Why Gamers Are Not Narrators

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Contribution to Book

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I don’t go to the gym as often as I should. When I do go, my favorite—indeed, often my only—activity is riding the Expresso Virtual-Reality Exercise Bike. This is an exercycle for the gaming generation (and for me, I suppose). Instead of watching old Seinfeld episodes while you burn those calories, you select a route that is displayed in first-person perspective on a screen in front of you. That is, you see something like what you would see biking along the route that you have selected. The image is responsive to how you move the handlebars and how fast you pedal; the work required to turn the pedals (and thus progress through the virtual route) is responsive to the gradient of the part of the course you are on. An additional motivation is that other, computer-generated riders are represented, who can be set to inspiringly ride just a little slower than you. Despite the somewhat clunky graphics and the limitations of what you can do in the virtual world (for example, it is impossible to leave the route and explore the countryside), the experience is much more engaging than riding an ordinary exercycle. If even this isn’t enough to motivate you, another option is to play a game on the bike. For instance, in “Dragon World” you must navigate the landscape to collect coins and tame dragons. It seems uncontroversial that one’s interaction with the Expresso bike generates fictional truths (for example, that one is cycling past a giant bunny rabbit). But does one’s activity generate—in whole or in part—a story? If so, who tells that story? The designers of the bike? The rider? Both? The answers to these questions seem less obvious to me, yet many contemporary videogames, at least superficially similar to the Expresso bike in their self-involving, fictional, digital interactivity, are commonly described not just as interactive fictions, but as interactive narratives. Indeed, narrative has featured prominently in arguments in favor of admitting videogames to the realm of art. If videogames are similar to films in their ability to present long, complex, emotionally engaging narratives through rich, temporally extended pictorial and sonic representations, how could videogames be denied the art status generally accorded to films?


Jon Robson & Grant Tavinor




New York



Publication Information

The Aesthetics of Videogames

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