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Polskie Forum Psychologiczne, 2021, tom 26, numer 2, s. 191–214
THE EXPERIENCE OF PLAYING VIDEO GAMES
AS A POSSIBLE BUILDING BLOCK
FOR LIFE STORY NARRATIVES
Summary. Following paper regards the notion of impacting life-story narrative
by video game experience based on the game Disco Elysium, chosen because of
unique game mechanics that resemble works in narrative psychology. Partici-
pants had to answer a self-made questionnaire inspired by McAdams life story
interview. Gathered data was analyzed using guidelines from hermeneutic and
interpretative phenomenological methods. Out of 47 answers 23 narratives made
into nal sample of data. An in-depth analysis of two narratives was given as
an example. From these two examples, it seems, that experience of playing Disco
Elysium through emotional impact, unique way of presenting adult themes like
mid-life crisis or alcoholism, and forcing self-reection was possibly incorporated
into life story of participants. Examples of found themes: experienced emotions;
player as a therapist; player as independent being; longing for past; life as a value
itself; protagonist as a social actor. Contexts in which these themes t: avatar as
other; personal context; existential context.
Key words: narrative, identity, video game, role playing game, life story, cy-
As technology develops we see more and more of its inuence on our day-to-
day life. From social media to online shopping technology changed the way we
live our lives. There are many elds where science tries to comprehend how the
relationship between people and technology works. Fields such as cyberpsychol-
ogy, new media studies, communication theory, and so on. One of the interest-
ing aspects of this relationship is how we consume this media, and, what is most
1 Państwowa Uczelnia im. Stefana Batorego w Skierniewicach (Stefan Batory State
University in Skierniewice), ORCID: 0000-0002-3137-4211.
Adres do korespondencji: Piotr Klimczyk,
Artykuł jest dostępny na warunkach
międzynarodowej licencji 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).
The article is available under the terms
international 4.0 license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).
important for the presented paper, how video games inuence players. As Christy
and Fox (2016) wrote it is unknown how the experience of playing narrative-driven
games can inuence a player’s way of thinking and world perceiving.
As many scholars of narratives have stated, human beings can be described by
the stories told to themselves and to others. Narration is also the way how people
interpret and comprehend the reality that they live in, people they meet, events that
they experience, and so on. So is there a possibility that video games that are, in
a way, interactive stories could inuence how people perceive real life? Can video
games inuence self-life stories? This paper tries to answer this question on the
example of Disco Elysium, a role-playing game that is unique in its genre.
What makes this game a great example for studying possibility for video game
playing experience to be included in the life narratives is that there are some theo-
ries in narrative psychology that can be found in the game, although it’s not stated
by developers that they were inspired by any of them. That’s why in the part of
explaining Disco Elysium to the reader these theories will be described for a beer
understanding of game mechanics and to show why it is the right game for study-
This study aims to be a building block for larger research interests regarding
media and personal, narrative growth.
Psychology behind Disco Elysium
Disco Elysium is a role-playing game developed and published by Estonian
company ZA/UM in October of 2019. Despite being released at the end of the year
it won several awards, including Best Narrative, Best Independent Game, and Best
Role-Playing Game (Makuch, 2019), and kept being nominated or won several oth-
ers in 2020. The developer claims that the full script for the game contains over
a million words and the main part of the gameplay is reading them, which makes
the game heavy in narrative content.
The opening of the game consists of a conversation between the protagonist
(player’s avatar) and his two parts of the brain: the limbic system and the ancient rep-
tilian brain, that informs the protagonist that he drunk himself into oblivion. The player
can choose to either wake up from that state or stay in the blackness, which kills
the protagonist. Aer waking up in a demolished hotel room protagonist cannot
remember anything about his life, the world that he lives in, and even his name.
Aer that, he is greeted by Kim Kitsuragi, an RCM (Revachol Citizens Militia) ocer of
the 51st precinct, that informs the protagonist that he was assigned to investigate,
with the protagonist, death of a hanged man in the cafeteria backyard. In this short
sequence, the player can start to form the protagonist’s identity, for example when
meeting the cafeteria manager, the player can choose to be sorry for demolishing
his room or brag about it being his style. Choices like that shape the story and iden-
tity of the protagonists (for a more in-depth analysis of the game, details about the
plot and its narrative agency see (Bodi, Thon, 2020).
As opposed to most games in the RPG genre Disco Elysium has no combat.
Instead, player progress through events of the story by passing (or falling at some
points) skill checks and talking with NPCs (Non-player character, every character that
can be interacted with but which player cannot control). The player asserts 12 points
to 4 main aributes (intellect, psyche, physique, motorics) that each consists of 6
skills, or chooses one of three archetypes (thinker, sensitive, physical) prior to the
start of the game. Based on that choice a dierent set of points will be given to cer-
tain skills that make up the main aribute, e.g. 5 points in intellect will give 5 points
in rhetorics and drama, 1 point in psyche would give 1 point in empathy, and so on.
This game mechanism constitutes something that could be described as the protag-
onist’s personality. For instance a cold, unemotional, case solving thinker or not an
intelligent and emotional but strong and dominating cop. Skill points are important
since they serve as an inner voice for the protagonist that can come up in in-game
dialogs. Many points in drama might lead to dialog pop up suggesting in between
interrogation that someone is telling a lie, while low points in that skill will lead to
information not showing up. There are parts of the story where these inner voices of
protagonists would get in the conict together or contradict themselves.
