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In this paper, the author outlines a theory of the relationship of fictional, virtual and real elements in games. Not much critical attention has been paid to the concept of fiction when applied to games and game worlds, despite many books, articles and papers using the term, often in the title. Here, it is argued that game worlds and their objects are ontologically different from fictional worlds; they are empirically upheld by the game engine, rather than by our mind stimulated by verbal information. Game phenomena such as labyrinths, moreover, are evidence that games contain elements that are just as real as their equivalents outside the game, and far from equal to the fictional counterparts.
Doors and Perception: Fiction vs Simulation in Games
Espen Aarseth
IT-University of Copenhagen,
Rued Langgaardsvej 7
2300 Copenhagen
+45 3253 4567
Aarseth at itu dk
In this paper, I outline a theory of the relationship of fictional,
virtual and real elements in games. Not much critical attention has
been paid to the concept of fiction when applied to games and
game worlds, despite many books, articles and papers using the
term, often in the title. Here, I argue that game worlds and their
objects are ontologically different from fictional worlds; they are
empirically upheld by the game engine, rather than by our mind
stimulated by verbal information. Game phenomena such as
labyrinths, moreover, are evidence that games contain elements
that are just as real as their equivalents outside the game, and far
from equal to the fictional counterparts.
Games, fiction, simulation, virtual, reality.
1. Introduction
In discussions of mimetic games, that is, games that represent
events, beings and worlds in a way that makes it possible for these
elements to b e recognized independently of the game, it is not
uncommon to talk of these as part of the g ame’s “fiction.” This
may seem reasonable at first sight, for the phenomena in question
are not – or do not seem - real, the way phenomena in our real
world are or seem real; hence they must be imaginary, illusory,
fabricated: fictional. An invented character in a novel or movie is
fictional, so why should it not follow that an invented character in
a game also is fictional? Critical questions about the status of
fiction in games are rarely asked, and the concept of fiction is not
interrogated before it is put to use in game studies. Even in quite
sophisticated discussions, such as Rune Klevjer’s “In Defence of
Cut Scenes” [6], Nick Montfort’s Twisty Little Passages: An
Approach to Interactive Fiction [5] or Jesper Juul’s Half-Real:
Video Games Between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds [7], the
term fiction is used without qualification, nor seen in need of
redefinition or reassessment. From the earliest writings on
computer games, such as Holland and Niesz’ “Interactive Fiction”
[8] from 1984, the term fiction has been taken for granted.
However, as I will demonstrate in this paper,1 the
category o f fiction is problematic when applied to “game
content.” Here, the idea that game content is fictive will not be
taken for granted, but will be critically examined. I do not engage
fiction theories from literature such as Pavel [9] or Walton [10],
but base my use of the term on its simple dictionary meaning.
Fictions do not have to be logical or consistent, as long as they
make us project mental images, happenings and notions. Nor are
(literary) fictions the same as “games of make-believe” [10], since
they rely on words and texts independent of the reader, unlike
children playing games of pure make-believe, where the player is
in control, and can change the world and its conditions at will.
As for the concept of the real, I simply adopt Phillip K.
Dick’s expert definition: “Reality is that which, when you stop
believing in it, doesn't go away” [4].
The gist of the argument is simply this: computer
software is a kind of metamedium that is able to emulate the older
media of text, image, and film. Hence, a computer game is able to
contain and present fictional elements without effort. This can be
observed especially well in phenomena such as machinima, or in a
game’s cut scenes, where a game engine is used to produce
animated movies. In short, games may well contain fictional
content. But they also contain content that is different from the
elements we recognize from older media. These elements are
ontologically different, and they can typically be acted upon in
ways that fictional content is not acted upon. This does not mean
that they are necessarily real, merely that they belong to anoth er
ontological category than, say Tintin’s dog or the pyramid floating
over Paris in Hergé’s and Bilal’s comic books, respectively. We
respond to them differently, they are constructed differently, and
the social exchanges they are part of are different from the social
uses of fiction. So wh at are they?
2. Dragons vs. Dragons
Consider a dragon. These beasts do not exist in our world, but are
part of imaginary worlds in literature, film, and games. However,
the literary, fictional dragon, say Tolkien’s Smaug, is different
from the simulated dragons we find in a game such as EverQuest.
