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THE ILLUSIONS OF IMMERSIVE NARRATIVE BY GREGORY WASHKO A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Miriam Wallace Sarasota Florida May, 2013
Washko ii Table of Contents Abstract iii Introduction 1 Chapter 1: Theatrical Illusion in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead 4 Chapter 2: Videogames and the Problem of Interactivity 19 Conclusion 52 Bibliography 54
Washko iii THE ILLUSIONS OF IMMERSIVE NARRATIVE Gregory Washko New College of Florida, 2013 ABSTRACT Immersive narrative is filled with illusions. These illusions serve to enhance the experience for their audience, allowing the audience to suspend their disbelief about the unreality of the work in question and immerse themselves fully in the world that th e author has created. Some works, however attempt to expose these illusions and confront their audiences with them. They subvert the conventions of their medium, and in so doing, show us why these illusions exist and what the structure of immersive narrati ve is. This thesis examines three such works: the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard, the videogame Bioshock developed by 2K Games, and the videogame The Stanley Parable developed by Davey Wreden. These three works examine the probl em of authorial artifice and the relationship between audience and work in conventional immersive narratives, and this thesis is concerned with examining each in turn for what it contributes to our understanding of their respective mediums. Miriam Wallace Division of Humanities
Washko 1 Gregory Washko Introduction All narrative is infused with artifice. Characters act at the will of their author. As an audience, we suspend ou r disbelief about this. We allow ourselves to believe that characters in modern fiction are like real people, acting and reacting to circumstances around them in a manner derived from their internal beliefs, prejudices and personalities. This is an illusio n. The guiding hand of the author permeates everything. Modern realist works actively cultivate this illusion and present themselves as an immersive experience. Authors of realist and some genre fiction seek to create characters and plots that are believa ble and immerse their audience in their narratives. They deceive the audience, who in turn allow themselves to be deceived. Authors are judged on their ability to maintain the illusion and criticized for allowing it to slip. The audience wants to believe t he illusion that is the point of partaking in a narrative. There is pleasure and sometimes meaning to be found there. The illusion of reality is what allows the audience to immerse themselves in the work. If the audience starts to think of the work as a cr afted product, then the author has failed. Theater and videogames compound the illusion through their performative aspects. When an audience watches a play, they watch actors performing as characters. ers that they portray. In videogames as well, the player is usually cast as the protagonist, but the player knows that he or she is not literally the game character. In both cases, the audience knows not
Washko 2 t that even if they did exist, the actors cases, the audience suspends their disbelief about the performative aspect as well in order to immerse themselves in the narrati ve. Some works, however, take the opposite approach. They seek pleasure and meaning in the artifice itself and in revealing the gears and motors of its work. Tom Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is one such work. The play is an alterna Hamlet itself one of the best known and most beloved plays in the English language by perhaps the most celebrated playwright in western culture. The audience of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is expected to be familiar with Hamlet and may even remember the unfortunate fate of the pair. The title characters Hamlet stage in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead minor characters in a play that has already been written and their struggle to understand their place in a universe where an unseen author dominates their every a ction. The play shows us exactly how the whole structure works. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is a metaphorical peek behind the curtain to the inner workings of fiction. It shows how much power the author has and how rigidly everything is predetermined. It forces us to recognize as illusion the assumption that the characters are real humans with a will of their own because here we see two characters struggling with their own belief that they are autonomous individuals, only to discover that they are not.
Washko 3 Vid eogames seem to offer an alternative because they have an element of interactivity. There is no illusion there; the player really is a part of the action and can make real choices. So the logic goes, anyway. Many game developers make claims about high leve ls of player freedom their games offer. However, I argue that the interactivity of the videogame format actually changes very little, and that the player character is as much a slave to the author as any character in more traditional media, like a play or novel. The videogame Bioshock like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern tears away that illusion to show the miniscule amount of power the player actually has over the narrative. Unlike Rosencrantz and Guildenstern however, Bioshock is set up to make the player feel like an active participant in its narrative, only to subvert that belief at one critical moment near the end of the game. In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern the illusion is already there; the audience already knows Hamlet but Bioshock takes steps to c reate the The videogame The Stanley Parable explores the different possibilities of player choice versus authorial power. It showcases different ways that game authors have of dealin g with players who want to go off the rails, and shows us that the control of the author might just be a good thing. If nothing else, the hand of the author provides a context for experiencing narrative.
Washko 4 Chapter 1 : Theatrical Illusion in Rosencrantz a nd Guildenstern are Dead Immutability of Plot Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead The context here is that of a coin flipping game which has seen an impossibly long run of oddity of this. Early scenes show them pondering the meaning of this wildly improbable event as it grows more improbable with each result Rosencrantz and Guildenstern find themselves in. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead takes place within William Hamlet Hamlet is a famous revenge tragedy centering on the personal and political conflict between Danish Prince Hamlet and his uncle Claudius after Claudius mur in Hamlet so minor in fact that they are often cut from productions of the play. 1 Most of the named characters in Hamlet, including Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Hamlet himself, die during the play, and as a result, Hamlet is well known for its numerous dramatic death scenes. The characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are central to o ne scheme of Claudius to do away with Hamlet. The two are to escort Hamlet to England bearing a 1 Hamlet is a very long play (one uncut film adaptation clocks in at around four hours), and most productions, both stage and film, cut the script down to a more manageable size.