In a way, it resembles theory in narrative psychology called Dialogical Self (Her-
mans, Kempen, van Loon, 1992; Hermans, 1996; 2001; 2003) which states that the
human mind validates experiences by giving them meanings through selection, in-
terpretation, and assembling events into a coherent unity. Authors suggest that it is
possible by puing in the perspective dierent voices of Self. Our minds function in
a dialogical exchange between ourselves and dierent parts of our Self or imagined
interlocutors that oen resemble real life people (for example when we imagine our
possible dispute with such person). Dierent perspectives in such communication
sometimes contradict themselves. These parts are independent and are not bound
by time constricts, for example, someone can imagine himself, in a distant future, as
a successful scholar while struggling with coming up with an interesting study. The
successful scholar can be upliing since it shows the results of hard work. So the di-
alog between these two narrative parts of self inuences the behavior and thoughts
in a certain context. It emphasizes human ability to develop dierent, not always
coherent, and oen contradicting but based on the same facts and experiences nar-
ratives that are being interpreted based on dierent points of view. These dierent
points of view bring dierent contexts for narratives. Bringing back successful schol-
ar example, someone might also imagine himself failing in not so distant future
and dialogue with that part of self can lead to dropping from the academia. Disco
Elysium pictures this when, for example, while interrogating an aractive, female
suspect drama skill (which constitutes the protagonist’s ability to detect lie) tells that
she does not lie and the empathy skill brings up points about her being in a dicult,
emotional situation. The player is given a context that this woman is a victim here.
But if the player put enough points in volition skill a new context appears. The other
skills, as volition tells, are compromised and the aractiveness of the suspect makes
the protagonist not to think clearly and in extent other skills are not thinking clearly.
Based on that internal dialog, just like Dialogical Self theory proposes, the player
chooses a certain narrative to uphold and decides accordingly.
The way in which the game is played can also be looked at through the lens of
building a narrative identity (McAdams, 1995; 1996; 2001; McAdams, McLean, 2013).
Each passing in-game day brings new memories that can be carved and put in the
protagonist’s life story, e.g. choosing a certain political worldview based on inter-
actions with NPCs, or recollect lost memories and incorporate them back into a life
story. But the player is not forced to do it, he can inuence the life story by disregard-
ing thoughts about certain events. Building a certain narrative for the player’s avatar
changes the way he interacts with in-game events and NPCs. In a way, the player
creates a semantic web that is put on the in-game world for the protagonist, to help
him understand the reality, life that he has and the psychological crisis that he had
which made him abuse alcohol and narcotics to the point in which he suered from
the self-induced amnesia. Such mechanics and narrative have not been yet seen in
video games design and it is unclear how in that seing the dynamic between im-
mersion and presence of the player makes him feel about his role in the story.
Experience of playing a video game and narrative building implications of it
The emotional impact of the event plays a crucial role in incorporating it into
narrative identity (Bruner, 1990; McLeod, 1997, as cited in Kallay, 2010). It is possible
that such an emotional impact can be given by the video game. Presence and immer-
sion are important in the gaming experience, especially in narrative-based games, as
Christy and Fox (2016) showed, although as authors said, that study was exploratory
and further research should be conducted on that topic. How a player might feel
about his avatar is also crucial here. Banks (2013, as cited in Bowman et al., 2016) and
Banks and Bowman (2014; 2016 as cited in Bowman et al., 2016) identies two types
of relationship between player and game’s avatar. First is avatar as me orientation
where the player steps into the shoes of the on-screen character, second is avatar as
other orientation where the player assumes the role of a caretaker, feels like a friend
of a character, recognizing the on-screen character as a legitimate social actor with
its own desires, needs, wants and tries to help him fulll these needs. In both of
them, but as the authors implied more in the second orientation, the player assumes
a kind of socioemotional engagement with the game that might give a feeling of
insight or deeper introspection that is aliated with meaningful media experience.
The connection, that player has with the game’s avatar, was also a topic of work
of Hefner, Klimmt and Vorderer (2007; Klimmt, Hefner, Vorderer, 2009). As the
authors propose, video game is a type of interactive entertainment where player,
using narrative in-game elements, is assigned a certain role that he has to ll. He
contributes to the story unfolding because of his actions as if he is, for example,
a police ocer or soldier. The Player’s self is merging with the protagonist, rather
than looking at him as a virtual, social entity distinct from the player. Understand-
ing that relationship converges with the concept of identication.
Social psychology denes identication as a temporary alteration of a media
user’s self-concept through perceiving and adapting characteristics of a media per-
son (Klimmt, Hefner, Vorderer, 2009), such as the game’s protagonist. Studies have
shown that when players identify with in-game character or role that they are given
it leads to an automatic shi in self-perception. Such paern, as a study has shown,
is stable in time (Klimmt et al., 2010). Giving example from Disco Elysium some-
one might identify with the protagonist and feel as if his empathy, addiction, great
detective skills, or way with people are player’s. This might be more present here
since the player chooses parts of the protagonist’s personality and builds his iden-
tity through in-game decisions, although such identication might not be constant
in time and might be on certain dimensions only. The genre of the game plays a key
factor in this process, since RPG games are for role playing, acting in certain ways
because game mechanics allows such freedom for the player.
