Aporia & Epiphany in Context: Computer Game Agency in Baldur’s Gate II & Heroes of Might & Magic IV
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This thesis studies computer games from a recipient’s perspective by doing an analysis of how an implied player is expected by game design to take action in computer games. From the assumption that the player of computer games is cast in the role as problem solver, the thesis aims to study how the player engages in the structuring of courses of action in the computer role-playing game (CRPG) Baldur’s Gate II: The Shadows of Amn and the turn-based strategy game (TBS) Heroes of Might & Magic IV. The work is based upon theoretical views from different fields. One of the central concepts utilised is agency, derived from the action theory branch of philosophy and adapted to computer environments by Janet Murray and Brenda Laurel. Coupled with Espen Aarseth’s claim that a computer game player meets aporias or roadblocks in the game that must be solved by sudden epiphanies, the concept of agency will be fruitfully developed in order to investigate the player’s participation in computer games. Parallels will be drawn between the aporia-epiphany pair and cognitive psychology’s view on problem solving in order to identify different species of problem sequences in games. Most interesting is the proposal of the concept computer game agency, which denotes a kind of player action that is motivated, intentional, and has a certain effect in that it contributes to the progression of the game. The comparative analysis of Baldur’s Gate II and Heroes IV demonstrates how an implied player traverses the game via the means of problem solving. BGII’s focus on role-play creates a very different motivation for problem solving than does HoMMIV’s focus on strategy. While BGII little by little reveals the goal of the game by letting the player traverse a chain of separately arranged problems, HoMMIV defines the goal beforehand and presents new problems within existing ones like a Chinese box. Since BGII lets the player concentrate on one problem at a time, while HoMMIV lets the player plan ahead and see problems as interrelated, it becomes clear that the games rely on different kinds of logics when it comes to how the player is expected to traverse them.