1 I originally made this argument in a 1994 article, “Nonlinearity
and Literary theory” [1], and later in my book on games and
literature, Cybertext [2].
They are not the same, or there would have been no difference
between our experience of Tolkien’s world and the wo rld of
EverQuest. One dragon is clearly fictional, but the other is
simulated.2 One is there to read about, or watch on a TV or movie
screen, the other is there to be played with. One is made solely of
signs, the other of signs and a dynamic model, that will specify its
behavior and respond to our input. It is this model behavior that
makes it different from a fiction, since we can get to know the
simulation much more intimately that we come to know the
fiction. A fiction is rarely, if ever, personal, while a simulation
can become so through experience. Simulations allow us to test
their limits, comprehend causalities, establish strategies, and
effect changes, in ways clearly denied us by fictions, but quite like
in reality. We can’t have our way with fictions, but with games,
we may.
Of course, it can be argued that the fictionality of
Tolkien’s dragon lies in the fact that it simply has no counterpart
in reality, and not in the material way it happens to be presented to
us in games or stories. In other words, the argument would go,
both dragons are equally fictitious, they just happen to be
presented in different media. A picture of a relative, say, uncle
Oswald, is not a fiction, but a materially similar still from a
movie, say Captain Blood, is. Our uncle Oswald is real, the
character portrayed by Erroll Flynn is fictional. However, what to
make of a simulation of uncle Oswald? Would it be real or
documentary, like his photograph, or fictive like the picture of
Captain Blood? And what would be the difference between a
simulation of Captain Blood, and a simulation of uncle Oswald?
The claim that there is any difference in fictiveness between the
two simulations would be hard to maintain.
These are of course hypothetical examples, but consider
instead two first person shooter games, Call of Duty (Infinity
Ward, 2003), and Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 (Gearbox,
2005). Both are set in WW2, but the former is based on action
sequences from movies like Enemy at the Gates, and the latter is
based on historically accurate action accounts and faithfully
modeled on historical post-D-day battles and environments
(Carentan, St. Mère-Eglise etc), down to accurate architectural
details on the real farm houses in the French countryside, which
the development team visited and charted. Are the events and
existents of Call of Duty fictional and those of Road to Hill 30
real? In the case of a documentary vs. a fiction film or text, this
question would have been easy to answer in the positive. The two
games, however, are ontologically similar, and practically
identical for the purpose of this discussion. To classify one as
fictional and the other as documentary would make little sense. A
virtual bullet fired in one game is neither more documentary nor
more fictional that a bullet in the other. (Of course, the distinction
between fiction and documentary is also problematic in itself,
since a movie filmed in a real city is in a sense also partly a
documentary of that city at a specific moment, and most, if not all,
fictions contain some reference to our reality.)
Both games direct their users within a very narrow quest
corridor, with almost ridiculously unnatural boundaries for the
player-character’s movements (e.g., three feet tall fences that are
impossible to cross). Nonetheless, there are important differences
2 Juul [5], also using the example of a game dragon, claims that
the game dragon is fictional, and not real, but such a claim
clearly ignores the third possibility, that it is virtual, simulated.
between the two games: Call of Duty’s landscapes and missions
are more pompous and “heroic” or romantic, while Road to Hill
30 is more monotonous, both in the range of tasks and in the types
of landscapes.
3. The Meaning of Fiction
Before we continu e, I will briefly clarify the concept of fiction as
it is used here. Etymologically, the word stems from the Latin
fingere, to shape or form. Given this originally broad meaning, it
might seem reasonable to use fiction also for virtual objects,
unless one considers that then it would be reasonable to include
all other human-made things, such as cars, houses or Velcro.
These are not fiction, and to expand the term to include them is
hardly wise. A standard dictionary (in this case, Encarta) lists two
meanings of fiction:
1) novels and stories that describe imaginary people and
events; and
2) something that is untrue and has been made up to
deceive people.
In other words, fiction normally means two different things: either
fairy tales, or lies. Here, of course, we use meaning 1: invented
phenomena. A (literary) fiction is not a lie: it has no truth value in
our world. For instance, take Pinocchio’s nose: is it true or false
that it grows? The qu estion, in our world, is meaningless.
However, in a hypothetical game, where we could influence the
length of a simulated nose, and perhaps win or lose depending on
how long it is, its growth would be as real to us as that of a flower
in our garden.