Washko 5 upon his arrival. During the voyage, Hamlet, distrustful of the pair, ope ns the letter and switches it with one instructing that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern be put to death in his place. Hamlet then escapes when pirates attack, and the audience learns the fate of the pair only at the end of the play when an English ambassador and Guildenstern are dead ( Hamlet Act 5. Scene 2. Line 371) 2 That is not to say that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead takes place in the same world as Hamlet making decisions and living through the consequences of those decisions, but rather one of characters playing roles in a pre determined plot. Hamlet has already been written. It is, in its curr ent state, immutable. The choices of its characters are set in stone. It would open the letter to England and in so doing change what Shakespeare had planned for them. If this occurred in an incidence of reading or viewing of Hamlet the audience would have every right to be confused and upset. If something like this happened, the play would no longer be Hamlet as Shakespeare wrote it. Shakespeare in general, and Hamlet particularly, have a widespread cultural aura; adapting Hamlet carries with it certain audience expectations. no coincidence that Stoppard chose such a well known play around which to base his own play. The audience knows from the start what must ine vitably happen to all the characters involved, and t he characters are ultimately slaves The Coin 2
Washko 6 Thus, in a way, the coin flip that begins Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead serves as a microcosm of the world the charact ers find themselves in. Each flip, the coin could land either heads or tails, yet it only ever lands heads. In the same way, Hamlet always could end differently. The events of the play are not all completely inevitable in terms of interior plot dynamics; t their flaws, and ultimately their decisions, just as the result of the coin flip is the result of the force of the flip, gravity, air resistance, etc. Yet just as the coin always comes up ery reading or staging of Hamlet the same events will transpire, the characters will make the same decisions, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern will end up dead in the end. This is what seems to separate the world that Stoppard created for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead from the world that Shakespeare created Hamlet In revealed t o have no kind of free will. In this way, Stoppard tears away the illusion set up Hamlet wants the audience to believe in its world, to view its characters as real people with real motivations. Rosencrantz and Guild enstern are Dead however, shows a metaphorical peek behind the curtain of Hamlet showing the artifice and unreality of the whole thing. As much as the audience wants to suspend disbelief and see the characters as real ions have been predetermined by Shakespeare. The voice of the author is absolute and immutable, and even when the characters ought to
Washko 7 change their course of action, they do not. This is particularly visible at the very end of the play, where Rosencrantz an d Guildenstern do open intended fate in England. Armed with this knowledge, they certainly ought to be able to avoid their deaths, thus changing the way that Hamlet ends, even if it is in a small way. As an audience, we w can act independently. We want to believe that they die because of their hand in they die simply becaus e Shakespeare wrote that they die. Upon learning of their soon to be deaths in England, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern simply fade out of existence altogether, and we later see the English ambassador from the final scene of Hamlet informing Horatio of their Recursive Narrative Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is a recursive narrative. A recursive narrative occurs when one narrative takes place within another. As Brian McHale and a film crew, who make a film which in turn projects its own fictio nal world; then The play Hamlet itself contains a recursive narrative. There, Hamlet arranges for his uncle Claudius to watch a play about a king being murdered by his brother the same way that Claudius. This is a recursive narrative; the characters in the play Hamlet put on a play of their own for other characters. This effectively creates two layers in Hamlet Firstly, there
Washko 8 is the play Hamlet itself, for which the audience suspends its disbelief and accepts the Hamlet The audience sees this play as false, because it is merely a perfo rmance within the world that they accept as real. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is also recursive, but the layers here are more muddled. The audience is meant to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Hamlet Hamlet is v ery real to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern themselves, and just as Hamlet that play. Rosencrantz and Guildens tern can, therefore, be said to exist on two levels simultaneously. They exist both within Hamlet and outside of it. They are bound by its script, but are outsiders to its narrative. Nowhere is this clearer than in the manifestation of authorial power. Ros encrantz and Guildenstern are completely bound to the script of Hamlet They lack any kind of Hamlet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern even become partially aware of the ir situation, that they can do nothing to defy their author. Ros: I could jump over the side. That would put a spoke in their wheel. The futility of it, fury. ( Page 108)
Washko 9 Guildenst Hamlet on a higher tier in Rosencrantz and recursive narrative. The character of the Player is of particular interest here as well. As one who actively partakes in the illusions of theater, he is someone who walks the boundaries between narrative levels. He appears both as his own character and as a character in performances one level dee per into recursive structure. al form and convention to step a level higher in the structure than Rosencrantz and Guildenstern themselves. His dialogue with the title du o reveals that he has privileged knowledge of their place in the narrative structure. We see his troupe of actors performing a play eerily similar to Hamlet, including the deaths of the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern analogues. He also insists cryptically that he has (Page 66) hinting that he may be aware of the repetition of the narrative, like the repetition of the coin flip. Further demonstrating that the Player has access to a higher narrative le vel is his greater understanding of death than Guildenstern. Guildenstern spends most of the play Page 108). This seems like a sensible, realistic view of death. The Player, by contrast, sees death in a theatrical sense.
Washko 10 Page 79 ). This comes to a hea d when Guildenstern confronts the player near the end of the play. Player: In our experience, most things end in death. Guil: Your experience! Actors! that. And you cannot act it. You die a thousand casual deaths with none of the intensity as you die, you know that you will come back in a different hat. But no one gets up after death there is no applause there is only silence and some second death ( Page 123 ) With that, Guildenstern stabs the Player, who falls, apparently dead. But contrary to is the kind they do believe in performance is able to fool Guildenstern, who clearly thinks that he knows something about death, shows that in this world, his version of death, the fake and repeatable kind, is the kind of d to shift between narrative levels.
Washko 11 Doing On Stage what is Supposed to Happen Off Stage T he format of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead further illustrates its Hamlet off Which has a certain integrity, if you look on every exit being an entrance somewhere times (Page 23) to engage in pornography and prostitution to stay afloat, but ther double meaning to his words. Almost the entirety of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is that which is supposed to take place off stage in Hamlet When an audience watches Hamlet Guildenstern except in certain scenes. It is presumed that the characters are doing something off or cease to be the characters that they are. To think otherwise would be a failure of audience suspen sion of disbelief, and ruins the illusion of theater. In Hamlet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two minor characters practically named extras switches the letters, t he two are not seen or heard from again until the final lines of the play A fter almost everyone in the play has die d, a n English ambassador arrives with news that they have been put to death. In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead the titular pair takes cente r stage. The events of Hamlet happen around them. Most of Hamlet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and vice versa. While the audience is watching Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead the events of Hamlet play
Washko 12 out invisible to th em, and Stoppard asks us to imagine that while an audience watches Hamlet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is likewise taking place elsewhere. To show Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as they appear in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is therefore d Firstly, just by following Rosencrantz and Guildenstern the play is showing what should be off stage for the majority of Hamlet Secondly, the depiction of Rosencrantz and They strip away the illusions of the theater experience, laying bare the falsehoods of scriptwriters. In order to maintain the illusion, audiences must think of characters having their own existence independent of whether or not they are on stage. Rosencrantz and from Hamlet ) they behave ver stage. Other characters, even Hamlet himself, normally praised for their depth and complexity, come across as lifeless and robotic in this new context. Their dialogue is obviously more theatrical t Deprived of context, scenes seem arbitrary and confusing. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead shows off the inherent trickery in maintaining the theatrical illusion. The characters of Hamle t especially Rosencrantz and mply going through the
Washko 13 Of course, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is not without its own layer of theatrical illusion. It is, after all, a play just like Hamlet is, al beit one with less cultural Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead what Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead does to Hamlet and another play that does to that play what that play does to Rosencran tz and Guildenstern are Dead and so on ad infinitum narrative) to employ the kind of illu sion that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead shows are at play in Hamlet Without these illusions, many great works, like Hamlet itself, could not exist as we know them. Immutability of Text There are parts of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead in which dialogue from Hamlet occurs onstage. Typically, several characters from Hamlet walk onstage, dialogue occurs. What is particularly telling is that in these parts Rosencrantz and Guildenstern speak only in their lines from Hamlet Everywhere else, they use a much more modern style of speech. Contrast these lines: s Ros: Both your majesties
Washko 14 Might, by the sovereign power you have of us Put your dread pleasures more into command Than to entreaty Guil: But we both obey, And here give up ourselves in the full bent To lay our service freel y at your feet, To be commanded. (Page 36) With these lines, immediately after everyone save Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exit: Ros: I want to go home. --( Page s 37 38 ) Rosencrantz and Guild enstern both speak very differently when they are on their own of back and fo rth exchanges between characters. Characters frequently interrupt each Rosencrantz and Guildenstern speak in modern sounding English when not taking part in scenes from Hamlet (understandable, as Stoppard is a modern playwright), while their dialogue sounds antiquated while they are taking part in such scenes. Characters in
Washko 15 cenes. On these occasions when a scene from Hamlet occurs within Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead the voice of Shakespeare completely takes over the characters. It is impossible to reconcile the vastly different speech patterns that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exhibit in their Hamlet dialogue and their other dialogue. They are completely tied to the ir script. When they are away from the action of Hamlet their lines do not matter, but when they intersect with Hamlet keeps them on the script. Meaning in Inevitability With all of this established, the question ari with a well established piece of literature is fun, and there is a certain satisfaction in exposing the illusions and inner workings of theater and other literature (since the thoughts raised by Rosencrantz and Guildenst ern are Dead could easily apply beyond the masturbation: pleasurable, but ultimately meaningless? If we cannot find meaning in the struggles of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, then the play is nothing more or less than an entertainment piece. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead could very easily have been a simple But there is mean literary world that they inhabit.