These are valid, psychological needs and mechanisms that t into the gaming
experience. All of the above contribute to the emotional impact of a playthrough,
especially in the game like Disco Elysium that touches many adult-like themes, for
example, mid-life crisis, alcohol abuse, murder, or political history.
Narrative identity is treated as a signicant semantic structure that organizes
chosen elements in a person’s biography and builds a complex, coherent, autobio-
graphical narrative (see: Dryll, 2010, as cited in Tokarska, 2014; Adler et al., 2017).
This structure is being imposed on reality, holding events in a space-time continu-
um, in which a person can perceive himself and others as protagonists in passing
life stories (Baszczak, 2011). Oleś (2008; see also McAdams, 1996), based on McAd-
ams’s works, proposes that from dierent periods of life derives:
1. theme, that describes dynamic and reciprocal interactions in motifs of strength/
power and intimacy/love;
2. identity in life story, certain personal interpretation, in regards to questions
like Who am I? or What is important to me? – made in a certain psychosocial and
3. imago, person or persons that represent wanted adult life standards;
4. generative script and more developed, wider narrative identity made through
eects of mid-life changes;
5. integration of personal life story from the perspective of a fullled or unful-
All these elements constitute a multi motif life story, whose role is to integrate dif-
ferent aspects of human life.
According to McAdams (1995; 1996; McAdams, McLean, 2013), through nar-
rative identity people convey to others (and themselves) who they are, how it hap-
pened that they are as they are and in which direction, according to them, life will
take them. Constant interaction with others shapes personal stories, rework them,
reinterpret them, tell them all over again. Stories are under inuence of many exter-
nal, social factors. Because of that, the person telling his story is slowly expending
and integrates the narrative of his identity. This mechanism is not only for devel-
oping identity but serves as a socializing process (McAdams, 1995; 1996). Someone,
through his story, might suggest that the event that he describes is an illustration
or explanation of a certain character trait, a problem that he is facing, a goal that he
aims towards, or schemas in his life. Such narratives are posted by users of Disco
Elysium groups and forums every day regarding the game, but oen some users
use in-game events as an explanation or allegory for their own life story.
Life story does not have to be a monolithic and vast. It can consist of smaller
stories (McAdams, 1995; 1996), oen not related to one another directly, describ-
ing a concrete and important event or be related to important themes regarding
one’s values. People select and choose certain memories that are made into the
foundation of a life story (McAdams, 2001). Context and the psychosocial envi-
ronment are also important in that process. Living in a postmodern (McAdams,
1996), media and internet connected world makes humans, in words of Samp-
son cited by McAdams (1996), look for many and dierent ways to integrate facts
into narrative biography. The modern human is not fully autonomic, rather he
is a conglomerate of dierent pressures coming from other people through the
internet. Elements of culture, in which one resides, can be found in personal life
stories. Depending on narratives that one surrounds himself with, they can have
dierent inuences on the narrative. It is possible that though other media us-
ers, that contribute to the general narrative about Disco Elysium someone might
incorporate its element into his own narrative not only about the game but also
about life itself.
It is important to note here the relation between self-concept and the life sto-
ry and whether the life story is always represented in self-concept. McLean and
others (McLean, Pasupathi, Pals, 2007) suggest that conceptually, the stories that
someone tells about oneself represent dierent aspects of one’s self-concept direct-
ly or indirectly. Life stories might not contain all aspects of one’s self-concept, but
one should be able to tell a story to explain one’s beliefs about the self. Without
such storied evidence, others may be less likely to believe that the characteristic
under discussion is indeed a part of the self.
Narrative identity, and to be precise the life story that makes it, is a construct
prone to criticism, like many relatively new concepts. Adler and associates (Adler et
al., 2017) addressed two of the main critiques of this approach. The rst one is that
the stories people tell about their lives might not actually be true or accurate. The
second is that narrative methods are more time-consuming, extra labor self-report
instruments. As the authors suggest, both criticisms miss what is essential about
Like all autobiographical memories, narratives about personal experiences and
events are dynamic reconstructed representations, not the true copy of them (like
a recorded movie or taken picture). Every time someone is recalling a memory, the
retrieval process is made of complex interactions between internal neural context
and sociocultural, the external context, modulated by the functions that remem-
bering serves at the exact moment the memories are being recalled. That’s why
narratives are deeply idiographic. They are dynamic reections of how individuals
recall their experiences and serve context-specic functions (see: Singer et al., 2013).
Narratives are constitutive of identity because the way how we make sense
of our experience and who we perceive ourselves to be are bilaterally related
(McAdams, Pals, 2006; McLean, Pasupathi, Pals, 2007). And since narratives are
deeply embedded in the sociocultural interactions across life, how individuals sto-
ry their lives reects the explicit eort at meaning-making and implicit ways of
being in the world (Fivush, Merrill, 2016). The narrative approach to identity is
a dierent level of analysis that focuses on subjectivity in a unique way and it can’t
be reduced to self-report measure (Adler et al., 2016).
That’s why this theoretical view on narrative identity was used in the present-
ed study. The specic game mechanics, the genre of the game, and complex way of
interacting with video games can be susceptible to a variety of dierent interpre-
tations and sense-makings. And as it was stated before, any experience that can be
emotionally impactful and meaningful can be incorporated into the life story.
