To be clear, when I spoke of my personal feelings, I was referring to the importance of various forms of agency within a story, not trying to shield myself from criticism for making an observation about authorial intent that is clearly shared by several others. Authorial intent is controversial, this isn’t new. I’m not naming or shaming anyone because I’m not trying to deride authors or change their methods or demonize them. What I’m trying to express is just my response to the question set forth by the topic creator.
“Why are people less forgiving towards set main characters in text adventures versus visual rpgs?”
I can’t speak for others, so I speak to my own reasons.
-I prefer to have as much agency within a story as I can, so more agency is better.
-Agency of identity is the first thing that comes out the gate and sets the tone for the whole story. If there is none, I do not assume there will be other forms of agency later on.
-Some forms of agency of identity are much easier for text adventures than for visual rpg’s. You do not need a voice actor to say a bunch of different names the player might choose like is common in sports franchises, you don’t need to generate character models that can interact with all of the other graphical elements of your game, you don’t need to hire voice actors to perform the MC’s lines for different genders or intonations or pitches, et cetera. This isn’t to say there is no work involved in accommodating agency of identity, just that it is significantly more difficult to do so in a visual rpg and thus players who enjoy that are more forgiving when it isn’t present in a vrpg vs a text adventure.
-When an author makes the decision to remove player agency, they are saying a few things. “I don’t want to invest the energy in these options because other aspects of the project are going to need that energy” is valid. “I am trying to tell a specific story that is only going to be authentically told from a certain perspective” is valid. There are many valid reasons that an author might choose to restrict player agency. I have no interest in maligning those authors.
-Every medium has its own strengths and weaknesses. Interactive mediums have a particular strength: Interactivity. The ability for the author to allow the participant to have agency in their experience. One might say that a book is interactive because the reader can choose to turn the page or not and has to physically do so. That’s not what I’m talking about. A book or a movie or a tv show are all very capable of telling linear narratives with set characters and they each have different strengths in doing so.
Films, tv, and video games can use visual effects to dazzle the viewer and communicate action and engage the viewer visually and auditorily in ways that other mediums can’t compete with. Novels can take us into the minds of the characters and stop, reverse, slow, fast forward in time as much as is needed to weave the story they want to weave.
Interactive fiction has only one strength over novels: agency. Engaging the player and accounting for them in the fiction. When an author releases a work of interactive fiction wherein the only choice the player has made is to turn the page, they have released a novel, disguised as interactive fiction. I have played such titles, as have others. It’s not what I’m looking for in interactive fiction, it’s what I’m looking for in novels. And I guess I have to reiterate right now, simply having agency over the identity of the main character is not the make or break that separates the novels from the interactive fiction. It involves the other elements of agency being absent as well. A work that purports to be interactive fiction but offers no agency is a deception. It might literally be the Lord of the Rings, an epic that could stand the test of the ages long after the author is dead, but if all you’re doing is turning the page, it’s not interactive fiction. It’s just fiction. And that doesn’t make it a bad work, or the author a bad person. But it does break from my expectations within the medium.
-I cannot know that a work will provide me with no agency at all until I complete it. I also can’t give every work of interactive fiction my money or time. What I can do is read the description of the game, and sometimes a demo of the intro. When I get through that and realize I haven’t been given the agency I’m looking for, and the author hasn’t hooked me with the character I’m to play, I put the product away and keep looking for the experience I am willing to pay for. I don’t write a bad review, I don’t send angry emails to the author, I just realize I’m not the intended audience and go find the author who is putting their energy out there to engage with me.