Sarah Stang

Sarah Stang is a PhD candidate in the Communication and Culture joint program at York University in Toronto, Ontario. She completed her Master’s degree in Cinema and Media Studies at York University and holds a BA in History and Religious Studies from the University of Victoria. She approaches the study of digital games and other media from an interdisciplinary, intersectional feminist perspective.

Her published work has focused on game adaptations, gender representation, fatherhood and familial bonds, representations of madness, and the monstrous-feminine in digital games. Her current research explores the symbolic connection between monstrosity and marginalized bodies in digital games, tabletop roleplaying games, and science fiction and fantasy media.

Contact information: smstang at

“This Action Will Have Consequences”: Interactivity and Player Agency

by Sarah Stang


This article examines and challenges the assumption that videogames are interactive experiences which allow users to exercise control and agency over their narratives. Interactivity is a debatable concept which has been so over-applied as to be rendered meaningless, and the sense of agency that videogame players experience is illusory. While this illusion of agency is problematic, it allows developers and players alike to engage with questions of ethics and morality. This article uses two case studies to explore different ways in which game developers have connected player agency with issues of morality. The developers of BioShock attempted to subvert notions of player agency by denying the player any meaningful control within a narrative that centralizes free will. In The Walking Dead, players are forced to make morally-heavy choices in a narrative shaped by branching and converging decision trees. While these games are enjoyable and critically acclaimed, they present the player with false choices and offer only an illusion of agency. In the end, this article argues that true player agency lies not within pre-scripted videogame narratives, but in the players’ interpretations of the game text, in their engagement with fan communities, and in the exchanges that occur between fans and developers.

Keywords: videogames, choice, agency, interactivity, ethics, BioShock, The Walking Dead

“If films offer voyeuristic pleasures, video games provide vicarious thrills.”
- Bernstein, 2002

Game designer and theorist Chris Crawford (2001) famously defined interaction as “a conversation: a cyclic process in which two actors alternately listen, think, and speak” (p. 5). Although this definition is often cited by game scholars, Crawford also famously admitted that this cycle of input, process and output can describe a human’s interaction with a refrigerator as well as with a computer. He disdainfully dismissed the kind of simplistic interaction a human would have with a refrigerator as “silly and beneath the intellectual dignity of almost everybody,” emphasizing that his “concern is with interactivity that has some blood in its veins” (2002, p. 6). As David Myers (2003) observes of Crawford’s statement, “[d]efining interactivity according to the amount of ‘blood in its veins’ is a functional approach appealing more to common sense -- or humanist intuition -- than to the observation of any formal property of game design or quantitative measurement of play behavior” (p. 74). This suggests that videogame interactivity is something we feel rather than something we can observe.

Dominic Arsenault and Bernard Perron (2008) have questioned whether videogames are interactive at all, arguing that “a video game is rather a chain of reactions” in which “[t]he player does not act so much as he reacts to what the game presents to him, and similarly, the game then reacts to his input” (p. 119-120). Tommy Rousse (2012) also suggests that since interactivity seems to encompass “any experience requiring interpretation and construction between audience and creator,” we should instead use the term “reactivity” to describe videogames more specifically (para. 9). Similarly, Charles Bernstein (2002) points out that “[t]he much-admired interactiveness of video games amounts to less than it might appear given the very circumscribed control players have” (p. 164-165). His observation that “[j]oysticks and buttons (like keyboards or mice) allow for a series of binary operations” underscores his point that “computers don’t respond or give forth, they process or calculate” (p. 162-164). While it is certainly up for debate whether videogames are interactive or reactive, some scholars have begun to recognize the value of both concepts by using the term “interreactivity” to describe the interpretive process of videogame play. Toby Smethurst and Stef Craps (2014) adopt the term interreactivity, as they say, “[i]n order to acknowledge the fact that during gameplay, it is not only the game that reacts to the player but also the player who reacts to the game” (p. 5). This is an interesting and useful term, as it allows scholars to recognize that although technically computers are more reactive than interactive, videogame play nevertheless affords a strong illusion of interactivity.