As it was previously stated narrative identity is made of experiences that are
building blocks for themes and motifs in a person’s life narrative. This study aims
to answer the question How Disco Elysium can inuence a player’s life story narrative?
Being a specic type of narrative game it is possible for the experience of play-
ing it to be important, meaningful, and maybe perception changing for the player
and his view on his own life.
Participants were recruited using social media platforms and game forums.
Link to the google formula document containing questionnaire with narrative
questions was posted on facebook groups: Disco Elysium Ocial; reddit – r/discoelysium;
Disco Elysium forum in Steam, youtube’s comment section in lms about Disco Ely-
sium: Disco Elysium is a Role-Playing Dream Come True; Disco Elysium Critique; Disco
Elysium An Analysis of Existential Nihilism. Participants were informed that the study
is anonymous and they can quit at any point.
47 participants took part in the study. 37 (78.7%) of them were male, 8 (17%)
female, 1 (2.1%) prefered not to say and 1 (2.1%) was non-binary. Mean age of partic-
ipants was 27 (SD = 7.12; range 18–50). Out of all the participants 45 (95.7%) nished
the game at least once, while 2 (4.3%) did not nish the game.
The questionnaire starts with an introduction wrien in a way to induce a nar-
rative type of thinking in participants (see: Sools, 2012; Pauer, Amrein-Beard-
This study aims to collect narrative data concerning the playthrough of Disco Ely-
sium – a heavy narrative-driven game. It is unknown how such experience can
inuence someone’s worldview, values that they uphold, or can it inuence narra-
tives about their own life.
You’re going to be given a couple of questions. Please try to answer them with as
many details as possible. The longest they are the beer. Thanks to the rich narra-
tive of the said game there have been many discussions online by players. Please
try to make the same impact with your answers.
Aer that participant had to answer questions about age, gender and did he
nish Disco Elysium at least once.
The main part starts with the rst narrative stimulus that is an open ques-
tion build in a way that McAdams structured his interview procedure (Budzi-
I would like you to tell me about your experience with Disco Elysium. For some
video games are a way of entertainment, for others they are means for escapism,
geing o reality for a while, and some people see games as an art form, a medium
for deeper meaning, life lesson, or another perspective on life. Please tell me about
your experience with Disco Elysium – how it inuenced You, is it important for
you, how did you feel aer you completed it? Please write as many details as you
Aer that there were additional questions that focused on certain parts or in-
game events that would be emotional enough to impact players narrative:
Was there a certain stage in the game, some event, turn of action, or dialog between
depicted people in it that inuenced You in any way? Tell me about it.
There were also two additional questions regarding Kim Kitsuragi that will be
used in another paper and were not used in the analysis of this publication.
Before the main part of the analysis, the whole text has been read a few times
to get immersed into the story given by participants. Answers given by participants
were interpreted using a self-made method based on the work of hermeneutic anal-
ysis made by Zagórska and Majewska (2019). As the authors suggest, the formal
structure of narration reects the structure of the meanings of the narrator.
The aim is to specify themes that are present in the narrative and put them in
larger contexts taken from the narrative work (table 1) of Bartosz (2004) to which
extra types were added based on the presented theoretical background, such as
avatar as other.
Table 1. Categories describing autobiographical experiences
of the experience Themes
of the experience Spectrum
of feelings (examples)
ght for oneself
acceptance, knowing one’s limits
sense of life
escape from life
Source: Bartosz (2004). Translation: author.
Using guidelines from the interpretative phenomenological analysis made by
Pietkiewicz and Smith (2014) general interpretation of meanings in narrative has
been made. To illustrate context and theme quotes from participants were cited.
Aim of the IPA framework is to give evidence for participants’ making sense
of experiencing phenomena and, at the same time, document the researcher’s
sense-making. In this process psychologist is looking at the data from a psycholog-
ical lens, interpreting it with an application of psychological concepts, theories, or
results from other psychology-based works.
At the same time, it is important to be aware that each experience and
sense-making is dierent, so to protect oneself from psychological reductionism,
the researcher has to uphold the idiographic approach to the data. That does not
mean that psychological theories should be used only as loose guidelines, rather
they can add an outsider’s perspective, help to develop a higher level of insights
that the respondent might not have access to.
The authors do emphasize that IPA provides a set of exible guidelines which
can be adapted according to the research and its objectives. They propose, based on
the qualitative analysis of their work, the following steps:
1. multiple reading and notes making – transcript should be read a number of
times to immerse the researcher in the data. Each next reading could, and oen
does, provides some new insights. At this stage, it is advised to make notes
about observations and reections that one gets, for example, about content,
language use (features such as metaphors), context (here provided by works of
Bartosz and added two based on literature), and initial interpretative comments.
2. transforming notes into emerging themes – at this point researcher should
work on notes rather than transcription. Based on the eects from the rst step
there should be enough source material to work on. The aim is to transform
notes into a concise, more abstract phrase that may refer to psychological con-
ceptualization. Even though the researcher is not working with transcription
alone, notes were made based on it, it still inuences the conclusions in a her-
meneutic circle type of way.