Washko 16 There is a tragic element to them that they share with Hamlet in the play that bears his name. A tragedy has a certain inevitability to it. There is an exchange about this perform: Player: Do you call that an ending? with practically everyone still on his feet? My goodness no over your dea d body. surely you know that? Events must play themselves out to aesthetic, moral, and logical conclusion.(sic) Player: It never varies we aim at the point at which ever yone who has been marked for death dies. (p. 79) advanced far (often before the play has even begun) the audience knows who the tragic figure is that meets his demise This is especially true of Shakespeare, simply through cultural ubiquity. At any given performance of Hamlet most members of the audience (if not every member of the audience) knows that the title character Hamlet will die at the end. This inevitability is imp downfall leads the audience to connect with the character. As far back as
Washko 17 Poetics death or suffering is crucial to tragedy. This is true of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Even discounting the ubiquity of Hamlet which will clue in most readers to the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the title makes it obvious that the pair will die. The inevitability of Rosencrantz and Guild themes of inevitability of plot raised throughout Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead only serve to reinforce this inevitability, as it becomes increasingly crantz and Guildenstern will not escape their author mandated fates. Throughout Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead the audience gets to understand. We see them at their highest and their lowest. In short, the audience grows to care about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern just as they would grow to care emotionally, and on this level, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead functions as a tragedy. The fate of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is perhaps even more lamentable that that of Hamlet. Throughout Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead the point is made again and again that the titular duo are seconda ry characters to the main cast of Hamlet Hamlet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern die offstage. They are unimportant. The include them
Washko 18 as characters. Most audiences will know this, and it makes Rosencrantz and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead all the more pitiable. Hamlet dies, but he will be forever remembered as a major character in western literature. Meanwhile, Rosencra ntz and Guildenstern are doomed to obscurity (Ironically, the success of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead has led to greater public awareness of the characters). Even in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead they are denied a proper death scene. They simply fade
Washko 19 Chapter 2: Videogames and the Problem of Interactivity When it comes to concerns of authorial power and control, one narrative medium stands in an unusual position: the videogame. Videogames p ossess an element of interactivity, which is unique to their form of narration. Many games feature non interactive segments including cinematic cut scenes that play out simply as short films, a primary feature of their 3 and the audience contribute to building a narrative. In other media, the author at least always has control over the content of the work. A novelist gets to decide which words go on the page and in what order, a film director gets to choose how the movie is pieced together, etc. This is not true of videogames, because there is always one element that the author cannot predict and has minimum control over, and that is the player. Th us, while non interactive media need not concern themselves with authorial issues if they do not want to, a videogame author must have answers for how free his or her player character is within the confines of the videogame. Are they truly free to make wha tever decisions they like? Or are they locked into a rigid script, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Most videogames do not have these concerns as central themes. However, Bioshock and The Stanley Parable are among the few that do. While videogames must h ave rules for how much the player character is constrained by the author, they need not raise these concerns overtly to their audience of players. In the vast majority of cases, these decisions happen behind closed doors, with authors choosing how much fre edom to give their player characters without the player being troubled by these questions. 3 F or the sake of consistency, I will continue to use this term for the developers.
Washko 20 I argue that the interactivity of videogames changes little in the narrative structure of videogames. The same authorial power that Stoppard illustrates in Rosencra ntz and Guildenstern are Dead is present in videogames as well. Both Bioshock and The Stanley Parable demonstrate this through their narratives. Linearity versus Openness One might think that a game, being interactive, would have more narrative variance from player to player, or even between playthroughs for the same player, than traditional non interactive media. This is less the case that appears at first glance. Many games have purely linear stories, keeping the player from making any meaningful choice s. In such games, the gameplay mostly consists of navigating through the levels following all given instructions. Modern FPS (first person shooter) 4 games are particularly entrenched in strictly linear narrative. This is common enough that games like Biosh ock (an FPS) and The Stanley Parable (a module for an existing FPS) use the linearity typical of most games to further their own artistic ends. Several games have played with narrative justifications for their linearity or openness. In the Half Life series player character Gordon Freeman is a pawn of forces far beyond his control. In Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines a powerful vampire will magically dominate the player character should he or she choose to be disloyal. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning take s the opposite route, explaining that the player character is the only person in the world who is free from the forces of fate. 4 This is a conventional term for a perspective that is visualized throu gh the eyes of the character as he or she moves through the game.