Videogame interactivity, and the sense of control that it elicits in players, is illusory. Player input causes the game system to react in a specific, pre-coded way and, given our current lack of true artificial intelligence able to adapt and generate content in reaction to unpredictable human behaviour, player choice is necessarily limited. As James Newman (2013) states, “videogames do not present endlessly variable scenarios in response to player performance … No matter how creative, exploratory, resistant or deviant the player’s performance might be, it is bounded by rules” (p. 102). This is not necessarily a negative thing, as rules are required for play itself. In videogames, as a computer-based medium, rules -- understood as code -- are necessary for the game to exist at all. Ian Bogost (2008) points out that “play refers to the ‘possibility space’ created by constraints of all kinds” and that we “encounter the meaning of games by exploring their possibility spaces” (p. 120-121). Certainly, regardless of the constraints inherent within videogame worlds and narratives, players create meaning within these possibility spaces.

There is, however, a dissonance between the fact of videogames as pre-scripted objects which offer only the illusion of interactivity and the discourses around the nature of videogames among many developers, marketers, players and scholars. There is a widespread assumption among videogame proponents that interactivity means that the player is afforded agency within the game. This laudation is particularly strong among those who emphasize the difference between videogames and other media. As Susanne Eichner (2014) observes in her book Agency and Media Reception:

Video games are widely considered as paradigmatic interactive media, distinguished from ‘traditional’ media by interactivity, thus providing the positive pleasure of agency for their players. More often than not, however, the nature of interactivity and agency is not further explicated. (p. 53)

Agency, understood as the general and fundamental capability of humans to act in the world, is a tricky and multifaceted concept restricted by countless factors, such as physicality, access to resources, societal expectations and political structures. Although agency is certainly not restricted to the personal or individual level, Eichner’s concern is with the agency individuals have in the process of media reception, and, similarly, it is individual agency that is the focus in most articulations of videogame play. The discussion surrounding agency and videogame play can be traced back to Janet Murray (1997), when she defined videogame agency as “the satisfying power to take meaningful action and see the results of our decisions and choices,” and pointed out that players desire this subjective experience of power and control (p. 126). The sense of power and control that videogames afford must partially come from the fact that the game system, like any computer, responds instantly to our input, obeys our commands, and consistently responds the same way to the same input. In this way, agency is considered by many to be the natural result of interactivity and therefore inherent to the medium.

Many scholars and players extend this assumption regarding player agency to argue that videogames are co-created by both developers and players, even suggesting that this medium is an example of Roland Barthes’ (1975) scriptible or writerly text, in which the reader is transformed from a passive consumer into an active producer of meaning (p. 4). This kind of ideal text requires collaboration or co-authorship, thereby breaking down the barrier “which the literary institution maintains between the producer of the text and its user” (p. 4). Barthes compared the scriptible text to the more traditional lisible or readerly text, which does not offer the reader “the pleasure of writing” (p. 4). Although it is true that videogames are generally only experienced through the process of play, as Murray points out, “[t]here is a distinction between playing a creative role within an authored environment and having authorship of the environment itself” (p. 152). Indeed, no matter how loudly a videogame proclaims its own interactivity, it does not allow for co-authorship.

Alec Charles (2009) suggests instead that a videogame should be considered a faux-scriptible text, “which gives its user the illusion of meaning, power and active participation, and which, in appearing to satisfy its audience’s desire for agency, in fact sublimates and dilutes that desire” (p. 289). This illusion of scriptibilité and its subsequent sublimation of the desire for agency are reminiscent of the famous criticisms of the popular culture industry put forth by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in 1947. Although it is unlikely that videogame developers are self-consciously trying to spread ideological assimilation and acceptance of the status quo, Charles observes that “the game’s demands for functional reactivity promote an illusion of agency which lulls the player into an interpretative passivity, and which thereby serves to posit its subject within a virtually invisible (and therefore virtually irresistible) ideological mould” (p. 289). The illusory nature of videogame agency betrays a fundamental lie within the discourses that surround the medium, particularly within the insistence that videogames are interactive. Developers of narrative-heavy videogames are often guilty of propagating this lie, since in those kinds of games, as Tanya Krzywinska has observed, “you are promised some kind of agency, but your agency is taken away from you” (as cited in Charles, 2009, p. 285). Although many games offer players at least limited control over the abilities, equipment, statistics and appearance of the player-character, much of the promised agency with which scholars, players and developers concern themselves takes the form of choices offered to the player within the game’s narrative. Games which are marketed with the promise of player choice and which frame those choices in terms of their morality have been particularly popular objects of study. The consequences of promised agency which is revealed to be illusory are especially concerning when the choices are ethically heavy. Although this lie inherent in the medium is primarily a philosophical concern, it has been directly addressed by videogame developers both in interviews and in the game content they produce. Game designer Ken Levine and his critically acclaimed first person shooter BioShock (2K Games, 2007) provide a particularly relevant case study.