3. seeking relationships and clustering themes – based on conceptual similar-
ities, the researcher connects emerging themes and group them together. In
practice, as the authors state, it means compiling themes for the whole tran-
script before looking for connections. Some of the themes may be dropped o
the analysis if they do not t well with the emerging structure or if they have
a weak evidential base. The nal list may comprise of numerous themes and
Answers that didn’t t the criteria of narrative (there was no clear hero of the
story, no themes or parts considering the emotional engagement of the narrator,
or no interpretations of events given by the participants) were deleted from the
nal sample. Also, answers that were only one or two sentences long or resem-
bled a review of the game without any pieces of information regarding the par-
ticipants were deleted. The nal sample consisted of 23 answers that ed the
Each of the 23 narratives was analyzed to discover if Disco Elysium had, de-
clared by the narrators, inuence on player’s narrative about self. The narrator ei-
ther expressed it directly (e.g. The game basically saved my life; This game encouraged
me to life) or it was implied by describing strong emotional feelings that made the
narrator’s perspective to change [e.g. ( …) this realisation clicked something in me; I love
Disco Elysium because it makes me feel sad. Sad that I will never go back to those old happy
days. But it also shows that there is a lot of good in life. That one must go forward and enjoy
this wild trip lled with angry, innitesimally small apes because otherwise there’s just the
void; The most important event that ill remember for all my life, was the phasmid reveal that
makes me cry and dialogue with it was one of the most inspirational part of my life].
Table 2 shows in how many narratives this inuence was described spontane-
ously and in which ones it was given by answering a question from the question-
naire (Was there a certain stage in the game, some event, turn of action, or dialog between
depicted people in it that inuenced You in any way? Tell me about it).
Table 2. Declared inuence of the game on the narrator
Inuence of the game
on player’s self-narrative
in the spontaneous narrative
Yes 18 –
No 4 1
Aer that all of the narratives were analyzed in search of contexts and themes
that were contained in them. Table 3 shows what contexts and themes were iden-
Table 3. Themes identied in the narratives and context in which they occurred
Avatar as other
Player as a therapist
Player as an independent being
Protagonist as a social actor
Understanding the protagonist
Avatar as me
Geing immersed in the avatar’s feelings and situation
Insights into own mental states through the avatar’s actions
Feeling connected with the avatar on an emotional and
Emotions regarding Self
Disco Elysium as an important experience
Longing for past
Fear of evanescence
Life as a value of itself
Playing Disco Elysium as a therapeutic method
Since it’s not possible to show all of the in-depth analysis, two of them were
selected as examples.
Disco Elysium – getting in touch with own emotions by helping virtual other
The narrator opens his story with a reection on his emotional experience re-
garding playing Disco Elysium. He wrote that it has been a beautiful experience,
regardless of him not identifying with the protagonists. He did feel empathy
for him which, as he wrote, was not hard to do. Participant, as a player, took the
role of a therapist for his in-game avatar, someone who tries to x him, give him
a happy end.
At this early point in the story, wrien by the participant, the narrator points
out that he is not personally aached to the game’s story. But soon aer that he once
again makes a point about the emotional aspect of this experience. He loves Disco
Elysium just as he would love his favorite childhood book. As he makes that point
he is unable to dene why he loves this game so much. Asked about an important
in-game event that impacted him in any way he writes about one of the game me-
chanics, the thought cabinet. He wrote that he wanted to help the protagonist reclaim
some of his lost history, to give him some stability. Therefore he chooses lonesome
long way home thought. But as it turns out, the in-game eect of that thought was
not what the narrator expected. He quotes the game “…You no longer live there. Those
times are gone, and so are those people. Why did you come here? Why are you still here?…”.
Once again he had to confront the emotional aspect of this experience, which was
hard for him.
cont. table 3
At this point in the narrative participant realized why he loves Disco Elysium
so much. It is because, as he wrote, it makes him sad. Sad because he can’t get back
to the old happy days. He is afraid of time passing, misses old relationships, people
he once knew, places he once visited. On the other hand, Disco Elysium gives him
hope. Life can have much good in it and everyone should go forward and get as
much as he can from this wild trip lled with (…) small apes. He points to the events
from the game that illustrate this premise.
Emotional theme end with the narrator describing the character of The Pigs. As
he wrote she is a manifestation of his melancholy and fear about the future multi-
plied by 1000. The story ends with a description of the tribunal scene that made the
participant be on the edge, praising the authors of the game.
Table 4 presents contexts and themes found in the narrative with statements
from participants for its illustration.
Table 4. Analysis of narrative from a 22 year old, male participant
Context Theme Statement from narrator
So it is not personally touching for me. It’s just a very
well wrien story.
as a therapist For Du Bois, I was feeling like a therapist. Like
someone trying to x him and get a happy ever aer
I selected „Lonesome Long Way Home” and thought
that that will let me get Du Bois back home. Get some
stability, You know? Fixing the past and such things.
It was just beautiful. Although I did not reect much
with Du Bois, he is really easy to feel empathy for.
Me playing as him does not change the fact that I did
not see myself in him.
regarding Self And this beauty is why I love it. Love it as much as my
childhood’s favorite books.
One of the brightest memories is the melancholic
feeling I got aer realising how thoughts worked.
But no, „…You no longer live there. Those times are
gone, and so are those people. Why did you come here?
Why are you still here?…”. This hit me hard.