When we play games, in real or virtual environments,
we really win or lose, and the events in the games are real, even if,
for a casual observer, they might be indistinguishable from a
similar sequence in, say, an animated fiction film. The bullets in a
game of Counter-strike are not real bullets, but neither are they
fictional. The virtual bullets in JFK Reloaded, while simulating
the bullets that killed the real JFK, are not ontologically different
from any other virtual bullets with the same properties. Are they
documentary bullets? Y es, but no more so than the other virtual
bullets, and the bullets of Call of Duty and Road to Hill 30.
In short, games are not fictions, but a different type of
world, between fiction and our world: the virtual. There are also
other worlds: dream worlds, thought experiments, religious
perceptions, mirror worlds, etc. All these are different alternatives
to our own world, and as different from fiction as they are from
each other.
4. Labyrinths and Mazes
The real maze at Hampton Court
A labyrinth is a very common structure in many types of games. It
is also a perfect illustration of the difference between a game
object and a fictional object. Labyrinths exist in the real world, in
fictions, and in games, from Pac-Man to The Chronicles of
Riddick: Escape from Bu tcher Bay. A very famous real-world
labyrinth would be the hedge maze at Hampton Court, England. A
similar but fictive labyrinth is the one we find in Kubrick’s movie
The Shining, outside the spooky Overlook hotel. Kubrick’s
labyrinth looks real, but as we shall see, is completely fictional.
The Pac-Man labyrinth, however, does not look like a real-world
labyrinth, unless we consider that labyrinths do not have to be
made of wood, stone or a planted hedge. Labyrinths, made by
humans since before recorded history, are also painted designs
that could be on a wall, a page, a floor or a computer screen.
Some are knee-deep, some are 10 feet tall, some are outdoor,
some are indoor, and some are found at the backs of comic books
or in weekly magazines.
Bird’s eye perspective on The Shining’s fictional maze
If we examine Kubrick’s labyrinth closely, however, we
discover that it does not really exist at all, but is an illusion, a
chimera, designed to support the fictive events. The Shining’s
fictional labyrinth is presented in several ways. We see close-ups
of the main characters exploring it, we see it as a model inside the
hotel, and there is a bird’s eye shot (cf. above) showing two
people walking in its middle. Comparing these different views,
however, reveals th at we are not looking at the same labyrinth, but
at slightly different ones. Also, the real-world hotel where the film
was shot, the Tmberline Lodge in Oregon, does not have an actual
garden maze like the film suggests.
Real actor, fake maze: Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
In the “Making of…” documentary that accompanies
the film on the DVD, there is a very revealing scene where
Kubrick walks from his film studio office through a backstage
area and directly into the scene where the boy is chased by his
father through the snowy maze. In one scene of the documentary
there is also a glimpse of the blueprint of the film-set maze, which
is clearly different from the model in the hotel, and also different
from the vertical shot of the maze from above. Kubrick creates
the illusion of a maze by creating at least three different filmed
objects that together give life to a fictional object. If the film had
been shot at Hampton Court, the claim could have been made that
the maze was real even if the film as such was a fiction, but in The
Shining we see a clear example of a maze th at does not exist. It is
completely fictional, e.g. unlike, say, the labyrinths of games,
which are real labyrinths. For what constitutes labyrinthicity? If a
2D drawing or a painted or tiled floor can be a proper labyrinth
(and they can, since labyrinths do not come with specific height
requirements) then a 3D virtual labyrinth in a computer-simulated
world is a real labyrinth, since it can be navigated by the same
rules as the one at Hampton Court. (Incidentally, I was quite
disappointed by my experience of the Hampton Court labyrinth,
because it took only seven minutes to walk through it, using the
well-known wall-hugging technique.)
5. Doors and Perception
However, som e objects in games are clearly fictional, just as they
would be in movies. Take for instance, a game like Return to
Castle Wolfenstein (Gray Matter 2001), a 3D shooter where a
typical setting would be a German town or village during WW2.
The player-character walks through the streets and alleys, looking
for clues to the right direction, while k eeping an eye out for
German troops. He sometimes has to enter houses, but here is the
strange thing: only some of the doors in the game actually work as
doors should. Most of the doors are merely textures on the walls
that look like doors, but whose function is purely decorative.
Other doors actually do behave in a door-like manner; they can be
opened, closed, seen through, walked through and fired through.
