The Gamer’s Contract

When playing a heavily plot progression-oriented video game, especially one based around a CYOA model, the player and the game creator implicitly agree to certain terms. The gamer agrees to suspend their disbelief and be open to the world that the designers have created. On the other side of the experience, the creator is expected to facilitate this suspension of disbelief by maintaining a sense of continuity. The creation of this “shared world” of common experiences snowballs as it becomes increasingly easier to stay immersed as the plot points, characters and other world elements build upon each other.

This is most often apparent when two people who played the same game and experienced the same world can go on and on discussing it, but sound absolutely ridiculous to someone overhearing it. To the unfamiliar, the descriptions are more than just describing events that they were not present for. The two are not discussing a funny incident from last night, which would just be ignored by the person. Instead, they are describing a completely different world, and even though they are under no illusions about the fictional nature of their game, everything they are saying makes sense to them. It is this idea of shared experiences that can create a genuine sense of immersion in a game.

The Zombie Child in the Attic

Throughout my play of The Walking Dead, I was similarly immersed and felt myself personally linked to the fates of Clementine and Lee. As the game progressed and I “went through” the events of the story with them, I became increasingly immersed. Between Episodes 3 & 4 however, I took an extended break and upon returning, found that I had lost much of my affinity towards, and concern for, the characters. I still found the story compelling, but events such as the digging up of the grave of the family dog and killing the zombie child in the attic had little emotional impact on me. Yet the creators assumed that I would be fulfilling my duty as the gamer to stay immersed and engaged, they made the burial of the zombie child a very drawn out process of repeated player inputs. To the engaged gamer, this would elicit a greater emotional response, but I found myself mashing the button to progress through the sequence faster. After another hour of playtime, I regained my immersion into the game, but I found the situation very demonstrative of how dependent the gaming experience is on the cooperation of the gamer and the creator.

0 thoughts on “The Gamer’s Contract

  1. I’m putting this down as one of my favorite four posts of the semester. I absolutely adore the unpacking of the implicit assumptions in the interaction between the player and the game/developer.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Zander. As I was looking over the post again, I began to wonder how this “contract” would apply to video games being played by reviewers. As a thoroughly average gamer, if I’ve decided to pay the $20-50 price of admission, I try to fulfill whatever is needed on my end to make sure that I get something out the experience. On the other hand, someone who’s playing to review the game may approach with a sense of entitlement and look for the game to do that work for them. In this way, they may be approaching the game from an angle that doesn’t apply to the typical gamer, and may not be getting the experience that was intended for them.

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