Washko 21 On some level or another, all games are forking paths narratives. This is a narrative in which there are multiple possible chain s of events. Videogames frequently have these multiple possible outcomes and always have multiple sequences of events that can lead to those outcomes. Unique to videogames, however, is the way these different sequences of events are presented. In the conte xt of forking paths narrative, McHale also contradiction to put 5 Video games, however, are rarely so direct. They will put forth mutually exclusive states of affairs, but only one of them is shown to any given player on any given playthrough. When one fork is chosen, any mutually exclusive fork is effectively erased. The play er will see a certain state of affairs based on his or her own actions within the game and never see the others, though these potential states all exist Bioshock the player character is forced to choose between rescuing the Little Sisters (genetically modified children used to harvest and produce harvest their ADAM, killing them in the process. Both of these states of affairs Little Siste rs rescued and Little Sisters harvested are simultaneously true and not true for the game as a whole, though one or the other will be true for a given playthrough. It is this display of only one potential state of affairs at any given time that is key to the illusion of freedom that exists in videogames. It is a long held truism in the gaming community that the amount of freedom a game gives its player character is inversely proportional to the potential strength of the story. That is to say a game in whi ch the player is given very little freedom to make 5 Thomas Pynchon, 1973
Washko 22 choices for the player character can have a very strong story, while a videogame that gives its players a great deal of freedom is has much less potential. There is a certain logic to this line of thinking When a game gives a great deal of freedom, it means that the author must split resources between different possible paths that the player could take. Furthermore, freedom for the player to make choices on behalf of the protagonist creates an ill defined character to write for. For example, in Fallout 3 the player character is given the choice to expose a plot to detonate a nuclear bomb in the middle of a populated city, thus saving all of its inhabitants, or to accept a bribe from the plotters to look t he that fits for both characters and both plotlines. When a story is rigidly defined, authors can know their characters what they are like, what is important to them and make the game specifically about that character. Right along with these character limitations are narrative limitations. To use the Fallout 3 example, the destruction of a city should be a major narrative event. The consequences of such a player choic e should logically be huge. However, the rest of the plot of Fallout 3 must align with either choice. What should be both a character and narrative defining moment cannot have serious long term consequences because future events will unfold the same way regardless of which outcome occurs. This choice and its consequences, th erefore, must exist in a vacuum, separate from the rest of the game. These radically different choices turn out mostly meaningless in the long run. running Final Fantasy The Elder Scrolls series. Final Fantasy is known for its lengthy, character driven plots in which the
Washko 23 player is largely a passive observer. In the Elder Scrolls games, the player character is a blank slate for th e player to define, and the player has a great deal of power over the Final Fantasy tends to have much more sophisticated plots and well developed characters than The Elder Scrolls while The Elder Scrolls allow 6 Developer BioWare has taken up a strong middle ground position with games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age in which the player, rather than having the near absolute freedom of The Elder Scrolls, is given choices with a few archetypes around which to base their character; possible decisions are then limited and based on those archetypes. An even more extreme contrast exists between Dear Esther and Minecraft The former leaves nothing up to the player. The player c haracter must simply walk forward continuously, listening passively to the audible narration and looking at the visuals. In Minecraft there is virtually no narrative to speak of. Players are dropped into an open, randomly generated world with no goal or st ory other than what they invent for themselves. These two are so extreme that there is some controversy over whether they Dear Esther has more in common with a short film than it does with most games, and Minecraft lacks any e nd goal, and has more in common with creative toys like Lego than with most other videogames. These alternate viewpoints seem to speak to a push and pull between authorial power and player agency. In order for the player to have some power over the narrati ve, the author must give some up. Nevertheless seemingly very open games, with the exception of some extreme examples like Minecraft have just as much artifice as the 6 Of course, much of this comes down to technological limitations. Many developers would love to give players absolute freedom, but this is simply not practical. Because of the far reaching consequences any given choice can have, more freedom for the player translates directly into more work for the developer.
Washko 24 linear games. The only difference is the number of forks in the path. There are more pot ential states of affairs in The Elder Scrolls than in Final Fantasy but all of those possible sets of circumstances are just as scripted. Any state of affairs that can be considered narratively legitimate must be one that the author planned for and script ed into the game. This is why narratives of very open games tend to be disjointed and fragmented. Authors of open yet narrative games must plan for a great many potential situations leading up to any given moment, so they take refuge in vagueness. It is im portant, I think, to focus on choices that are narratively important. Even in very open games, linearity of narrative is quite common. Take for example an action adventure game like any of the Legend of Zelda titles. Unlike most FPSs, in which the player i s ushered from one encounter to the next on a strictly linear path, the Zelda games encourage exploration of the environment and often have places and tasks which can be games like Grand Theft Auto or which feature large persistent worlds where missions take place. While these games offer a great deal of freedom in how the player character approaches different situations, they offer little freedom in what the player character is doing. Thus, I claim, these games do not offer real narrative freedom. The player character may choose to complete quest X before quest Y or vice versa, but in the end, all that is important to the narrative was that both ques ts were completed. Another important distinction is between narrative and strategic decisions. In addition to having narratives, virtually every videogame that exists has rules and can be tion, while a strategic decision is purely a matter of navigating toward a winning game state while avoiding a
Washko 25 losing game state. There is frequently some overlap between these two decision types. For example, many games offer the narrative decision of whe ther to be good or evil with each choice carrying strategic weight in addition to its narrative weight. A good character might be better at healing and supporting allies while an evil character has access to better combat powers. There is undoubtedly tensi on here when narrative and strategic at the procedural level the game can also be explained as a search for the optimal set of weaponry ( From Counter Strike to Counter Statement p. 92) will be focusing on narrative decisions, excluding strategic concerns. It is unimportant to y strategic choices a player makes. There are some gray areas, however. For example, in Deus Ex: Human Revolution the player is given little choice of what to do but a great deal of choice of how to do it, much like in Zelda However, in Deus Ex it is na rratively important how protagonist Adam Jenson approaches his tasks, and this applies to themes of trans humanism. In Deus Ex the new technology of human augmentation has made it possible to push humans beyond what they would otherwise be capab le of, and protagonist Adam Jensen is very heavily augmented. An Adam Jenson that solves his problems nonviolently when possible and non lethally when forced to violence will be painted in a very different light at the end of the game than an Adam Jenson w hose first reaction upon facing trouble is to go for his gun. The question of whether or not humanity is ready for wields the power given to him by his various augmentations.
