- Videogames and Interactive Fiction
In the third-person crime simulator Grand Theft Auto 3, the fictional performing of all sorts of criminal nuisance is a possibility. (Squeamish readers, or those that are adamant videogames are playing a decisive role in the moral degeneration of modern society might want to turn away now!) Here is one possibility for players of the game: while driving around in the rundown red-light district of Portland Island, try stopping beside one of the women dressed in leather dresses and knee-high stockings who say things like "Have you ever been down south?" The fictional woman will bend down to the car window and eventually hop in. Now drive to a secluded area, stop the car, and wait. What happens? The car begins to rock up and down, slowly at first, and then more quickly, squeaking all the while. As it does, your health meter increases and the cash meter decreases. Eventually, after the car has stopped rocking, the prostitute exits and walks away. This is all obviously of questionable taste. But the really horrible part is that it is possible to mug the prostitute and take back your money!
Though I am reluctant to tell you this, the first time I discovered the trick, I felt a sort of sadistic joy at my reprehensible behavior. Friends in the room at the time thought the whole incident hilarious; except for one who thought it extremely revolting. Perhaps now though, I feel guilty for what I did to the prostitute. (Hence my reluctance to let you know of my sinister fictional activities!) Of course, this episode raises a host of ethical questions; I will not attempt to answer them here. What I am interested in is the possibility of fictional interaction itself. The important point is that this fictive episode seems to show that it is possible in the case of videogames to feel guilty or ashamed for what one [End Page 24] does in a fictional world. But how is this possible? What does interacting with a videogame amount to that it allows for this intimate (and dubious) emotional connection?
There is a wide and impressive literature in the analytic philosophy of the arts concerning the nature of fiction and the practice that surrounds it; this literature gives us an ideal theoretical basis from which to explore the topic of videogames. But also, videogames will allow us to return our attention to the theory, perhaps perceiving areas in which it can be improved, so as to become more generally applicable. I begin this paper by setting out some initial descriptive examples of the ways in which videogames are interactive fictions. After discussing an ambiguity in the notion of what it is to interact with a fiction, I deal with two prominent aspects of that interaction; that focused on fictive props, and the apparent interaction players have with fictional worlds. Next, I argue that the interactive nature of videogames alters the character of our interest in them. Rather than a focus on interpretive and sympathetic engagement with narratives, videogames involve their appreciators in an active engagement with the problem spaces or kinetic narratives of gameplay. Finally, I argue that because action and emotion are close cognitive bedfellows, and because emotion plays an important role in the psychology of fictive practice, that the emotions experienced by videogame players will be distinctive to that fictive form.
Videogames provide their players with a variety of opportunities for interactive engagement. The last ten years have seen significant development in the extent of the fictive interactivity of videogames, especially with the advent of the "next generation" consoles such as Playstation 2 and X-Box, and the burgeoning genre of PC gaming. With the intention of providing some descriptive substance for the following theoretical discussions, in this section I present some examples of the ways in which modern videogames are interactive fictions, and how they differ to more traditional fictive forms in this respect.
Many videogames involve exploring an environment. In Grand Theft Auto 3, the player, in the guise of a criminal protagonist, is able to explore the streets of Liberty City. Completing the objectives of the...