Games as a medium tend to facilitate greater involvement from their audience than other mediums, for example film or prose. A person will watch a film about World War II, or read a book about bisexual French vampires, but they will actively play a game. A person who is consuming game media is referred to as the Player, the title itself explaining that this person is actively involved in this game, I often find that a player will refer to their avatar in the same way as they refer to their self. Amy Hennig comments on this in relation to film during an interview with Dean Takahashi of VentureBeat.
“Movies are a passive medium. You’re the privileged observer. You aren’t necessarily meant to identify with the protagonist. If they have flaws, you just observe them. If that character is the one you’re playing, though, you’re complicit in their actions.”
While watching a movie might include strong emotion reactions to the content, the watcher is still not actively taking part in what is happening on screen. In playing a game however the player often sees themselves in the role of their avatar, even if this is a clearly defined character with history and traits that differ from the player, the game is still asking the player to push a button to cause in game events to happen (Press E to open). An example of strongly complicit feelings I experienced was during my playing of SOMA (small spoiler warning). There was a point in the game where I was being asked to facilitate the death of a character in game in order to advance my own progress, this character was helpless and had just pleaded for my assistance, they did not want to die. So strong was my feeling of guilt over this potential murder that I had to put the game down and come back to it later, I considered refusing to finish the game. I’ve never refused to finish a movie out of guilt, out of boredom or disagreement with the content certainly, but not guilt.
Any game created is by nature an incomplete piece, this concept is explored by the Extra Credits team in their video The Role of the Player. It is established here that a film or a book is a complete piece when handed to the viewer or reader, while a game is fundamentally missing the players contribution, by playing the game the player makes it complete. It is this concept that the player is simultaneously a consumer and creator that allows such strong involvement by the player in the game’s world. The player is creating their portion of the experience and this grants them some ownership over the final result, this therefore is what causes the player to be complicit.
Does this mean that gamers are all murders, altruists, and octopi pretending to be humans? Not exactly, but it does mean we can try these experiences on for size in a safe and reasonably healthy way. We can explore our visceral urges or just do things that are completely ridiculous, it’s all a learning experience, for better or for worse.
Extra Credits: The Role of the Player 2012, YouTube, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XlfeXpiSuQ >.
SOMA 2015, Computer program, Frictional Games, Sweden
Takahashi, D 2015, ‘EA Star Wars game creators Amy Hennig and Jade Raymond reflect on game storytelling’, VentureBeat, < http://venturebeat.com/2015/11/20/ea-star-wars-game-creators-amy-hennig-and-jade-raymond-reflect-on-game-storytelling/view-all/ >.