Washko 26 Gamer Freedom and Bioshock Bioshock was an important game for a number of reasons. Much of marketing was based around the supposed freedom it offered. It offered players multiple ways of dealing with encounters and gave players the moral choice of whether to rescue the Little Sisters or harvest them for ADAM. The game claimed to be full of choice and player freedom. Unlike most first person shooters before or since, it actually tried to introduce and work with real world philosophical themes. The game draws heavily on the literature and philosophy of Ayn Rand; its story takes place in the ruins of the underwater city Rapture, a would be objectivist utopia gone horribly wrong. While there is a narrative about player character Jack fighting for surv ival among the ruins, the real story of Bioshock is the from its few remaining lucid survivors. He picks up audio logs from before the fall. He o tell the story of a city that had everything and lost it. Through these bits and pieces, the player gradually fills in the gaps in the puzzle about how Rapture was founded by wealthy industrialist Andrew Ryan and built on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean to avoid what he saw as the tyranny of government and religion. The player learns about how a criminal element crept in centered around smuggling goods to and from the surface world, and how corruption infected the rulers of r legal obligations disconnected from their business interests. The player gets to see into the lives of several citizens of the doomed city,
Washko 27 civil war. The player ge ts to learn how the once idyllic Rapture became the nightmarish wreck that Jack encounters in Bioshock Interwoven through this whole narrative are objectivist themes and ideas. The Bioshock draws directly from objectivism founding writer and philosopher Ayn Rand. Bioshock is simultaneously was built on objectivist ideals, and everything points to the city having once been truly makes it unclear whether the failure of Rapture was its foundin g philosophy or the people advances in bioengineering and genetic modification far in advance of progress on the ic and technological advances. The game is set in the mid 20 th century, yet it features sophisticated technology such as automated robot security systems. The other noteworthy thing about Bioshock is contained in one moment near the end of the game. Throug hout the game, the player has been receiving instructions via radio from a man named Atlas. The player has no real choice of whether or not to follow tells him/her to This on its own is not at all unusual. In most games, particularly first person shooters like Bioshock the player character is given constant instruction from other supporting characters, often by radio or some other long distance communication.
Washko 28 This al lows for the player to receive instructions on how to proceed in the game without the developer having to worry about having an actual character accompanying the player character. Sometimes this support character has actual authority over the player charac ter (a superior officer in a military organization, for instance) but just as often it is simply an ally. This setup is in place to allow the player a sense of agency without actually offering much in the way of choice. The constant contact with important non player characters makes the player character seem important. The player character is someone worth talking to and usually the go to guy to solve problems, and this makes the player feel empowered. The constant commands lend agency to the player charact er. It creates the sense that the player character is not merely tolerated but needed. If not for the player character, nothing would get done. The support character needs the player character to do whatever needs doing. This creates the sense that the pla yer character is an active force in the game world, even though he/she is only reacting to the non player characters. Though the player character, and by extension the player, never makes any meaningful choices, they are both still given a kind of agency. At the same time, the author maintains control character is heavily involved without compromising authorial power. The player character stays in much the same situation that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are in: able to make certain choices and afforded some freedom at certain points, but ultimately bound to a specific script laid out by an author. The paths branch, but they always re converge upon a single point. Rosencra ntz and Guildenstern, Hamlet can talk as they wish and act
Washko 29 Hamlet Similarly, the player character o the extent that he or she does not constrained freedom. The respective characters are given very specific parameters in which they can exercise their freedom. Ultimately this renders what freedom the characters are afforded hollow. They can make trivial decisions, but cannot make meaningful choices. Games rarely address this. Bioshock is a rare exception, as will be demonstrated shortly. Another game that addresses the i ssue in more depth is The Stanley Parable which I will look at in some detail later. Near the end of Bioshock after spending most of the game following orders from nfronts Andrew Ryan with the intent to kill him (Atlas and Ryan were the leaders of their respective sides during Bioshock bulletproof windows were commonly used to show sce nes to the player without interrupting gameplay but also without allowing the player to interfere with the scene in question). Ryan reveals certain plot details and explains to the player character what, in his philosophy, is the difference between a man a player loses control. Never before in the game has con trol been directly taken away from
Washko 30 regardless of what the player tries to do. flashback occurs Scenes from the game are shown in flashes while the voice clips from Atlas c in a later scene that Jack is genetically programmed to obey any order given with thos e words. Ryan then continues to demonstrate his power over Jack, giving commands that ding Jack then proceeds to beat Ryan to death with the club while Ryan chokes out his this scene. Control is completely taken away. The player can only watch powerless as Jack brutally kills Ryan. The scene plays out entirely within the game engine, and the first person perspective is maintained. To the casual observer, it might appear that the player stays in control throughout the sequence. There was a hint of this in an earlier bulletproof window between Jack and the other characters. Just before this scene, Atlas asks without any player input. This is a far subtler version of what is at play during the
Washko 31 confrontation with Andrew Ryan: the player is denied control of Jack because another charact er wills it. The reason the scene with Andrew Ryan is significant is that it undermines the narrative of all linear, directed gameplay. As I explained before, the purpose of objectives given by non player characters is to provide the player character, and by extension the player, with a kind of agency, but Bioshock shows the inherent trickery at play there. By placing the player character as simply a mind controlled puppet, completely at the mercy of non player characters, Bioshock strips away the illusion that Jack has any agency of The revelation that Atlas has been using Jack this whole time represents both a personal betrayal of Jack by Atlas (though Jack is a silent certain trust between the two) and a meta betrayal of the player by the game itself. Making things worse, Jack is a silent, blank slate protagonist. He is meant to be fully inhabited by the player as his or her avatar in the game world. The player might have imagined any sort of background or personality for Jack, and even these are stripped away. Jack has no history; he was grown in a lab and implanted with false memories of a life on the surface. Jack is finall y revealed for exactly what he is: an artificial tool through which others act, but with no agency of his own. The fact that control is completely denied the player at this moment, and only this moment, is important because it emphasizes the powerlessness that both the player and
Washko 32 Ryan gives Jack very specific orders to show his complete control over Jack, while Atlas had mostly given generalized long term goals for him, and this is paralleled by the player losing control at this point. Atlas deliberate ly maintained the illusion that Jack was an independent agent acting of his own free will, and Ryan strips away that illusion by assuming a much more direct form of control. Similarly, the game has taken every effort to empower the player and give a feelin g of agency, only to seize the reins at a crucial man, but a slave, and the player is in much the same situation. Because the game maintains the first choice but to obey. The flashbac scene seems different because it takes direct control away from the player, in reality nothing has chan not, indeed cannot choose. The agency that players feel that they have is illusory. Ultimately, players can only obey. As stated previously, Bioshock is not at all unique in the way is guides its players. What Bioshock has to say about objective based gameplay is applicable to a wide variety of games past and present. By conforming to convention in so many ways, Bioshock renders its insights into the way gameplay works universal to the g aming experience.
