The Role of the Player in Video-Game Fictions
What is the relationship between the player and the avatar of a video game? In this article, I aim to show that Jon Robson and Aaron Meskin’s apparently promising, Waltonian analysis of that relationship—namely, that it consists in the player imagining herself as the avatar—fails to accommodate and explain four central data about video-game storytelling that any such analysis ought to accommodate and explain. These data are, briefly: (1) Many of an avatar’s actions are inexplicable if we appeal only to the avatar’s beliefs, desires, and knowledge. (2) Video games may have many different kinds and numbers of avatars. (3) Video-game narratives often proceed by the player exploring multiple disjunctive, mutually exclusive possibilities. (4) Video-game narratives sometimes centrally depend on epistemic differences between the player and avatar.
After evaluating Robson and Meskin’s view, I offer my own positive analysis of player interactivity that provides a motivated and unified explanation of these four data: the player of a video game plays the role of a metaphysically foundational fictional entity that actualizes possible fictional events. I call this entity ‘the fictional player’.
Keywords: avatars, narrative, video games, storytelling, fiction, narrative explanation, ontology, fictional grounding, art, aesthetics, possible worlds, Walton.
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