I am speaking at the Storyworlds Across Media conference in Mainz on June 30th-July 2nd.
This conference takes me back to some of the disciplines and thoughts I originally came from: story, fiction, etc… I will be speaking on “The Paradox of Interactive Tragedy: Can a Video Game have an Unhappy Ending?”
The answer to the question is yes (though I said otherwise in Half-Real), but I am placing that within the broader complex of tragedy:
Abstract: It has long been argued that we behave paradoxically when we willingly seek out art – such as tragedies – that give us emotions that we otherwise find unpleasant. In such cases we may root for the protagonist, and we may on some level hope for a happier ending in which the protagonist survives, the sick get well, and so on, but we also accept that a tragedy must end tragically. Bad things happen, but they are beyond our control.
If we consider how this question plays out in video games, the paradox is doubled: how could a video game have a tragic ending? Why would we spend effort bringing about events that that we would prefer not to come about? It is clear that a player of video games does not need to condone the goals of the game protagonist, but games still tend to ask players to work for outcomes that are considered positive from the point of view of the same protagonist. Several theorists have made the argument that this renders video game tragedy impossible: who would want to play the role of Anna Karenina, struggling to make her commit suicide in order to complete the game?
In this talk I will argue that recent developments in video games show that the interactive nature of video games does not make tragedy impossible, but rather presents an entirely new type of tragedy.