Clearly, these two types of door are very different, and the first
type is obviously fictional; it behaves like an unused door in a
film, or a closed door in a painting. The game is not making a
statement to the effect of “In Wartime Germany, most doors were
fake, simply painted on.” So if the first type of door is fictional,
what is the second type? Is it also fictional? If we conclude this,
then we are clearly looking at two very different types of fiction,
with only the first type being similar to fictional phenomena in all
other media. For the sake of well-conceived theory it makes mo re
sense to conclude that there are both fictional and non-fictional
doors in these g ames, and that the non-fictional doors are virtual,
a mode of existence that is neither fictional nor real. These doors
are simulated, like a game dragon but, importantly, unlike a game
labyrinth, which is both virtual and real: virtual in a physical
sense, but real in a conceptual sense. The virtual doors and
dragons, however, are neither physically nor conceptually real,
but merely simulated. So wh at should we call them? Virtual or
simulated, both terms will probably do.
It follows that there are at least three different
ontological layers to game content: the real, the virtual and the
fictional. In the early text adventure games, the fictive layer often
dominated, with fixed descriptions that changed very little or not
at all. With today’s increasingly more physics-heavy 3D games,
the drive away from fiction towards simulation continues w ith the
development of dedicated physics processors (PPUs), in order to
emulate real-world physics ever more faithfully. This movement
parallels the rapidly rising cost of game development: Fiction is
cheap; simulation is expensive. Take Half-Life 2, a game that is at
its most impressive in terms of its highly believable environments
and physics: The highly narrow and one-dimensional quest
corridor may be a testament to the storytelling ambitions of the
game designers, but it is also a practical consequence of the high
production cost of game landscapes. Open up the landscape and
the budget grows exponentially. In other words, freedom of
movement and quality of world-representation are inversely
proportional, given a fixed development budget. For every virtual
door, an additional room must be created behind it; for every fork
in the road, more graphics artists must be hired. Perhaps the most
brilliant aspect of HL2’s design is the way every landscape
contains a single “natural” direction, too subtle to be truly
annoying, and with “natural” boundaries that seem to make sense
in the constrained atmosphere of the game. The fictive and the
virtual aspects are balanced, by designers who are experts in the
making of natural-feeling boundaries. Towards the end of HL2,
when the player-character is transported through the gigantic
innards of the alien tower, the vast, multidirectional openness of
the setting is matched by the fact that Gordon Freeman is locked
into a metal straightjacket, moving on a rail.
6. Virtual Capital, Real Estate
If Half-Life 2 is a good example of a balance between fictional
and virtual elements, then massive multiplayer online games
(MMOGs) such as EverQuest provide good examples o f a balance
between real and virtual elements, especially in the case of
money. As is well known, game objects and player characters and,
not least, in-game currencies can be bought and sold on web-sites
like Ebay and, and this effectively means that
EverQuest money, the Platinum or Plat, is a real currency, just
like the Brazilian Real, the Korean Won, or the European Euro.
The value of every currency in the world is relative to other
currencies, and there is no absolute value that can be maintained
independent of a currency’s exchange value. This makes MMOG
money just another currency, as real or virtual as my monthly
paycheck. So when I play a game like EverQuest, the money in
my virtual pocket is as real as the virtual money in my real b ank
account outside the game. I have worked for both, I spend both to
make my life more comfortable, and I can exchange one for the
other. Should I choose to, Like Julian Dibbell [3] recently did, I
can decide to go to work in the MMOG and let that be my main
source of income. And while there, I can do business with other
players, earn their respect, and perhaps even fall in love. Some
MMOGs allow the purchase of in-game virtual real estate. I can
invest in land, and own parts of a virtual world. To describe this
pursuit of the most important of life’s values, the concept of
fiction would not apply very well, if at all. A MMOG may be a
place of deceit and illusion, but in a real sense, not in a fictional
one. There are no fictional dragons in EverQuest, and very few, if
any, fictional doors. Lies, yes, but real lies. If Half-Life 2
balances between fiction and virtual, then MMOGs balance
between the virtual and the real.