“A man chooses, a slave obeys”

The first installment in the BioShock series was applauded for offering players a form of so-called moral choice: to either save or “harvest” genetically-altered little girls, called Little Sisters, throughout the game. These Little Sisters exist to gather a substance called ADAM from corpses, and ADAM is in turn used to upgrade the player-character’s abilities. As Miguel Sicart (2009) elaborates in his study of the ethics of BioShock, this is hardly an ethical choice as “there is barely any difference between letting the Little Sisters live or die, since the player will receive Adam [sic] as a gift if they are left alive, in a quantity similar to what she would get after killing the girls” (p. 159-160). The apparently heavy choice of saving or harvesting the Little Sisters only influences some in-game dialogue and the ending scenes; as such, “[t]he game turns their [sic] alleged key ethical decision-making mechanic into a resource-management process that does not require any type of moral reasoning for the player to succeed” (Sicart, 2009, p. 160). The Little Sisters, then, function as goals for the player to reach, or as tools that enable the player’s progress.

Throughout much of the game, the player-character Jack must follow the guidance of Atlas, the heroic and mythical leader of an underground working-class rebellion, to hunt down and confront the game’s antagonist and Rapture’s founder, Andrew Ryan. The climax occurs when Jack realizes that he has been the victim of psychological conditioning forcing him to unquestioningly obey any orders issued with the phrase “would you kindly?” This revelation comes with the discovery that Jack is actually Andrew Ryan’s illegitimate son, purchased as an embryo from his mother by Ryan’s political rival, Frank Fontaine. Atlas is revealed to be Fontaine in disguise, and Jack discovers that he was simply a tool for Fontaine’s takeover of Rapture. In an unforgettable cut-scene, Jack is forced to murder his own father, unable to resist the politely-worded command. Ryan is disappointed in his son’s inability to be more than a slave, and the player is similarly given no control in this climactic moment.

The events in this cut-scene occur regardless of the choices the player makes, since, as Robert Jackson (2014) points out, “BioShock embodies the very worst of late capitalist logic: it offers you the ambiguity of moral agency, ‘the freedom to decide’ -- when the real technical, social and structural decisions have already decided what will happen anyway” (p. 36). BioShock’s narrative is particularly concerned with agency and free will, and the “would you kindly?” cut-scene has been lauded as subverting traditional notions of player agency, reminding players of their own lack of choice in pre-programmed, pre-scripted videogames. In an interview, Ken Levine, the lead creator of BioShock, admits that his decision to deny any agency during the climax of the game “was really the ultimate insult to the player” because “you can't choose to do anything. You have no will at all” (Remo, 2007, p. 1). Levine wanted to design BioShock as a self-reflexive critique of agency in videogames:

[I]n BioShock, I wanted to take it to the point where the player was doing things that were, in retrospect, out of his control. He was being mind-controlled by someone else, doing things that are usually done in a very mind-controlled fashion in video games. You know, ‘Go do this thing,’ then, ‘Okay, I'll go do it because the game tells me to.’ … And you have no choice. You have to do this stuff or the game doesn't go anywhere. (Remo, 2007, p. 5)

Although BioShock was marketed as a game which involves heavy ethical choices, the player’s agency is denied during the climactic cut-scene and the only meaningful choice possible -- that of saving or harvesting the Little Sisters -- determines only which ending cut-scene the player sees. And yet, the game was wildly popular. This may be explained by Seth Giddings and Helen Kennedy’s (2008) argument that interactivity in videogames is not, in fact, premised on the exercising or extension of player agency. They argue against the problematic notion that “the experience and pleasures of gameplay are bound up with the attainment and exercise of mastery by players” (p. 18). Rather, they suggest that “activity and passivity are not opposites in videogame play but fluctuations in the circuit,” meaning that there is pleasure to be found in a “lack of agency,” in “being controlled,” and in “being acted upon” (p.30). Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska (2006) similarly posit that “[t]he pleasure of playing lies, often, in a particular combination of freedom and determination, control and lack of control” (p. 34).

