Catherine Davies 1622960 FTVMS328

Adventure games which adopt a third person perspective, like Machinarium, The
Visitor, and The Old Tree, are well equipped for providing players with an
emotionally and intellectually stimulating affective experience, far more so than
their first person counterparts. Their emotional impact is unique, in that it relies
on the player’s evaluation of their own actions, rather than any in-game events.
Furthermore , by providing spaces in which the player is encouraged to make
use of their tools and abilities in order to reach predetermined conclusions- and
then think about their ( possibly regrettable ) consequences, these games
provide an interesting opportunity for players to think about issues surrounding
agency immersion in gaming. In these games, the actions, emotions and
decisions of the player are in themselves, a vital part of the in game story. This
means that the third person perspective allows video games to tell a new kind of
story; one in which the player is a central character, rather than a simple
instigator of events. With reference to close analyses of the aforementioned
games, this essay will demonstrate how the third person perspective plays a vital
role in the creation of such multi-dimensional, emotionally affecting,
intellectually engaging video game storytelling.

Third person perspective viewpoint games are unique in their ability to achieve
a meaningful balance between diegetic immersion ( i.e a state in which a player
becomes totally absorbed in the act of playing ) and situated, or intra-diegetic
immersion ( a state in which a player is absorbed in the fictional space of the
game and treats it as lived space ). (Taylor, 12, 13 ). This means that people who
play video games that have a third person perspective are emotionally and
mentally engaged in these physical spaces, but are also retaining a healthy
awareness of the fictional nature of those spaces. I believe that such a
phenomenon is made possible by the specific characteristics of games that are
presented from a third person perspective. Firstly, as was argued by the scholar
Taylor, these types of vantage points allow the players to form a meaningful
relationship with the in game environment, by allowing them to actually see it
from multiple angles, as opposed to the one dimensional view afforded by one
person shooters. ( Taylor, 28). Secondly, it is worth noting that the protagonists
in these types of games are treated as separate entities from the player, rather
than avatars to be assimilated by the player’s identity. This embeds the world of
the game with a potential source of emotional realism, as we get to care about
the characters and their conflicts. The third person perspective viewpoint
furthers aid diegetic immersion by enabling the player to have a far wider and
more extensive view of the game world than would be possible in a game that
used the more traditional first person point of view, (in which views of the game
world would be restricted to that which the human eye was capable of. ).
Consequentially the game player is able to watch for agents which might impact
their gameplay ( such as approaching enemies ) , without getting distracted by
the artificiality of such abilities.

Catherine Davies 1622960 FTVMS328

Games that use a third person perspective viewpoint are particularly noteworthy
for their ability to acknowledge the player’s presence, while firmly maintaining a
distance between the player and the fictional world of the game. This enables
players like myself, to feel a much stronger sense of personal responsibility and
accountability, as we feel we are being personally judged for our decisions and
actions. For instance, while playing the game Machinarium, I felt that I was
constantly being assessed and judged by the game’s protagonist, a little robot
called Joseph. Throughout the game, Joseph constantly breaks the fourth wall to
give the player information, advice, and occasionally urge us towards action. He
appears to be aware of our ability to the space he occupies, and constantly urges
us to make good use of these abilities. In doing so he effectively turns the player
into a character in our own right, who will be judged for their actions and
behaviours. For me personally, this technique was a highly effective means of
getting me to feel more emotionally invested in Joseph’s goals and needs, as I felt
like a teammate he was relying on, rather than someone who simply controlled
him. Thus the use of the third person perspective enhances the affective
dimension of the game by making it possible for the game to reference the
player’s abilities, and therefore create pressure to perform “well”.

A particularly notable element of these point and click adventure games is their
hypermediacy, which ironically acts to strengthen, rather than weaken, the
player’s emotional engagement in the games by reminding them of their
extensive abilities, and subsequently their accountability to the characters.
Hypermediacy is best defined as something which draws attention to the act of
mediation – i.e, something which draws attention to the lack of seamlessness in
the process which gets a product delivered to an audience ( in this case the
players ). (Bolter and Grusin, 53 ). In these games hypermediacy is apparent in
the various actions which are necessary to instigate action. For instance in the
game The Visitor any effort to interact with an object or character will require
the player to move a mouse symbol around the screen and click on the relevant
object. A similar process occurs in Machinarium, in which movement of the
mouse is necessary in order to get the little robot to move. These actions change
the player’s affective experience of the game by reminding us of how dependent
these fictional worlds are on our actions and choices. In my case, this effectively
made me feel somewhat tense, as I realised the extent of my ability to control
this world- which subsequently made me feel that any problems or crises in one
of these worlds would reflect on me personally. Thus by making reference to its
status as a mediated product, which is totally controlled by me, hypermediacy
within these games significantly changes my affective experience by linking my
successful control of these games to my sense of self worth.