Money is of course found in many types of games
besides MMOGs and persistent world games. In RPG, action, and
adventure games like Diablo, Counter-strike or Resident Evil 4,
money is collected and is used to buy better equipment, thus
clearly having a real and important impact on the rest of the
gameplay. In these games, however, the money is not real in the
sense of MMOGs; there is no real-world exchange rate or trade
between players. So in this case, as with Monopoly, the money is
virtual, in the sense that its effects are limited to the in-game
situation. There is also fictional money in some games, that is,
money that has a purely decorative function, and cannot be used at
the player’s discretion to influence the game state. The reality of
money is a function of the social character of the games, just as it
is with inter-player relationships in general.
7. Conclusion
In this paper I have tried to build a game-oriented theory of
fiction, simulation and reality from a bottom-up perspective, as
empirical phenomena in games, and not paid any particular
attention to theories dealing with fiction in literature o r film.
While it seems obvious that many games do contain fictional
elements that support the game’s purpose, it is also clear that these
elements are not as important and dominant as fictional elements
in, well, fiction, and that they enter into complex relationships
with the other ontological elements of games, both the virtual and
the real. Despite the complex nature o f these relationships,
however, my analyses show that it is quite possible to distinguish
between fictional, virtual and real instances of the same nominal
phenomenon. This means that instead of the common notion that
game worlds are fictional, we should start to see them as
composites where the fictional elements is but one of the many
types of world-building ingredients.
As the labyrinth example indicates, many g ame objects
are conglomerate, consisting of virtual, real and fictional
elements. A game labyrinth is a real topological object, consisting
of virtual walls, whose material nature (e.g. wood) may be
entirely fictional.
[1] Aarseth, Espen 1994. “Nonlinearity and Literary Theory,” i
George P. Landow (red.): Hyper/Text/Theory, Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1994, 51-86. Reprinted in Noah Wardirp-
Fruin and Nick Montfort (eds.) The New Media reader. MIT
Press, pp. 762-780.
[2] Aarseth, Espen 1997. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic
Literature. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins
University Press.
[3] Dibbell, Julian 2006. Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Day
Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot. Basic Books.
[4] Dick, Philip K. 1985. “How to build a universe that doesn’t
fall apart two days later”, in I Hope I shall Arrive Soon. New
York: St. Martin’s Press, pp 1-26.
[5] Juul, Jesper 2005. Half-Real: Video Games between Real
Rules and Fictional Worlds. Cambridge: MIT Press.
[6] Klevjer, Rune 2002. “In defence of Cut Scenes” in Mäyrä,
Frans (ed.), Computer Games and Digital Cultures
Conference Proceedings, Tampere: Tampere University
[7] MontFort, Nick 2003. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach
to Interactive Fiction. . Cambridge: MIT Press.
[8] Niesz, Anthony J. and Norman N. Holland 1984.
"Interactive Fiction" in Critical Inquiry Volume 11, Number
1, 110-129.
[9] Pavel, Thomas G. 1986. Fictional Worlds. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press.
[10] Walton, Kendall, 1990. Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the
Foundations of the Representational Arts. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press.
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How might we philosophize about the metaverse? It is traditionally held that the four main branches of philosophy are metaphysics, epistemology, axiology, and logic. In this article, I shall demonstrate how virtual walt-fictionalism, a particular version of virtual irrealism, is able to offer a straightforward, internally consistent, and powerful response about the metaphysics, epistemology, and axiology (ethics) of the metaverse. I will first characterize the metaverse in terms of a reality-virtuality (RV) continuum and distinguish between virtual realism and virtual irrealism, before elaborating on the explanatory power and potential of virtual walt-fictionalism relative to the metaphysics, epistemology, and axiology (ethics) of the metaverse.
... [4] Aarseth (2007) argues that the content of digital games is better understood as having a virtual constitution, rather than a fictional one. As argued by Wildman and Woodward, however, there is no obvious incompatibility between Aarseth's understanding of 'virtuality' and an understanding of fictionality as 'that which is prescribed to be imagined' (cf. ...
