A Literary Excursion Into the Hidden (Fan) Fictional Worlds of Tetris, Starcraft, and Dreamfall

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Academic Commentary
Title: A Literary Excursion Into the Hidden (Fan) Fictional Worlds of Tetris, Starcraft, and Dreamfall
Commentator: Jana Rambusch, Tarja Susi, Stefan Ekman, Ulf Wilhelmsson
Date(s): 2009
Fandom: Tetris, Starcraft, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
External Links: http://www.digra.org/dl/db/09287.39358.pdf
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A Literary Excursion Into the Hidden (Fan) Fictional Worlds of Tetris, Starcraft, and Dreamfall is an academic paper published in the proceedings of the Digital Games Research Association.


Many computer games such as action, shoot-’em-up, and adventure games contain strong narrative elements whereas games like Tetris mostly can be found on the opposite end of the narrative spectrum. This, however, does not prevent people from writing fan fiction about the adventures and feelings of Tetris blocks. This begs the question: why do people choose to write fan fiction based on games with limited interactivity and non-existing storylines? It would seem to make much more sense if there actually were a backstory to a game, such as Mortal Kombat or StarCraft.

Without doubt, the writing of fan fiction based on games raises important questions regarding the nature and meaning of game fan fiction, not only in comparison to fan fiction based on other kinds of media and source-material, but also to the games themselves. Is it, as [Marie-Lauren] Ryan suggests, that ”fictional worlds [e.g., in fan fiction] become interactive and participatory in a much more imaginative way than in hypertext or even video games, even though the individual texts do not contain interactive devices”? Also, what does fan fiction based on games tell us about the relation between game play and storytelling? It puts an interesting spin on the difficult relationship between ludologists and narratologists since it seems to move the actual activity of playing a game back into the narrative space, and also hands back the narrative tool to the player (or fan fiction writer). A lot of games are also very rich in visual quality, with a detailed and vibrant game environment, whereas the same game's characters often remain fairly simple and flat. The focus lies more on what a character can do within the game environment and less on its motivations and feelings. Game fan fiction, on the other hand, seems to take the opposite approach, putting much more emphasis on character-depth and development, as well as relations between characters, and less emphasis on the looks of the (game) environment inhabited by the characters. One of the questions here is to what extent and how peoples' perceptual experiences of the game world affect their narrative capacities. Another question is what game fan fiction can tell us about the ways players handle character depth, or lack thereof, in games; spending a lot of time close to a fictional character might evoke underlying processes of identification and empathy with a character, something a game itself might not always fully provide.

The stories chosen for our analysis all come from www.fanfiction.net, a popular website where people can post stories related to all forms of popular culture. We did not contact the writers to get permission to discuss their stories since fanfiction.net is a public space that is open to everyone who visits the site. Neither do we attempt to analyse or judge the writers' motivations and personal feelings; our focus is solely on the stories themselves. However, to not hurt the writers' feelings we decided not to include their pen names and the story titles in the conference proceedings; instead we use abbreviations of the writers' names and stories.