An in-game acknowledgement of the player’s power over the game space, has the
potential to introduce an element of drama into the gameplay, by challenging the
player to take responsibility for some of the more regrettable events of the game.
By referencing the player’s power over the game space, third person perspective
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video games further reference the illusion of agency, and consequentially make
the player feel personally accountable for some of the games more horrific
moments. This phenomenon is particularly evident in the game The Visitor, in
which players are essentially blamed for a gruesome series of murders and
mutilations. The game follows the story of a small alien parasite, as it slowly
stalks and kills several animals and humans, growing more and more powerful
and vicious. Like Machinarium, The Visitor creates a kind of co-conspiratorial
relationship between the game’s protagonist, and the player. This is achieved
through intra-diegetic immersion, which the scholar Taylor defines as a state in
which the player is not only lost in the act of playing the game, but also is hyper
aware of their own point of view on the game, and that of a particular character,
which in this game is the Visitor. ( Taylor, 12-13 ). By this, she is referring to a
point where a player’s experience of the game starts to be directly influenced by
a particular character’s unique viewpoint on the game world. Throughout the
gameplay we are constantly made aware of the Visitor’s position within the game
space, and its perspective on the game world. Consequentially we come to feel a
kind of sympathy for it, as at least initially, it appears to be a small and innocent
creature. This leads to feelings of extreme shock and horror when the creature –
who we have directly aided in gaining access to other life forms – begins to kill
and devour others. This scenario – in which we are effectively held accountable
for several murders- allows the game to make several interesting comments
about the concept of agency within games.

Gamer agency is a highly disputed concept, which basically asks scholars to
determine the extent to which players of video games can be said to have any
real, meaningful control over their gaming experiences. For the purposes of a
discussion about The Visitor, I will reference scholars who define agency as a
proven ability “to take meaningful action and see the results of our decisions and
choices” within a game world. ( Murray, Page 126).The emotional impact of the
game is heightened by the game’s references to the presence of the player, who
is made hyper aware of their power within this world, and consequently made to
feel guilty and shocked over the role they played in enabling the Visitor’s
massacre. For me personally, this was what got me thinking about these types of
games and their relationship to concepts of agency. I began to think : could I
have stopped the Visitor from killing those people ? Did I have enough agency to
do so ? In some senses of the term, yes. If I was to listen to the scholar Huizinga –
who defined agency as the ability to decide whether or not to keep playing a
game – then yes, I did have enough agency to “stop” the alien, in the sense that I
could have stopped the game. (McGonigal, p 256 ). Furthermore, I did have some
agency, in the sense of the ability to perform meaningful actions and see their
results be carried out. This was most apparent in the game’s multiple endings, in
which the player has the ability to choose the ultimate fate of the alien visitor : i.e
whether it dies or not. To me the game seemed pretty eager to blame me for the
deaths caused by the alien. But then I began to think – since all the events of the
game were pre-determined- i.e, no matter what outcome is chosen by the player,
the alien still would have killed people - how much agency did I have really ?
This was a definition of agency that was proposed by the scholar Gailey, who
suggested that the predetermined nature of the rules of a game system, made the
player’s sense of power superficial at best. This line of thinking led me to another
Catherine Davies 1622960 FTVMS328

question – why do players bother to get emotionally invested in games if we
know that we ultimately cannot change what the game designers have already
decided ? Why do we get emotionally invested in texts which we cannot
possibly control ? Thus I think, by presenting players with a rather extreme
scenario, the game presents a unique affective dimension in that it leads players
to question one of the elements of gameplay that tends to be taken for granted,
namely the extent of meaningful control players have over our gaming