The Pigs. Take my melancholy and fear of the future,
multiply it by 1000 and you get The Pigs. Felt really
fucking sorry for her. Probably saw a lot of myself
as an important
In short, it is my favorite book that is not a book, if
that makes sense… It is actually surprisingly hard to
explain why I love it.
Context Theme Statement from narrator
for past Probably because I miss things, people, places.
I love Disco Elysium because it makes me feel sad. Sad
that I will never go back to those old happy days.
of evanescence I am afraid of time passing.
Life as a value
of itself But it also shows that there is a lot of good in life.
That one must go forward and enjoy this wild trip
lled with angry, innitesimally small apes because
otherwise there’s just the void.
That is beauty. To have so much hope, so much re
and brightness in such a drab and depressing seing!
Also, seing up the nightclub with the boys. Was
heartwarming. Really shows living is worth it, mostly.
It is possible that Disco Elysium had an impact on participants’ narrative iden-
tity. There is a clear theme in the narrative regarding emotions and emotional en-
gagement in the game throughout all of the specied contexts. Even though the
narrator’s perception did not shi and his Self has not been fused with his avatar
the relation between them was important. The participant upholds here the role
of therapist, someone that has a certain task to do regarding another person. He
draws a clear line between him and the protagonist. This distinction resembles
what Banks and Bowman, cited before, called treating avatar as a social agent.
The existential context seems also important for the life story that the narrator
develops. Emotional themes of longing for the past, fear of evanescence, thoughts
on life and it’s values. These are strongly present in the narrative. Disco Elysium
made the narrator confront these emotions, made him admit that he has them. It is
interesting that at the beginning this wasn’t present in the narrative but aer addi-
tional questions, that probably made the participant reect more on the experience,
Disco Elysium – how to simulate being an alcoholic
The participant begins her story with the art style of the game. It was like kryp-
tonite for her, the crystal that made Superman from the comics weaker. This experi-
ence was hard for the narrator so much that she got used to it aer approximately
ve to six hours during which she felt anxiety. At that state she wasn’t able to feel
empathy for the protagonist or make in-game decisions that she would agree with.
This period of experiencing the game she called a lucid nightmare.
cont. table 4
In time, as she wrote, she realized that this must be what it means to be an
alcoholic. To live life with no self-esteem. This revelation clicked something inside
the narrator. With this new insight she reevaluated in-game events, her perspective
changed. She met the new protagonist, she changed her view of him, called him
emotionally vulnerable and not understood, that he has a need to be loved in a cru-
el, pointless world.
Sometimes she felt that the protagonist’s perspective is skewed and not always
worthy of her trust. She arguments that statement with his judgment being broken
by amnesia, depression, and his past substance abuse. But that perspective made
the narrator feel that the world made sense to her, through the protagonist’s eyes. She
did not specify if it was about the in-game world or the real world.
The narrator wrote about a skills system that, for her, represents the protago-
nist’s mental functions. She called them signs of insanity. But in those signs, she sees
a valuable lesson that having a mental imbalance can have its pros and cons. At
rst, this mechanic was scary for her, especially the inland empire, that constitutes
protagonist’s imagination, instincts, thinking in cosmos like scope. When this skill
was high the protagonist would talk with inanimate objects. In time she accepted
that and understood these aspects beer, with exception of Electrochemistry, since
it embodied things that the narrator despises of, mainly substance abuse, in her
words: have a biased hatred towards the urges represented.
The way in which the protagonist discussed in-game issues with parts of his
psyche was relatable for the narrator. She wrote that it teaches her that everybody
is weird in a special way and being a bit intimidating does not equal being danger-
ous. But only if you control your weirdness.
The narrator was charmed by the game’s general lack of achieving big things
by protagonists. She illustrates this by describing a few in-game events: the neces-
sity of working for someone, being unable to save a child from his abusive father,
and the fact that you have to watch people die in an unfair situation. Neverthe-
less, she has a feeling that in the end, the protagonist got someone important and
valuable, a chance. To emphasize this narrator brings up Jordan Peterson, whose
work is important for her. His thesis, that she brought up, is about taking respon-
sibility for yourself and the need to uphold identity true to yourself. It is important
to the narrator and it seems that the protagonist’s history is an embodiment of
The narrator ends her story wit h recurring protagonist’s nightmares and sleep-
less nights. It became an inspiration for a novel that she is working on. Another
important, inspirational event was the tribunal scene, that taught her how to lead
the narrative properly.
Table 5 presents contexts and themes found in the narrative with statements
from participants for its illustration.
Table 5. Analysis of narrative from a 25 year old, female participant
Context Theme Statement from narrator
as social actor
I experienced anxiety in the rst 5–6 hours and it
was hard to empathize with the characters or make the
decisions I would agree with.
Through that I’ve met a misunderstood, emotionally
vulnerable protagonist who wants to be loved in a
cruel, hopeless world. Even if I felt his perspective
sometimes untrustworthy (as his perception and
judgement has been corrupted by amnesia, depression
and his past addiction), the world through Harry’s eyes
made sense to me.
The mental functions (skills) that were the signs of
Harry’s insanity in some interpretation (…).