This paper presents and analyzes forms of fictional incompleteness that are commonly encountered as part of the experience of playing digital games. While some of these forms are recognized to be compatible with the incompleteness that characterizes non-interactive fictions (such as novels, paintings, and films), some of the ways in which fictional worlds are only partially presented to their users are unique to computer-mediated, interactive fictions. In this regard, this paper specifically focuses on the inevitable incompleteness of in-game affordances, the unique ways in which players experience the boundaries of gameworlds, and how incompleteness in digital games becomes apparent in the encounters with repeated instances of the same game assets
... Es el debate más destacado en los estudios sobre videojuegos, al nivel de considerarse como un debate clásico que data desde nales de la década de 1990, cuando comenzó a emerger -entre el diverso abordaje que tiene el videojuego como objeto de estudio-la disputa entre los llamados ludólogos y narratólogos. Los primeros (Aarseth, 2005;Eskelinen, 2001;Frasca, 2004;Juul, 2004), deenden férreamente el estudio de los videojuegos como disciplina autónoma, o como concerniente a la ludología, sin articulación alguna con disciplinas ya establecidas como la literatura, el teatro o el cine. De ahí que toda la propuesta narrativa que hacen los segundos -narratólogos- (Jenkins, 2006;Laurel, 1993;Murray, 1997;Ryan, 2001Ryan, , 2004, por analizar al juego en general y a los videojuegos en especíco, como formas de expresión y narración similar al cine y a la literatura, es considerada absurda, pues jugar y narrar son dos cosas diferentes. ...
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Una aproximación sobre los principales debates académicos y científicos actuales con relación a los videojuegos, se constituye en un necesario insumo para advertir las tendencias en las cuales se pueden inscribir los proyectos que surgen para comprender este fenómeno social, cultural y político. Este es el problema que constituye el presente estudio. Se hace un énfasis en la producción académica e investigativa de los últimos 30 años, por ser el tiempo en el que comienza la gesta por consolidar un campo académico, interdisciplinario y autónomo sobre los estudios del videojuego (games studies). Se concluyen tres tendencias centrales, de las que se derivan muchas otras líneas de investigación; a saber, el problema del videojuego, los efectos de los videojuegos y el videojuego como expresión cultural.
... Espen Aarseth, in one of his earlier contributions, makes a case for simulation in the study of games, starting with an example of a video game fictional character -an EverQuest dragon, that apart from being a sign, is above all a dynamic model. Models and simulations may be experienced, not only read about or watched, writes Aarseth (2007). This is what differentiates them from fiction. ...
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Video game analyses have historically focused on the human act of play or on the events resulting from the player's act. Until recently, spectating has remained an analytical domain of film theory and visual arts. In game studies, this perspective has changed, with the arrival of the phenomenon of gameplay spectating and game streaming on a mass scale, and its leakage into academic as well as popular consciousness. How does the spectacle change the analytical perspective towards video games as objects of scholarly analysis and video gaming as reflective practice? In this paper, I will approach the video game as an algorithmic spectacle and propose an analytical perspective to study this phenomenon, reaching out to theories of moving (digital) image proposed by the philosopher Vilém Flusser and the filmmaker Harun Farocki. The article is available at:
Early in the history of the field of artificial intelligence (AI), a paradigm known as microworlds emerged in which researchers constructed computer simulations of aspects of the real world from which their nascent AI systems could learn. Although microworlds were ultimately abandoned, AI researchers have recently called for their return, this time borrowing explicitly from the literary genre of interactive fiction, whose forms and conventions they might use to represent the world in text for the purpose of teaching machines to speak. This confluence of literary form and scientific method invites a closer examination of the relationship between word and world in AI research. The author argues for a reading of microworlds research and of AI more broadly through the lens of literary realism and through the literary texts that comprise its data sets and from which researchers expect artificially intelligent machines to learn about the world. The question of what kind of knowledge literature represents lies at the heart of AI research and thus presents an opportunity for a deeper engagement between AI research and literary, game, and media studies.
The aim of this paper is to explore how Peirce’s trichotomy of symbolic, indexical and iconic representations can be applied to computer games. I argue that if we use this classification, we gain the ability to make distinctions that game studies often ignore, or do not adequately grasp. To increase the descriptive power of Peirce’s trichotomy, I suggest two additional distinctions: the difference between external and internal representations, and the difference between diegetic and non-diegetic representations. I combine all of these distinctions to construct a typology of representations in computer games. I argue that the application of this typology to particular elements of games (instead of games understood as a whole) enables us to solve some of the problems caused by the relationship of games to the external world. A case study I use to illustrate how my typology helps to improve game studies discourse, is LocoRoco—an abstract game accused of containing racist imagery. I argue that the game publisher’s response to the controversy was inadequate, since the game content, due to the application of representational mechanisms, can be seen as racist even if its developers had no intention of creating such a racist content.