Washko 33 Just to hammer this home, after Ryan is dead and control returned to the player, player now know that Atlas has been manipulating them, and they know the power behind the words ing the entire game. This time, however, is different. The illusion of control has been pulled away, and cannot hollow sort of control. The player has control only in r igidly defined parameters, and has no power outside that. It is perhaps greatest failing that it continues on after this sequence. condition. At this point, Ja this point become wider, but they are no less rigidly defined. The player still has very specific objectives to accomplish, given via radio by a (this time genuinely) friendly non player chara cter. While Bioshock exposes the trickery and illusion involved in objective based gameplay, it is itself not exempt from it. Narrow and rigidly defined parameters for player interaction are a necessity in games for technological and narrative reasons. Som e games offer more true freedom, but this comes at the expense of narrative, which Bioshock is clearly very invested in. Technological limitations also mean that game authors focused on narrative must limit the parameters of player interaction. It would ta ke an artificial intelligence capable of thinking in human narrative terms to cope with unexpected player actions, so the only alternative is to disallow the player from taking
Washko 34 unexpected actions. The power of Bioshock was that it merged its subject matter seamlessly with its format. During the confrontation with Andrew Ryan, the parallels freed from his genetic programing, however, the subject matter and the format are di vorced from each other. Jack has become a man, but the player remains a slave. The Stanley Parable The Stanley Parable is a fascinating game. It is a modification of Half Life 2 that uses the engine and several art assets from that game. The Stanley Parab le offers a rich look into choice in videogames. The game is short enough that I feel it would be productive to analyze almost all of the game closely. The Stanley Parable is positively the traditional sense. Almost all games, even the most narratively driven ones, have challenges and a condition for winning. The Stanley Parable simply has choices. None of them are better or worse. None of them lead to inherent victor y or defeat. The Stanley Parable brings together the recursive meta narrative of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and the forking paths narrative of games like Bioshock The Stanley Parable is unusual among videogames in that its forking paths very ra rely converge. Almost every potential branching point leads down a different and discrete narrative path, and the paths differ wildly. The Obedient ending
Washko 35 The game begins with a voiceover from the Narrator. He explains that Stanley works for a company in a big building, where he is employee number 427. The Narrator pushed buttons on a keyboard. Orders came to him through a monitor beside his desk, telling hi m what buttons to push, how long to push them, and in what order. This is what employee 427 did every day of every month of every year, and though others might have considered it soul rending, Stanley relished every moment that the orders came in, as if he had been made exactly for this job. And Stanley was happy. videogames. Stanley pushes buttons. Stanley enjoys pushing buttons according to the instructions that show up on h is monitor. A game operates in much the same way; the player is given instructions through his or her monitor or television and must press buttons to succeed in the game. Stanley makes no meaningful choices in his line of work, and neither do players have meaningful choices in their games. unpalatable despite the obvious parallel to an activity that so many people find enjoyable. Stanley might as well be employed to play videogames, and yet his career seems empty and devoid of meaning. Describing him doing this job "every day of every month of
Washko 36 would love to have enough free time to be able to play vi deogames every day. The lack of meaningful choice from Stanley makes his job seem completely unfulfilling, and it meaningless work. Then, of course, something peculiar happ ens. Stanley suddenly stops receiving time before deciding to get up from his d esk. At this point, the player is given control of to proceed is down a long corridor with no branching paths. As the player/Stanley walks down the corridor, the Na when no one is there to help him, and has decided to seek out his coworkers at the employee lounge. Here, the critique of linear games continues. The corridor offers no choice in where the play er is allowed to go. Only one path will yield results. Here, the player is just of what to do, then how is he or she to proceed? In almost any game scenario where the player is not given instructions, the only course of action is the one that Stanley is taking: find
Washko 37 someone to receive instructions from. Stanley is the image of someone playing a linear Soon, the player/Stanley arrives in a square room with two doors, and the player is given his or her first choice. Which door to go through? According to the Narrator, along with the Narrator or defy him. This choice is purely narrative, neither choice has a The Stanley Parable is that it has no t rue way to win or lose. It has many different possible endings, but none are presented as traditional winning or losing game states. Thus the choices in The Stanley Parable cannot be strategic, because the game cannot be won or lost. This allows the player remain purely narrative. The player, being presented with the two doors must then make a purely narrative choice between following the Narrator and defying him. Going through the left door (the door closes behind him, as do most doors in the game), Stanley proceeds down another hallway and into the employee lounge, which is empty. Stanley decides (according to the Narrator) that he should go see his boss. Another door opens and Stanley is brought down another hallway to a stairwell. The Narrat also strangely absent, but the Narrator calls attention to the numbered keypad on the wall. nley could know that the code is one nine five seven. The player can input this code, which will open a secret door to stairs downward. Waiting will cause the Narrator to repeat the
Washko 38 code several times with increasing impatience. (The Narrator comments that Stanley inputted the correct code purely by a lucky guess.) player to input the code into the keypad is the first clue that something is not quite right with the Narrator. It shows that he has a desire to keep the story moving, whether Stanley/the player wants it to or not. This shows the recursive meta narrative clearly. The The Stanley Parable is a story about storytelling, and the one telling the story is under just as much scrutiny as those in the story. The narrator holds a higher level in the game than Stanley, he level of a traditional third person narrator. Such a narrator is closer to the level of the audience: watching the story from the outside and relating the events from a privileged position of knowledge and power, letting the audience in on the character s actions and often even their internal thoughts and feelings. This narrator interacts with Stanley directly, and is thus closer to his level of the story. Stanley continues down the stairs and down another corridor (again, there are no other options) to f ind a room full of machines with a prominent control panel and monitors labeled with employee numbers for the building, including his own number 427. The Narrator reveals that the control panel controls not a machine, but Stanley himself, and presumably th Could this be the only reason that employee number 427 was content with his boring job? That a machine had
Washko 39 The Narrator continues to guide Stanley up a series of ladders to the generator for ables the generator, as the Narrator instructs him to, a door opens behind him leading outside. As soon as Stanley steps through the door, the player loses control. The Narrator then leaves the player with a vement and his happiness at his The great irony of this ending is that in order to get here, the player must have obeyed the Narrator completely throughout t he game. The ending is unsatisfying, as it way to play the game. While this is a genuine victory for Stanley and for the Narrator, it is a hollow victory for the p layer. If the player sees his or her own relationship with ending is a relief. The pla yer still sees from the first person perspective of Stanley, but no longer has any influence. Thus, when the loses his/her free agency, Stanley gains his. Stanley has gained freedom not only from his boss, but also from the player. The player has relinquis hed control to the Narrator so far, so it naturally follows that he/she completely loses control of Stanley at the end. This is the only ending in which the player loses control of Stanley, and interestingly, this is the only possible ending in which the c redits play.