(…) you had to watch people die and my unfair
situations happened without even realizing them in
a deeper sense, however I still had the sensation that
in the end of the game Harry achieved something
important and meaningful: a chance.
the protagonist However with time I realized that probably this is how
it feels like to be an alcoholist with zero self-esteem and
this realization clicked something in me.
growth However with time I realized that probably this is how
it feels like to be an alcoholist with zero self-esteem and
this realization clicked something in me.
At rst glance I was frightened by Harry because of
them (especially of Inland Empire, even if I nd this
aspect of my own consciousness important), later
I learned to embrace and understand them more
(except Electrochemistry … I have a biased hatred
towards the urges Electrochemistry represented).
I also found this kind of „talking with your inner
mental kit” way of thinking relatable, so I can say that
I learned that everyone is weird in their way and being
a bit scary does not equal with being dangerous – if
you have your weirdness under control.
regarding self It was a lucid nightmare I never want to experience.
I really loved the experience that in the game you
couldn’t achieve big things.
shi I reconsidered the events I’ve experienced before and
I tried to look at the story from this perspective.
Context Theme Statement from narrator
as an important
(…) showed me that having some kind of mental
inbalance has its pros and contras.
And as I really admire Jordan Peterson’s work
(he believes, the middle ground in society is to
nd your own responsibility within the many and
maintaining the individual you are with staying true
to yourself) I really support this message.
The recurring nightmares/ sleepless nights are a big
inspiration for a story I’m working on.
Also the Tribunal Scene teached me a lot about action
As in the previous example, the emotional factor is also strongly present in
this narrative. It seems that through Disco Elysium narrator learned important life
lessons regarding human nature and her own psyche with a clear distinction be-
tween the participant’s Self and the protagonist, just like in the previous narrative.
Thanks to this experience narrator have grown, this theme is present in couple
parts of the story She told. A new perspective on alcoholism, look on her own men-
tal condition, new perspective on people, and rst appearances.
Disco Elysium was also important for the participant not only in an existential
sense but in a personal dimension too. First of all, she found some of her values that
are important for her present in the game. The game taught her not only lessons
about life and self but also helped her to improve her writing. As she mentioned,
she was working on her novel at that time and history and pacing of narration in-
game were very helpful in her own workings with words.
Based on the results of the presented two analyses of narratives it seems that
practical psychological knowledge can also be found here. For the rst narrator, it
seems that playing Disco Elysium was an experience of safe emotional openness
which made him reect on his life and the fact that he is geing older, maybe even
gave him some solace for it. Such therapeutic eects could be used in clinical prac-
tice or as a form of personal growth or emotional competencies training. The fact
that the narrator wanted for the game’s protagonist to have a happy ending might
suggest a prosocial eect that the game had on him and could be used to help de-
velop such tendencies in others. It could be an eect of the narrator’s personality
and the way he is, but there is a possibility of the game inuencing these qualities
or being a possibility for these qualities to ourish.
The second narrator’s experience provides insights into possible ways of help-
ing people that feel odd or that have a problem with ing in into larger groups.
Rather than make them change, the game shows how one can accept that there is
cont. table 5
nothing wrong with how they feel, communicate, or simply are. The important
insight found in that narrative considers the notion of alcoholism and how it is
possible to change one’s opinion about it. For the narrator, the game was a new
perspective and made her more understanding and sympathetic towards the alco-
holic protagonist. Since alcoholism has a negative social stigma, and some people
portrait alcoholic as a person that got what he deserved such video game could bring
a much-needed change in this view and could be used by professionals to make
that change happen.
Finally, such game could give a person a blueprint for learning how to consoli-
date their own life story, as they are helping/doing it for the protagonist of the game
but what was also present in narratives about own life from the participants. It is
hard to tell, at this point, if such a game presents this notion in a manner suitable
for everyone, but ndings from this study could be, in the future, helpful for this
problem in later studies.
Gathered data suggests that games like Disco Elysium can have an important
impact upon building narrative although it is hard to show in which direction
the narrative might turn because of it. Both stories that were given as an example
showed personal growth, emotional engagement, and even choice of a certain role
made by the players. The branching narrative structure of the game, as shown by
Moser and Fang (2014), leads to greater enjoyment from the video game playing
experience and helps a player get more immersed in the game. This could poten-
tially make that experience more emotional, and as cited before works showed, this
contributes to the selection of an experience and incorporating it into the life narra-
tive. Similar ndings were found in other research. Although the study of Arbeau
and colleagues (2020) focused on a multiplayer, online video game, they found that
video games are an important part of players’ life. They oer meaning, pleasure,
and opportunity for growth which in the end help in developing their identity.
Disco Elysium had a similar eect to the premise described by Frasca (2001) and his
idea of a simulator game (in his article The Sims was used as an example) that could
be designed to raise players’ awareness and build critical opinions on social and
personal problems. Given narrative examples show that such eect was possible
by Disco Elysium. In rst example opinion about the evanescence of life, in second
about ones’ view on alcohol addiction.
For the rst narrator, emotions that he felt while playing Disco Elysium were
somber, the game made him sad but this sadness was the reason why he loved this
game so much and why it is important for him. Negative emotions, that are present
in this narrative, can make an event signicant (Campos et al., 1994), in this case,
playing Disco Elysium. Based on gathered material it is impossible to predict if the
impact of the game on life narrative is permanent. In the future, the longitudinal
study could give an answer to that question and present a possible convincing case
for narrative games inuencing the way people perceive life and events in it. Such
ndings could be helpful in many elds in psychology. For example in personal
development methods or some forms of therapy. Therapeutic eects of video games
were found in some studies but research in that eld is somewhat limited and more
studies should be made in the future to ll this space (see: Franco, 2016; Eichenberg,
Habil, Scho, 2017; Barnes, Presco, 2018).