In this chapter, I investigate the imaginary boundary between the actual world and fictional gameworlds by focusing on videogame situations in which this fourth wall is foregrounded or broken. For this purpose, I first define the videogame experience as a self-involving, interactive fiction experience, based on Kendall Walton’s account of fiction (1990). I then describe how, in the current academic discourse on games, it is often claimed that the concept of fourth wall breaks cannot be applied to videogames due to their inherent interactivity. Within game studies, the consensus seems to be that the boundaries between the real and the fictional world are always already blurred in videogame experiences. This chapter instead shows how using interactive, digital technologies to represent fictional worlds does not necessarily complicate the conceptualization of the fourth wall, but rather reveals new ways in which it can be broken. More precisely, this chapter discusses how appreciators of videogames can not only actively participate in fourth wall breaks, but are also uniquely able to initiate these breaks themselves.
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Based on a qualitative analysis of 99 different digital games, this study develops a framework for understanding the functionality and relationships between player objects and virtual environments, explored in what has been named the PO-VE framework. The PO-VE framework encompasses a general theory, a dedicated terminology, and an analysis model. A virtual environment is a navigable geometry and a computational, relational model that represents the relative positions and functions of objects within it. Based on a relational and functional approach, objects are conceived of as integrated in the virtual environment by being spatially and functionally related to other objects within it, thus emphasising the virtual environment’s relational system-structure. Within the virtual environment, player objects constitute the player’s point of control. As integrated and movable objects, they consist of attributes (properties such as health, speed, and size) and affordances (possible actions such as running, shooting, and jumping). In most cases, player objects are dynamic (i.e., their attributes and affordances are altered over time); they can not only move along a single axis, but also be used for navigating the virtual environment along multiple axes; and they have some sort of visual presentation, which varies according to the specific visual framing of the player object and the virtual environment. The PO-VE framework results from an analysis and iterative coding process of 99 digital games. The games were chosen using a purposive sampling method guided by a pre-conceptualisation of what constitutes an avatar-based game (the initial focus of the study), popular game examples from game studies literature, and certain diversity labels: year of publication, platform, and country of origin. The PO-VE framework thus results from observational data iteratively translated into codes from games published between 1978 and 2018, across 32 different platforms, developed in 17 different countries. The iterative data collection and coding process, which resembled to some extent that of grounded theory, was finally conceptualised into the PO-VE framework, consisting of a general theory of virtual environments as relational systems, a terminology of player objects in virtual environments, and an analysis model that consists of seven categories related to different aspects of PO-VE relations. To illustrate the applicability of the PO-VE model, two levels of application were employed. The first was a broad analysis of the 78 of the 99 games in the sample that meet the player object definition, which reveals general trends and patterns according to types, genres, and production year of games. The second were close readings of ten chosen games from the sample: Space Attack, Altered Beast, Passage, Hotline Miami, Subway Surfers, ZombiU, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, Papers, Please, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Reigns: Her Majesty, that each illustrate the depth of the PO-VE framework, while also clarifying some of the limitations of the framework, including how and why some games, such as Papers, Please and Reigns: Her Majesty, cannot be analysed using the PO-VE framework. The relational foundation of the PO-VE model offers a unique and descriptive approach to analytical game studies that utilises a functional understanding of the digital object. This enables a focus on the environment as a relational system and on integration within it, rather than, for example, on rules, goals, or player experiences. Utilising an OOA/D inspired terminology in the analytical framework is a step towards bridging the gap between humanities-based, theoretical game studies, more technical game studies, and game development. This study is thus a contribution to the most fundamental level of any research endeavour: attempting to map out (parts of) the research object and develop a language that facilitates closer inspection and ultimately a better understanding of digital games and virtual environments.
In defence of Cut Scenes
  • Rune Klevjer
Klevjer, Rune 2002. "In defence of Cut Scenes" in Mäyrä, Frans (ed.), Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference Proceedings, Tampere: Tampere University Press.
How to build a universe that doesn't fall apart two days later", in I Hope I shall Arrive Soon
  • Philip K Dick
Dick, Philip K. 1985. "How to build a universe that doesn't fall apart two days later", in I Hope I shall Arrive Soon. New York: St. Martin's Press, pp 1-26.