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Last week, Michael Abbott of Brainy Gamer wrote about his relationship with Sleeping Dogs protagonist Wei Shen. While exploring the player’s implicit responsibility for Shen’s actions, Abbott identifies one of the narrative benefits of occupying a predetermined character:
These games hand me a controller, but not full control. I maneuver constructed characters through game worlds, but never fully command them. I relate to them as avatars who respond to my base choices (walk, run, eat, sleep, fight, flee), but I never fully identify with them. I can’t subordinate them to my will, but I’m with them, and I often feel I am them. Wei Shen may do things I don’t like, but until I press “W” he does nothing at all. He essentially ceases to exist. When I give him life, he springs to action and operates by his own rules. Under such conditions, it’s worth asking who is controlling whom.
Abbott adroitly defines what I have previously called the false positive of interactivity, which is more often than not a system of give and take between player and game. The article largely focuses on the latter argument of the paragraph, as Abbott is faced with the inherent (and, for Sleeping Dogs, pronounced) complicity of performance in violent or ethically questionable games. Here, I want to build on the narrative consequences of identification and hone in on the mechanical side of things; to see how the walking, running, fighting, and fleeing can be just as influential a marker for association as the various motives and aftermaths of a given character.
Let’s start with Batman.