The game The Old Tree provides players with another interesting commentary
on agency within gaming, as the meaningful nature of the player’s actions is
constantly being questioned. Simply put, the story of the game consists of the
player “hatching” a small slug-like creature from an egg stored in a cave, and
then removing the obstacles that block its progress towards the surface. Unlike
Machinarium or The Visitor – in which the worlds of the games are portrayed as
hostile towards the protagonists – in this game the protagonist’s journey is
portrayed as having little – to – no effect upon the world around it. That is, the
world of the little slug – which seems to consist of a kind of underground village
– is portrayed as indifferent to whether the slug succeeds in his journey or not.
Despite the fact that its journey requires him to interfere with multiple
individuals and locations – for example, one scene requires him to flood a
drainpipe- the slug is never acknowledged or noticed by others. The consequent
feeling of being strangely isolated and meaningless is only heightened by hints
that the slug might not actually need the player’s help at all. Unlike Joseph or the
Visitor, who need the player’s explicit “help” to be able to move, the slug moves
on its own, and already knows how , and where to travel. Consequentially, this
game reduces the player’s role to largely that of a passive viewer, who performs
somewhat obvious tasks in order to continue watching the slug’s inevitable
progress. This is made particularly obvious by one sequence where the player
simply watches the slug crawl up a hill. The overall effect of this game on me was
to make me feel redundant and somewhat useless, as I was lost in an unfamiliar,
inaccessible world. I feel that such feelings of redundancy represent a kind of
strange loss of agency – although the game constantly gives players the
opportunity to act upon the world, it also reinforces the idea that such actions
will never really be considered “meaningful”. This is incredibly interesting to me,
as it links a typical video game player experience – a lack of ability to change the
game in any meaningful way – with an essential human experience – a feeling of
alienation and powerlessness. Thus the affective dimension of this particular
game creates an interesting dialogue that use the language of gaming to evoke
universal experiences such as loneliness.

In a similar fashion to The Old Tree, Machinarium makes use of the typical
narratives and stereotypes about gaming culture in order to make a meaningful
statement about human nature. In the case of The Old Tree , the game developers
evoked the typical video gamer experience of powerlessness, and lack of agency,
and used it to create a statement about universal human experiences, such as
loneliness. In Machinarium, the game developers use the gamer’s urgent need
for a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction to make a comment on humanity’s
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selfishness. This element of the game Machinarium is evident in its self conscious
effort to make the game as simple – and consequently as unfulfilling as possible –
for players who simply want a quick victory. Each of the game’s levels – which
revolve around protagonist Joseph’s efforts to return home to his friends- is
supplemented by a “walkthrough book”, which provides the player with the
answer for how to progress to the next level. These are designed to cater for the
“typical” gamer, who, as is demonstrated by the number of walkthroughs and
cheats available on the internet, puts far more value in the achievement of goals,
than in the journey that is necessary to fulfil them. Machniarium is designed in a
way that deliberately favours gamers who choose to take the “long” way, and
figure out the puzzles for themselves. In doing so, these gamers allow themselves
a chance to see the aspects of the game that give it its charm – such as Joseph’s
various friendships with strangers, his enjoyment of the sights along his journey,
and his overall engagement with the world around him. Players who skip over
these encounters in favour of immediate gratification can be seen as a metaphor
for the kind of superficial, shallow individuals who allowed Joseph’s city to
become corrupt in the first place. This is another way in which the affective
dimension contributes to the story of one of these games in a unique way – by
giving the “long-way-round” players a far greater sense of satisfaction and
fulfilment, the game creates a unique relationship between the player’s
subjective response to the game and their overall understanding of its story.

To conclude, it is clear that, at least in my case, an affective experience of a video
game’s is hugely influenced by that game’s ability to make a player feel that her
feelings and thought processes will have some impact on her overall experience
of the game. By making reference to the presence of their gamers, and
incorporating them somehow, games like Machinarium, The Old Tree and The
Visitor have created multidimensional storylines which extend “beyond” the
screen. Clearly a huge amount of the affective experience is shaped by the
relationship between a player and an in-game character. By creating storylines
which allow for a meaningful kind of “self-evaluation” on the part of the player,
these games have created a new kind of gameplay experience, which hopefully
will continue to be explored by the video game industry.

Catherine Davies 1622960 FTVMS328

Works Cited

Bolter, J D & Grusin R. Remediation : Understanding the New Media. Cambridge,
MA: The MIT Press. 1999. Print.

Gailey Christine Ward, “Mediated Messages: Gender, Class and Cosmos in Home
Video Games” in The Journal of Popular Culture, 1993.

McGonigal Jane. “The Puppet Master Problem : Design for Real World, Mission
Based Gaming in “Second Person: Role Playing and Story in Games and Playable
Media” : MIT Press, 2006.

Murray, Janet H. “Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in
Cyberspace”. MIT Press, 1998.

Taylor, Laurie N. “Video Games: Perspective, Point of View, And Immersion. “
Thesis. University of Florida, 2002. Print.