For the second narrator, emotions were also somber but the focus of them was
the protagonist, not herself, and because this game evoked such strong emotions
her perspective on life changed. It is unknown if this change can actually have
a lasting impact upon her narrative, although quoted before studies suggest that
the emotional impact of the event can inuence narrative identity. It is probable that
more accurate data can be gathered when someone would be interviewed using
McAdams’s life story interview (Budziszewska, 2013) and the Disco Elysium theme
would pop up naturally.
On the other hand, narrative identity is something that is constructed here and
now (Stemplewska-Żakowicz, 2002). It is not monolithic, never-changing construct
but something that can be inuenced and changed by new experiences. Narra-
tives of other people can change the way we look at our past experiences, make
them more important, based on the new idea or looking at something from a time
perspective. As stated, it is dicult to predict if the experience of playing Disco
Elysium will have a lasting impact on life narrative but the narrators did choose
to present life narratives at that moment using it, especially when they described
how the game made them feel, what new perspectives on own or others life it gave
them and so on.
Some might argue that playing video games is not the same narrative experi-
ence that someone gets from other media, mainly reading books (see: de Mul, 2015).
The story is not linear as presented in literature so for every player the experience
of the game can be dierent and inuence in-game events that they might not be
aware of. For example, someone might never take upon geing into another death
that the player can investigate in-game. Finale of that quest can lead to confronting
with own fears, the notion of alcoholism, or make the tone of the game more somb-
er than it really is. Emotions can inuence our judgment on things (see: Prinz, 2006;
Clore, Huntsinger, 2007; Allen et al., 2011) so based on the game style and awareness
of and use of all content in that game experience can dier and narrative can dier
drastically between playthroughs.
It is important to note that even though Disco Elysium is deemed as the best
tabletop RPG simulation by many players and reviewers it has its limitations to the
player’s freedom. Player can choose many options and decide to take part in many
dierent in-game events. The outcome of these choices can have a variety of dier-
ent impacts on the game and the protagonist but those are still limited. The player
can not actually make whatever he wants, he can only choose a premade way and
as much freedom as the creators intended. In the future study this restriction could
be addressed by asking the participant if he could do anything he imagined with
the avatar, would he do something dierent than choices that were given to him.
This does not change the fact that the game’s narrative did or did not have an im-
pact on the participant’s life story or narrative identity. Rather, this issue might
clarify how deep was the intention of the player to move his avatar in a certain
direction or that for some of the participants Disco Elysium did not make an impact
at all, possibly because they could miss out on some important in-game events that
other players experienced.
There is a chance that present narratives were constructed using elements
of other Disco Elysium player’s narratives. Participants were recruited from so-
cial media groups that provide a uid exchange of experiences, interpretations of
them by others, and perspectives given from many dierent points of view. Such
interaction between players regarding game that they are deeply involved in is
quite common in literature (see: Crawford, Gosling, 2009). Because of that, it is
possible that themes that were identied in narratives were similar or common in
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DOŚWIADCZENIE GRANIA W GRY WIDEO
JAKO MOŻLIWY ELEMENT KONSTRUKCJI HISTORII ŻYCIA
Streszczenie. Artykuł przedstawia wyniki badania dotyczącego relacji między
doświadczeniem związanym z graniem w grę wideo, a konstruowaniem nar-
racji dotyczącej własnego życia, na przykładzie gry Disco Elysium, wybranej
z powodu wyjątkowych mechanik przypominających koncepcje w psychologii
narracyjnej. Badani mieli za zadanie odpowiedzieć na pytania kwestionariusza
skonstruowanego na podstawie wywiadu biogracznego McAdamsa. Uzyskane
narracje zostały przeanalizowane z użyciem zasad metod hermeneutycznych i in-
terpretacyjnej analizy fenomenologicznej. Z 47 uzyskanych narracji 23 zostały za-
klasykowane do analizy, a dwie spośród nich przedstawiono jako przykładowe
zobrazowanie relacji między graniem w Disco Elysium, a treścią konstruowanej
narracji. Wnioskuje się, że poprzez treści powodujące silne reakcje emocjonalne,
wyjątkowy sposób przedstawienia tematyki dla dorosłych (dotyczących takich
kwestii, jak kryzys wieku średniego czy alkoholizm) oraz wywoływanie reeksji
na temat swojego życia u gracza mogło dojść do inkorporacji tego doświadczenia
do historii życia. Przykłady tematów zidentykowanych w narracjach: doświad-
czane emocje; gracz jako terapeuta; gracz jako niezależny byt; tęsknota za prze-
szłością. Konteksty, w których zamykały się zidentykowane schematy: awatar
jako ktoś inny; osobisty kontekst; egzystencjalny kontekst.
Słowa kluczowe: narracja, tożsamość, gry wideo, gry rpg, historia życia, cyber-
Data wpłynięcia: 26.11.2020
Data wpłynięcia po poprawkach: 6.04.2021
Data zatwierdzenia tekstu do druku: 15.05.2021