While Levine decided to insult the player by marketing BioShock as a game which offers moral choice while self-reflexively undermining the sense of agency offered by the game, this type of subversion is rare. Most developers create games which offer affordances and constraints to foster the player’s sense of involvement, and therefore his or her sense of “immersion.” Offering multiple choices and multiple endings to the player is also a wise marketing tactic, as Mark Wolf (2002) observes, “[t]he changing nature of a game’s narrative outcome from one playing of the game to the next is one of the prime reasons for players to return and play again” (p. 107). In providing multiple branching narratives and endings, Wolf observes that “the real narrative becomes the player’s own passage through the narrative maze of branching storylines and events” (p. 109). However, simply providing branching narrative trees is not enough to satisfy the player if he or she does not feel that the choices offered are meaningful. Although players are aware that all the possible choices and their outcomes are already determined by the developers, if the choices offered seem meaningful within the gameworld, that awareness can fade and the player can maintain a feeling of control and agency.

In his studies on ethics in videogames, Sicart (2009) examines how some games fail while others succeed at acknowledging players as moral agents. He critiques game designers for trivializing ethical decisions by labelling them as “good” or “bad,” rewarding players for making some choices over others, and turning decisions into puzzles to be solved. As he states:

By embedding the morality of the players’ actions in the game design and systematically evaluating them as “good” or “bad” actions, these games are taking away the player’s moral responsibility, making the process of self-evaluation just another element in the game system and not a part of the moral interpretation of the game experienced by the player. (p. 212)

Sicart critiques games such as Lionhead’s Fable (2004) and BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic (2003), which award players with “good/light” or “evil/dark” points based on their actions, thereby reducing moral behaviour to a gameplay strategy. In these cases, as well as in BioShock, as discussed earlier, the player is characterized “as a mere input provider” rather than a moral agent, and moral problems are perceived “as mere gameplay challenges, strategic decisions that affect what branch of the game narrative will be explored, and when” (Sicart, 2010, p. 106). Games which feature choice-based content in an attempt to foster a sense of player agency are becoming common, yet few of these games acknowledge players as moral agents by allowing them to make challenging decisions with little possibility to predict the consequences of their actions and without any system of evaluation or reward. Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead (2012) is one game which, based on Sicart’s criteria, does succeed in this area. As a result of seemingly meaningful decision-making, players experience a strong sense of player agency within each individual navigation of pre-scripted decision trees.


“Clementine witnessed what you did”

The Walking Dead is an episodic point-and-click style adventure game based on the comic book series of the same name. Events in the first season of the game take place in Georgia shortly after a widespread zombie outbreak. The player adopts the role of Lee Everett, an African-American university professor who has recently been convicted of murdering a state senator. The game opens with Lee being transported to prison though he quickly gains freedom due to the chaos caused by the zombies. Shortly after, Lee encounters a young girl named Clementine and joins up with her to protect her and find her parents. The relationship between Lee and Clementine is one of surrogate father-daughter and the game makes it clear that Lee’s main motivation throughout the game is to protect Clementine at all costs. While violence is certainly ubiquitous in the game, it is never the central focus of gameplay. Rather, making difficult survival decisions, managing interpersonal relationships and mediating conflicts is what this game is all about. As Lee encounters other survivors and attempts to keep the group intact, the player is forced to make decisions about Lee’s behaviour, which in turn influences how others behave, who survives and who does not, and what kind of a person Clementine develops into.

The Walking Dead’s unique selling point is that “the story is tailored by how you play” and the player is often reminded of this by being informed that “this action will have consequences.” The weight of the player’s choices is especially heavy when the game informs the player that “Clementine witnessed what you did” and “Clementine will remember that.” Many of these morally-questionable decisions must be made within a matter of seconds, and each major choice leads the player down specific branches of decision trees, thereby granting him or her the responsibility of deciding what kind of role-model he or she wants to be for Clementine. While other characters will certainly voice their opinions, the game offers little moral guidance and no reward for playing the game as selfish and antagonistic or as kind and heroic. While some choices can be made strategically, there are often completely unforeseen consequences to each decision. Clementine functions not only as a motivating factor but also as a moral compass, as she reacts negatively to anger and violence.