Washko 40 Another Ending nsistence that Stanley is supposed to disable the generator, and Stanley has been obedient up to this point. When directly for the first time: activate the controls did you? After it kept you enslaved all these years you go and you try to take control of the machine for yourself? Is that what you wanted? Control? Stanley, Stanley *laughter*, I applaud your effort, I really do, but you need to und that that machine can do. You were meant to let it go, turn the controls off and better than that. He then goes on to create, through narration, an emergency nuclear self destruct system for the complex, which will certainly kill Stanley. There is a countdown, visible onscreen, for how much time is remaining. He speaks to Stanley the whole time the counter counts down, even adding more time to the cl ock just so that he can watch Stanley squirm longer. He criticizes Stanley for his refusal to go along with the story and mocks him for his total lack of control over his fate.
Washko 41 ending to most games in the Metroid series, which is famous for endings wh ere protagonist Samus Aran escapes a mysterious facility about to self destruct, complete with on screen timer. Stanley must now escape from the complex within the given time established challenge in video games. The Narrator, however, i s two steps ahead of both the player and Stanley. There is no escape. The Narrator has asserted terms: When you saw that timer, you just instinctively started trying to f ind an exit, doors or vents or something and solve the puzzle As though this game has a solution, as if it can be won. The room even contains several buttons that turn on lig hts but still offer no way out. They exist only to make the player think that there is a puzzle to be solved. Perhaps the right In this ending the Narrator asserts his near complete control of the game. He not only shows his capacity to kill Stanley, but takes the opportunity to talk down to him from his unassailable position as author. Stanley is shown to be very insignificant, on ly
Washko 42 and Guildenstern, however, Stanley shows no memory of these past tellings of his story. It is possible for this to be the first ending that the player sees. There is indeed one ending in which Stanley is never set free, but there is no link between that ending and this one. They could be seen in either order, or not at all. This ending establishes a world in which the author reigns supreme as we see the Narrator punish Stanley for his one free act. Nevertheless, this ending is not an absolute victory for the narrator either. Throughout his monologue he sounds bitter, and frequent ly petty. He claims that Stanley ending that the narrator hoped for. It is a narrative ending for the player, but for the narrator and Stanley, the story has simply been interrupted and is never put back on track. Stanley, the Narrator too is left without his story in this ending. This branch of the story is representative of the kind of author who takes a great deal of effort to keep players on track, and it comes across as highly critical of such instructions will result in a failure state, and the most common failure state by far is death of the player character. Alt hough The Stanley Parable is atypical in that players do not win or lose based on their decisions, the situation parallels this common device used to keep players on track. Players will lose the game if they stray from what the author wants
Washko 43 of them. This u ltimately renders player input into the story moot. The player will continually fail until he or she takes the actions that the author wanted. Games that use this method of keeping the player in line usually boil down to simple skill challenges. The first person shooter (a genre to which this is common) Homefront was criticized for excessively killing the player character for not following the script exactly Even the kind of strategic decision usually considered unimportant enough to the narrative to leave and when to stay behind cover, etc.) were dictated by a strict script, and deviation from that script meant death. 7 However, the death of the player character is not considered a narrative restart from an earlier point and follow the script more closely. The player had better keep on the path because there are metaphorical landmines lining the sides. Of course, Homefront and Guildenstern had their own script to deal with: the script of Hamlet They were not punished for deviation; they were simply never allowed to deviate. The railroading seen in Homefro nt is only recognizable because it is so heavy handed. The same thing is at play in both Homefront and in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (the obvious difference being that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead uses the tension deliberately for effec t). The protagonists are bound to follow a specific script, and despite the appearance of free will, they have no power to influence the outcome. It has already been written. The Stanley Parable exposes the deceit that videogame authors employ in attemptin g to create the illusion of player freedom just as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern 7 n cannot leave its tracks.
Washko 44 are Dead exposes the deceit inherent in the illusion of character freedom. Homefront breaks the illusion accidentally through its poor design, while Bioshock and The Stanley P arable deliberately strip away the narrative trickery to show their players exactly where they stand. The Path of Disobedience Moving back to the first choice in the game the choice between the two doors the path branches significantly. When the player chooses the right door the one that the Narrator says Stanley take it starts Stanley down a very different path. Fi rst, the Narrator attempts to lure Stanley back to the obedient path by offering a door and narrating Stanley through it, still using the third person to refer to Stanley. This sets this path at a contrast with the path that begins obediently. In the previ ous ending, the Narrator immediately starts addressing Stanley directly in the second person when he shows disobedience. Taking the offered door will simply deposit Stanley in the hall to the employee lounge with no other effect, but continuing down the ha llway will bring Stanley to a room with an elevator and prompt more monologues from the Narrator. In this narration, the Narrator maintains his composure and continues in the third that Stanley decided to punish himself for ruining the story, and that he goes up in the elevator in order to do this.
Washko 45 This Narrator seems very different from the one in the second ending. That Narrator decided to kill and humiliate Stanley for refusing to follow the story. This Narrator takes a much more passive aggressive approach. The Narrator from ending two blows up the whole complex to punish Stanley. This Narrator has to rely on Stanley voluntarily deciding to punish himself. This narrator seems on t he whole far less powerful than the previous narrator. Stanley has real power to choose his fate under this narrator. He can defy this narrator without fearing inescapable death. Continuing with the disobedient trend, Stanley then descends in the elevator and The Narrator then requests of Stanley that he allow the Narrator to tell his story. Once his story; he just has to hope that he decides to do w even have the power to punish Stanley for his disobedience as he did in the second ending. Leaving the elevator, Stanley again finds two doors, one red and one blue. The tant. Stanley walked through the red the blue door. He will barely make it a few steps before he is teleported back to the room with the doors and the Narrator will m ake his request again, more vehemently. If Stanley
Washko 46 Stanley travels down a corridor and through a door to find a large empty room, technical perspective. The walls and floor are plastered with the default devwall texture while the ceiling is tiled with default skybox texture. These are the assets developers use as placeholders until the real art for the game is ready. This is a room that one would expect to find in an early test build of a game not a completed product. The Narrator this room. Still, he reasons that Stanley needs something to do, so he decides to load up a new map for him to explore. Then, the next map loads, and Stanley finds himself getting off a train in a heavily urban area. This is the first map of Half Life 2 minus all the people. The Stanley Parable is a modification of Half Life 2 and the map is distinct enough to be immediately familiar to anyone who has played that game. The Narrator wastes no time i n pointing out that this map was never made for Stanley. Half Life 2 is a very linear game, and Stanley only Half Life 2 the map was full of p eople, but Stanley and the Narrator are alone here now.
