As discussed in class, the most obvious central theme we find when engaging in these types of games is choice. Throughout both “Papers, Please” and “The Walking Dead,” game players are required to make certain decisions (reject/admit an individual into the country, fight zombies, etc.) both of which ultimately affect the outcome of the game that the user experiences. Thus, we see that choice of the individual gamer affects the story to which they play. Additionally, with these types of games the user seems to draw an emotional attachment to the game and characters within. While playing both games I became heavily invested in the person that I was being portrayed through. For example, I became heavily invested in my character within “The Walking Dead” and found that my actions in the game resembled the same decisions I would have made had it been myself in the game. Both of these games contributed a sense of legitimacy for this reason.
The game “Papers, Please” has several themes for which it intends the user to grasp. Of those are choice, control and autonomy. First in terms of choice, the extent of the game is choosing whether to allow an individual to enter the country or not. Thus the user finds that every choice made impacts the end of the game in one way or another. With multiple possibilities for game endings, the choices made by the user ultimately affect the end result that the user experiences. Control ties closely with choice as the gamer experiences control over all decisions made at the immigration border. Consequently, the individual gamer experiences complete control over the ability of one to enter the country. As such, the gamer experiences how their control affects another individual. Finally, autonomy is a theme for “Papers, Please” as individuals experience different circumstances when making a decision and thus the moral and ethical question arises when deciding who to let enter the country. Individuals approach the border with varying backgrounds and as the border patrol, we are forced to decide what factors determine the entry of one individual while others are denied.
Again with choosing “The Walking Dead,” an important theme within the game is certainly “survival” but the opportunity of survival is directly correlated with our other obvious theme of choice. Throughout the game, the user is in control and encounters the opportunity of choice, deciding Who in the game is a threat? Who is worthy of saving? And other important decisions. Within the game, the concept of choice is constantly reinforced by the gameplay as the choice of the individual user ultimately affects the outcome that the user experiences (again similar to the other games played in class). “The Walking Dead” stresses the importance of using the game medium more so than other mediums because within having control over the decisions made, I felt a stronger connection to the characters than I had in my brief stint watching the series. My ability to control and make decisions keeps me engaged far more than watching this similar story through the television.
The most crucial aspect of the games only possible in this medium is the ability of the gamer to make decisions which affect the narrative they experience. If for example these narratives were placed in a different medium, it would have limited the ability of the user to directly impact the ending of the story. This is important because it can reduce the level of engagement for the user had this particular narrative not been displayed through a game medium. Typically within these games there are limitations placed on the narratives. The most obvious is the time factor. For example in “Papers, Please” the gamer only has a certain amount of time (denoted as the work day) for which they can make decisions on who to admit. The time factor restricts the amount of time and therefore constraints the amount of money an individual can make on a daily basis.
The concept of “playing” a narrative game is widely debated. Some claim that there is no possibility to experience a “narrative” while playing a game. Yet, if we determine that both are possible, we find that within “playing” a narrative game an individual experiences certain themes that would otherwise not be possible through other mediums. Consequently, imagining the goals of a game designer, I think the key value in creating narrative as a game rather than a different medium is the engagement level required with the game world versus a different medium. I think that with other mediums like print or films, one could easily be disconnected with the narrative. With the game world, we are forced into action if we wish to advance the story and through our actions we constantly see how our individual choice affects the outcome of the game. If nothing else, our lack of choice and control over the outcome with other mediums means the individual would lose such engagement had the story been presented in some other type of forum. Additionally, as I mentioned before, one thing to consider is our ability to emotionally connect with the game. When considering some of the other mediums possible, what makes “playing” more valuable is the emotional attachment that a gamer can form with his/her own character. Our discussions in class have alluded to the fact that building an avatar in such games can in some way resemble a piece of the gamer themselves and if this is the case, one can gain a stronger attachment to playing as opposed to watching a film, etc.