From Playfields to Fictional Worlds: A Second Life for Ariosto


This paper investigates the structuration of space imposed, on one hand, by games and, on the other, by narrative fiction. While most games create an alternative space, separated from ordinary reality by what Johan Huizinga called a magic circle, narrative fiction transports its users into an alternative possible world separated from the real world by the conventions of make-believe. Games can be divided into those that take place on an abstract playfield strategically structured by lines, and those that interpret the playfield as a fictional world populated with concrete objects that speak to the player’s imagination. An early attempt to turn a playfield into a fictional world permeated with narrative content is a seventeenth century dice game based on Ludovico Ariosto’s poem Orlando Furioso . In the Ariosto game, the activity that constitutes gameplay—throwing dice and advancing a token on the game board—remains unrelated to the narrative theme; it is only with digital technology that the gap between gameplay and narrative is bridged through a symbolic interpretation that maps the player’s real-world actions (hitting keys, manipulating controls) into events that take place in a fictional world (defeating enemies, acquiring merit). While the Ariosto game contrasts in this respect with computer games, the narrative thematics of Ariosto’s poem present a striking similarity with the design of today’s multiplayer online games.