethics and ethical behaviour. Specifically, the interactive nature of videogames makes them effectively more powerful for immersive and emotionally engaging experiences (; ). As a result, the impact of ethically or morally questionable choices in a game is increased. This leads to the question of how such choices can be incorporated in videogames, and in which ways ethically or morally questionable choices can affect players? Crucial elements for meaningful choices are agency and significant feedback, so the ‘rigidity’ or ‘elasticity’ (, p. 43–44) of a game’s system plays an important role. To what degree, however, does the game’s design influence players’ decisions? Put another way, how are game designers pushing their players into certain directions or actions, and how much leeway are the players given to push back? Additionally, it is important to consider how game designers invite people to make ethical decisions and teach players about ethical behaviour. To answer these questions, I conducted an in-depth analysis of Life is Strange (Dontnod Entertainment, 2015) focusing on design elements which have the potential to elicit ethically cognizant responses and consider the degree of elasticity in the game’s system with regard to moral and ethical choices, and their impact. I will show how the developers of Life is Strange purposefully disrupt players’ immersion to maximise emotional impact and invite critical reflection on moral and ethical decisions.
The affective turn in the humanities, driven by Cultural Studies and their interest in social involvement, empathy, and connectibility, has positioned affect as central to understanding contemporary culture. The potential to affect and be affected, embodiment, transformation, and selection, all lead to a conception of affect as ‘the virtual as point of view’ that makes its application to videogames and their design meaningful. Bringing together various perspectives from Melissa Gregg to Patricia Clough, Lawrence Grossberg, and several other related researchers, this article first establishes videogames as transhuman experiential spaces for affective labour, collections of everyday affective events that express new sensations and new conceptions of what it means to be human. Relationality, intersubjectivity, and the subjectification of objects are identified as essential strategies for affective game design. The player’s experience of emotional incitement shares equal relevancy to action-based immersion and engagement via critical thinking. In a second section, these ideas are then applied to a concrete game: Firewatch (Campo Santo, 2016). This semi-indie ‘walking and talking simulator’ exposes the player to a secondary reality in which freedom of choice is consistently deconstructed on narrative, mechanical, and aesthetic levels. Using exploration and communication as the main mechanics, players transform the personality avatar they are presented with while engaging in the affective labour of reconstructing the subjectivities of a cast of absent characters through the physical and emotional traces they have left behind. Violating the logic of mastery prevalent in game design and replacing it with an affective premise, Firewatch gives other characters and the world enough agency to resist most player interactions, while at the same time its rigid designer ethics communicate to the player a deep sense of interconnectedness and responsibility for the Other.
‘Press x to pay respects’, an instruction in both Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Activision, 2014) and Batman: Arkham City (Rocksteady Studios, 2011), is a contextual action that seems to be included to give depth to the game’s events. But what is really happening in these interactions? Are they designed in a way that encourages the recognition of those to whom we are paying our respect, or do they act as simple requirements to progress? What is the role of the (virtual) Other in ludofictional worlds? In this chapter, we aim to study the player’s encounters with virtual agents and the possibilities they open for recognition and compassion. Authors like Sicart (2009, 2013), Mortensen (2004), and Zagal (2011) have shown that games can encourage ethical reflection and they have established frameworks to analyse ethical gameplay design. Here, we contribute to this discussion by proposing an ethical model based on the concepts of recognition, as discussed by Hegel, Appiah, Butler, or Frankfurt, among others, and of suffering and compassion, as described in Buddhist philosophy. This model distinguishes two levels of suffering in games: ludic and narrative-thematic. It is this second level that can lead to compassionate play. We believe this model illustrates vital parts of the act of play and can help conscientious designers (as described by Flanagan and Nissenbaum), scholars, and players, to discuss and design ethical games.