Washko 47 Narrator points out that Stanl ey will have to make his own ending now, since he certainly Half Life 2 The hole seems to lead out of the world, into nothing but blackness. This hole is the only way for Stanley to go, so the player will certainly go through it. The Narrator Narrator calls after him to come back. This is the only time the Narrat or seems genuinely distant from inside the hole. Up to this point, the Narrator has been omnipresent, always speaking loudly and clearly to Stanley as if from inside h is own head. Here the implication is clear. Stanley is actually escaping the narrator here rather than simply resisting him as before. The narrator also shows concern for Stanley. Among his pleas for A light deeper into the hole can lead Stanley on, and when he reaches it, he is returned inexplicably to his office. He can explore the whole building at his leisure now. All of the doors are permanently open, and the Narrator is nowhere to be heard. It is a genuinely unsettling experience, wandering aimlessly through the building. After a length Narrat journey that truly matters and not the destination, and I like that idea. To think we
Washko 48 might value the paths we walk as much a be. I know it can be hard getting around without someone loo king over your of but only for now. ending is more nuanced in the way it presents the relationship between author and player. Stanley does constant disobedience insistence on leaving the planned story results in a weaker narrative, at least from the map from Half Life 2 It already exists a nd is completely functional, but it holds no significance for Stanley. In this way, the narrator really becomes as much a character as
Washko 49 react to the narrator with the narr ator given to particular privilege. an inferior form of storytelling to his carefully crafted plot. However, Stanley is getting a parallels a common experience in gaming. Parts of game environments are often left unfinished, like the blank room in Stan meant to be inaccessible to players, but through glitch exploitation or developer oversight, these areas can sometimes be reached. The narrative created by exploring such places is entirely separate from the main game narrative, but they are often spoken of with as much or more interest than main game narratives. Part of this is the illicit thrill of getting someplace you were never meant to be, but in large part this is due to the fact that these narratives a exploration instead of simulated exploration. Is the Narrator being unfair to attempt to deny Stanley this narrative? Perhaps, but a reason. They serve no purpose toward advancing the game story. When one goes off exploring these unfinished areas, environment that the author has provided. For the Narrator, who is chiefly concerned with telling his own narrative, it must be unthinkable that Stanley would find such pointless rooms more interesting than the carefully crafted story. It would be like a n ovel author finding out that his readers
Washko 50 were more interested in the paper or bindings of his book than on his carefully crafted story. It is nothing short of an insult. Venturing through the blank room and the Half Life 2 map both serve no purpose in the Stanley and the narrator, the whole story would be interesting only as an example of the aforementioned exploration narratives (which, granted, makes it interesting in its own right). This is, in essence, th e fundamental power struggle that often exists between players and authors of videogames. The author wants to take the player through their story, while players want to create a narrative of their own. The return to the office building in many ways vindica tes the Narrator. Stanley has all of the freedom he can be given with no direction or restriction, but in the absence of these things there is little to do. There is nothing to define the experience and no interaction with the Narrator is extremely uncomfortable. The narrator defined the experience, even if he was only something to push the recursive nature of The Stanley Parable and that the Narrator himself is merely a construct of the author. Although Stanley seems to be rebelling against his author, he is only doing so on a certain recursive tie r. Stanley and the player are still firmly on the been crafted to be satisfying to us. Ironically, our experience has been controlled to give us the thrill of rebelli ng against a controlled experience. In this way, the disobedient ending shows support for the carefully crafted narrative. The constraints give the player the context to enjoy the experience. A game without a
Washko 51 narrative like Minecraft has only the narrative that its players create for themselves. Here the narrator points out to Stanley that Stanley only has his own imagination to craft a narrative in the Half Life 2 map. These self authored narratives can be fun, but we seek out videogames because we want a narrative from an author with which we can engage but that is also immersive. For this reason, the illusion of agency might not be such a bad thing. The player is willing to make a trade off in favor of minimal narrative input because the alternative is an experience devoid of context and meaning.
Washko 52 Conclusion Many works seek to create illusions for their audience. In the case of immersive, realist works, this is essential to the work. Such works seek to present an unreal situation as though it were real. They attempt to trick the audience into thinking that the world and characters they create are real. Audiences willingly suspend their disbelief in these falsehoods. They choose to believe in the illusion created by the work in order to imme rse themselves within it, even while they accept that the work is not true. It is this willing deception and immersion that allows the audience to fully enjoy the work. They can see a world and feel empathy for characters that do not exist. In videogames, another illusion is built: the illusion of player agency. Many games seek to immerse the player in their worlds and make the player feel as though he or she is a part of that world. These games, through a variety of means, seek to give the player a sense of agency, a feeling that he or she is an active participant in the world and not a passive observer. Works like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Bioshock and The Stanley Parable deliberately subvert these illusions. They show their audience just how fake and artificial their crafted narratives are. In so doing, they reveal the inner workings of the illusions behind the narratives. By analyzing such works, we can come to a greater understanding of these illusions: wha t they are, why they exist, why authors employ them, and why audiences willingly go along with them. These works offer insights into the structure of immersive narrative through their subversion of the usual rules of such narrative.
Washko 53 One potentially intere sting continuation of this analysis is the subject of tabletop roleplaying games. These games, played by a group and led by a game master (GM), share many similarities with videogames. Indeed, many common videogame tropes originated in tabletop roleplaying games. Tabletop games are interactive like videogames and feature an audience of players guided by an author, the GM. However in tabletop games, unlike videogames, the author and players meet in real time. The player limited to what the author thought to include beforehand Unlike a computer, which can only accept pre programmed inputs, a human GM is capable of reacting to whatever his or her players come up with in real time. In addition, tabletop games fall into a d ifferent social dynamic than videogames. For one, narrative focused videogames are typically a solitary experience, while tabletop games are by necessity a group exercise. In addition, GMs are encouraged to adapt to players instead of trying to control the m. Thus, while the game master theoretically has absolute control over the game narrative in much the same way a videogame author does, social pressures may lead to the players having more freedom and power than in a typical videogame.
Washko 54 Bibliography Stoppard, Tom. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead New York: Grove, 1967 McHale, Brian. Postmodernist Fiction New York: Methuen, 1987 2K Boston and 2K Australia. Bioshock 2K Games, 2007 Wreden, Davey. The Stanley Parable 2011 Bethesda Game Studios, Fallout 3 Bethesda Softworks, 2008 Eidos Montreal. Deus Ex: Human Revolution SQUARE ENIX and Eidos Interactive, 2011 Scott Brendan Cassidy : The Videogame as Narrative Quarterly Review of Film and Video 28 April 2011. 292 306 Jeroen Bourgonjon, Kris Rutten, Ronald Soetaert & Martin Valcke From Counter Strike to Counter games Digital Creativity 22 February 2011. 91 102