This Action Will Have Consequences: Interactivity and Player Agency
This paper examines and challenges the assumption that video games are interactive experiences which allow users to exercise control and agency over their narratives. Interactivity is a debatable concept which has been so over-applied as to be rendered meaningless, and the sense of agency that video game players experience is illusory. While this illusion of agency is problematic, it allows developers and players alike to engage with questions of ethics and morality. This paper uses two case studies to explore different ways in which game developers have attempted to connect player agency with issues of morality. The developers of BioShock attempted to subvert notions of player agency by denying the player any meaningful control within a narrative that centralizes free will. In The Walking Dead, players are forced to make morally-heavy choices in a narrative shaped by branching and converging decision trees. While these games are enjoyable and critically acclaimed, they present the player with false choices and offer only an illusion of agency. In the end, this paper argues that true player agency lies not within pre-scripted video game narratives, but in the player’s interpretation of the game text, in his or her engagement with fan communities, and in the exchanges that occur between fans and developers.