gCON 2019

‘The Character’s Destiny is Already Written’: Understanding Perceived Agency Through the Player-Character Relationship in Storygames
2019-08-23, 14:00–14:15, Central Library Theatrette 1

My experience playing Night In The Woods (NITW) (Infinite Fall, 2017), an adventure role-playing game, involved constantly meeting characters to talk to, having places to explore, and attempting to solve puzzles. In such videogames, the playthrough experience is often influenced by how tightly coupled the narrative and game mechanics are. These videogames can be considered “storygames”, which Reed defines as “a playable system, with units of narrative, where the understanding of both, and the relationship between them, is required for a satisfying traversal” (2017, p. 18). Existing literature has shown that it is possible for players to experience agency when making choices for characters, even if they do not lead to major narrative changes (Kway & Mitchell, 2018; Murray, 2018). As such, the following research question is proposed: How do moments of perceived agency arise in relation to the player’s interactions with playable and non-playable characters in storygames? To explore this, close readings of three storygames – NITW, Bandersnatch (Slade, 2018) and Florence (Mountains, 2018) – were performed. Analytical lenses were developed through a synthesis of existing literature and served as guiding questions during the close readings. The close readings suggest that these storygames initially foreground a game objective for players to pursue, and later on, suggest an implicit character goal for them to anchor their choices to. I call this the meaningful expression of character goals, where the player’s perceived agency is derived from the satisfactory progression towards both the game objective and/or the implicit character goals.