The quality of the writing is such that the feelings of protectiveness and concern for Clementine, as well as the guilt felt for frightening her, are real sensations experienced by many players. Reports of “real-life” emotions in response to the consequences of player choice in The Walking Dead have been explored in the microethnographic studies conducted by Nicholas Taylor, Chris Kampe and Kristina Bell (2015a & 2015b). The authors observed the choices made by male and female players with different gaming experiences and backgrounds, and asked the participants why they made certain choices in sequences that were deemed challenging, stressful, or morally heavy. The authors observed that players adopted the role of protective, surrogate father-figure, stating that they were able to see an enactment of mature paternal identity in the play of their participants: “a conscious shifting of thought and behavior as they become more focused on Clementine, and express emotional openness, patience, compassion, and selflessness” (2015b, p. 15). The statistics given at the end of every episode of The Walking Dead also reveal the effects of in-game consequences on player choice. After completing each episode, players are shown the statistics of other players’ decisions at major moments in the game. Depending on how the player chooses to act, Clementine will learn to trust others, or to be wary of them. Choices do not matter on a grand scale in The Walking Dead -- Lee will never save the world from its fate -- however, the player’s choices do influence what kind of person Clementine becomes and how she acts in subsequent installments in the series.

In their discussion of The Walking Dead, Smethurst and Craps (2014) understand complicity in videogames as “founded on a combination of interreactivity and empathy,” meaning that “the game fosters the sense that players have a responsibility for what happens on-screen” (p. 9). While some scholars have suggested that videogames provide a safe space in which players can engage in deviant behaviour, delineated by a “magic circle” keeping it separate from reality, statistics from The Walking Dead suggest that most players tend to prefer taking the moral high ground when available. As Telltale’s marketing director Richard Iggo claims:

Some of the stats we’ve seen coming back from player decisions have created a perception that even in dire times -- and when faced with no-win situations where each decision is morally grey -- the majority of people will try to do the ‘right’ thing if they can, even if there’s really no ‘right’ decision to be made. It’s fascinating because even when we offer players a decision where the apparently darker option might make sense from a purely logical point of view, they’ll often try to choose the ‘higher’ ground at personal cost even if that means being put in danger or having a relationship with another character suffer because of it. (cited in Keyes, 2012, para. 4)

This suggests that in The Walking Dead, players act as what Sicart would call moral agents because they react to dilemmas with a moral stance rather than with logic or strategy. In her 2016 talk entitled “Playing (as) a better me: Choice, moral affordances and videogames,” Mia Consalvo also found that, in games which offer moral choices, the participants in her studies claimed that the “good” option was generally more in line with their natural dispositions, and so felt like a more realistic choice. She also pointed out that most games usually reward the player for choosing the “good” option because that option falls in line with the game’s own narrative logic -- you are playing as the hero so you behave like a hero.

BioWare’s Dragon Age series (2009-14) approaches the evaluation of player decisions differently, as there is no inherent system of morality within the games. Rather, the non-player companions which join the player-character throughout the games have their own opinions and reactions to player decisions. Consalvo reported that her participants felt that this kind of judgement system was more natural and realistic, particularly because players become attached to these companions throughout the potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay and often value their opinions. This is similar to The Walking Dead in its more natural, potentially more realistic approach to morality. Rather than the game superimposing an evaluative system, players make their decisions based on the limited information available to them -- such as the opinions of other characters, who are written to be flawed or even untrustworthy -- and their own gut reactions to each situation. The Walking Dead follows the popular branching decision tree format in which the narrative splits based on player choice and then converges again at specific points in the game. This is a clever way to give the player the feeling that every choice he or she makes matters greatly while not expending excessive resources on narrative content that might not even be seen. As such, while the sensation of agency is cogent in The Walking Dead, many of the decisions offered to the player are actually false choices because the different options eventually lead to (mostly) the same outcome. As Smethurst and Craps (2014) point out:

The narrative branches that the player does not travel down but perceives as possibilities are just as important to their understanding of the story as the events that actually play out on the screen. One could reasonably field the argument that this overarching antinarrative or phantom narrative is even more powerful than the narrative itself, since it colludes with the player’s imagination to create might-have-beens that the game’s developers could not possibly have anticipated or included in the game. (p. 15)

This kind of trick is only fully possible in a medium like videogames, in which the player believes that the narrative is responding to his or her actions. By allowing the player to make morally-heavy decisions and making it seem that those decisions truly shape the narrative outcome, The Walking Dead, and games like it, foster an incredibly strong illusion of player agency.


