Author: Lindsey Joyce

The complexity of integrating agency into a digital game containing a narrative has been a key concern of games scholarship for years. Attempts to balance agency and narrative have proceeded largely in two ways: By increasing ludic and environmental agency by presenting the player with an open world and free spatial navigation, or by incorporating morality systems into the game as a method to give the player more control over the narrative outcome. Unfortunately, either solution constructs new limitations on player agency; the player may be free to move about the space but cannot interact with the narrative, or the player is stuck within the linearity of a branching linear narrative. I argue the greatest system design flaw isn’t one of ludology or narratology, but of feedback. It is possible to engage players and to give them the perception of control over the narrative as well as a fuller sense of immersion by reducing the amount of feedback-oriented systems included in the game experience. I argue such changes will also innately create more ethical game designs and experiences. An examination of recent and popular AAA games, such as Mass Effect 2 and Catherine, show some of the biggest obstacles currently restraining narrative agency are player interfaces, feedback systems, and tracking menus. These tools, meant to increase the ease with which the player can interact with the system, diminish meaningful choice by eliminating many of the processes inherent to decision making; fracture the player’s connection to the character by limiting the player’s narrative purpose and, therefore, the purpose of their choices; reinforce the game’s authority over the narrative and, thus, over the player, negating the need for moral principles of deliberation; and present easily decipherable and binary choices that eliminate the need for analysis and evaluation.

In: Mapping the Digital: Cultures and Territories of Play
Editors: Lindsey Joyce and Brian Quinn
In: Mapping the Digital: Cultures and Territories of Play
What is video game culture and video games as culture? Culture at Play avoids easy answers and deceitful single definitions. Instead, the collected essays included here navigate the messy and exciting waters of video games, of culture, and of the meeting of video games and culture, and do so from four perspectives: Players: Types and Identities; The Human/The Machine: Agents, Ethics, and Affect; Compassion, Recognition, and the Interpersonal; and Learning through Play. As a form of play, video games can greatly affect our lives. As digital objects, they participate in our digital lives. As both, they have a noticeable impact on our relationships with others, with society, and with ourselves, and this is the scope of this book.