An alternative kind of agency

The concept of agency is rendered even more complicated when two opposed meanings are applied to it. As Perry Anderson observed in 1980, the term agency is generally used to refer to the autonomy, control and freedom one has; however, agency can also suggest that one is an agent, or the representative of another. Both meanings can be read into the player-avatar relation, as Andrew Burn (2006) points out:

On the one hand, we might choose to celebrate the unprecedented degree of participative agency allowed for the reader within the text … Yet, on the other hand, there is a sense in which players merely accept and play out the roles determined for them by game texts devised by global corporations, dominated by patriarchal narratives and what Brian Sutton-Smith (1997) calls the male-dominated power rhetorics of combative play. (p. 82)

It would seem, then, that players are merely agents within the gameplay experience since, for the most part, they are following the path set out for them by another. However, as Eichner (2014) points out in reference to Stuart Hall, “[a]gency is inherent in media literacy, in our competency to evaluate and to make use of media adequately,” and so “[a]gency is at stake when recipients oppose the implied meaning of a text and take on a negotiated or oppositional position” (p. 13) Although it has become clear that the kind of “agency” that videogames afford players is illusory, the agency enacted by players as they interpret the game text cannot be overlooked. As Gareth Schott (2006) states, “the human mind of the player is not just ‘reactive’ but generative, creative, proactive and reflective” (p. 134). This observation reinforces Steven Jones’ (2008) point that since play is a highly mediated, complicated and social experience, “[p]layers make games meaningful, make their meanings, as they play them, talk about them, reconfigure them, and play them again” (p. 9). Players, like readers and viewers, actively interpret the text and exercise agency over how it is received, discussed and understood, though that agency is itself constrained by socio-cultural realities. Players also exercise collective agency through participation in fan communities, which often engage in dialogue with developers and help to shape a game’s paratext, which is itself integral to the experience of play.

Fan communities engage with the videogame industry perhaps more than with other media industries, to such an extent that developers have even changed endings to games due to player outcry. The ending to Bethesda’s Fallout 3 (2008) was met with widespread fan outrage and so the studio released downloadable content to provide an alternative ending to the game. The same occurred regarding the ending of BioWare’s Mass Effect 3 (2012), which fans accused of not respecting the choices they made throughout the trilogy. As Kotaku writer Stephen Totilo (2012) notes:

Many people complained about the [sic] Mass Effect 3's conclusion because they felt it was abrupt and distressing, that it didn't properly pay off this multi-year saga and didn't let players feel closure with the many characters they'd adventured with across three games. They say it throttled the series' trademark freedom of choice. (para. 6)

Indeed, the Mass Effect series allows players to make several seemingly important moral choices, though unlike in the Dragon Age series or The Walking Dead, these choices fall along a specific “paragon/renegade” moral alignment. While this is not exactly a “good/evil” categorization, it functions in the same rather simplistic and reductive way as the “light side/dark side” dichotomy Sicart criticized in Knights of the Old Republic. Regardless, players were offered moral choices that seemed to matter, and when the series’ ending failed to reflect the importance of their choices, many of them complained.

On the other hand, by releasing new downloadable content to change the ending in response to player demands, BioWare also received criticism for “surrendering their artistic integrity” (Totilo, 2012, para 7). Some players stated that “acquiescing to fans -- some of them rude or overly entitled -- who petition and Tweet and make a huge commotion about how a work of fiction ends undermines BioWare's position as independent-minded creators” (Totilo, 2012, para 8). In “failing to stand their ground,” BioWare was accused of “doing something we wouldn't respect -- or even expect -- in other forms of entertainment” (Totilo, 2012, para 11). Certainly, the idea of changing the ending to a film or television show simply because fans did not like it seems ludicrous, however, videogames have always been different. It is not uncommon for games to be released before they are entirely ready, due to time or budget constraints, and so patches, updates and other modifications are often developed after the game has been released. Many of these patches and updates are developed and released based on player reports, which suggests that many studios “bug test” on the public -- a common problem within the technology industry. Changing the narrative is certainly a bolder move than simply updating content to remove glitches, yet in doing so, Bethesda and BioWare revealed their belief that videogames, unlike other media, are “a conversation between game players and game creators” (Totilo, 2012, para 16).

By engaging in this kind of conversation, players can truly exercise agency and even create a reversal of power structures: while normally the developer dictates the player’s actions through the very structures of the game, in these cases, the players are dictating how the game’s narrative should respond to their actions. This certainly does not mean that players get to re-write the game, but it does mean that if the narrative is not good enough, or is perceived as too insulting to or dismissive of the players, some developers are willing to change it. Although this does not mean that videogames are what Barthes would call scriptible texts, it does suggest that the “interactive” quality of videogames is less in the feedback loop between the computer and the player, and more in the conversation between fan community and game developer.



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