The Free Will of Video Games
Dominic J. Nardi
Unlike most storytelling media, video games incorporate audience choice directly—and often explicitly—into the story. In some games, these choices are relatively inconsequential and amount to different approaches to using the game mechanics in order to overcome an obstacle or puzzle. In roleplaying games (RPGs), player choice can have a significant impact on the narrative, the setting, or nonplayer characters (NPCs). However, for practical reasons, video games cannot provide players with a completely unrestricted set of choices; each possible choice and each possible outcome must be programmed. Thus, video game writers and developers must create the illusion of free will without the actuality of free will.
In this paper, I compare three different approaches to implementing narrative choice in RPGs. First, I examine the “great man” approach to choice as implemented in Mass Effect, which allows players to make decisions that have momentous ramifications on the overall story, setting, or characters. Second, I explore the more nuanced approach taken in The Witcher, in which players generally have less ability to impact the storyworld and NPCs have greater agency to oppose choices made by the player. To the extent they matter, player choices can affect the fate of the player character and his relationships with NPC characters. Finally, I consider “futile interactivity” in Shadow of the Colossus, which does not allow the player to make any choices within the game world, despite the recognition that continuing to complete the game’s objectives will have tragic consequences for the player character.
Dominic J. Nardi is a political scientist with a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan who currently works for the federal government. He has written academic articles about politics in Dune, Lord of the Rings, Blade Runner 2049, Star Wars, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and is currently co-editing academic volumes about Dune (McFarland) and Star Wars TV shows (Palgrave).
Middle-earth in Video Games Over the Years: The Light, the Dark, and the Grey
Jean “Druidsfire” Prior
Tolkien’s legendarium and video games have gone hand in hand since the latter’s inception. I would like to do a presentation on the history of video games that feature his works. This would be in the form of a show and tell. While discussing the history of these games with slides, I can also bring in a practical component by having many of these games available to see, having done a stream on non-LotRO video games in the past. I plan on covering officially-licensed properties from the 1980s as well as unauthorized-yet-popular text-based games that cropped up in the 1990s such as ElendorMUSH and the roguelike Angband, when there weren’t any official products being released.
I can cover the revitalization of the relationship of video gaming and the legendarium thanks to the Peter Jackson movies, as well as how the varying licenses have caused some curious dissonance in the content of certain games. Together, we’ll discuss games based on their closeness to the lore as well as quality of gameplay when divorced from the lore, which means we’re going to be busting out the Lego games too. I do intend including one joke content warning about the Middle-earth: Shadows of Mordor games. Finally, there will be a lengthy segment devoted to the most active genre of video game, the MMORPG. While much of that portion will be focused on The Lord of the Rings Online, I can also briefly cover the unnamed Amazon/Athlon MMO that’s still in the works, going over what little we know so far. I would conclude with some speculations about what we’ll see here in the near future and then open the floor to Q&A or to let people see more bits of gameplay of any of the games discussed of which I have a copy.
Jean Prior is the Twitch Director for SignumU and an officer in the Mythgard kinship in Lord of the Rings Online, generally found online under the moniker Druidsfire. An avid gamer and lapsed medieval historian, she has streamed many video games featuring Middle-earth and is always keen to find more.
I’m Game: Using Card Games as a Medium for Storytelling
Stories can be told through many different media, each offering options to the storyteller which the others do not have. Games are a relatively new medium for stories, and perhaps their chief unique option is the involvement of one or more players. Through careful consideration of how players will interact with the game, a storyteller can change how the players will consume the story, or even allow them to affect it. This presentation will examine four different card games and how each takes a different approach to storytelling through player involvement.
Stephen Cover is a computer engineer with interests in books, movies, and story-driven games.
Non Serviam: Evil and Its Manifestations in Literature from the Bible to Milton to Modern Fantasy Literature
When I heard the theme of Mythmoot 7, “Defying and Defining the Darkness”, I immediately grew excited. I believed that a topic in which I was very interested and desired to explore fit this theme exceedingly well. The Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks concluded just a few months ago in October. Though I am not sure its ending lived up to its promise, the series was excellent. One thing Weeks seemed absolutely fascinated by is the idea that the root of the some of the worst evil in the world derives from great people who know what is right but, because they perceive those things that they would need to suffer in order to do the good to be too great, they choose not to serve the good. Sometimes they lie to themselves about what the good is even though they are no better. They almost always try to justify their behavior ex post facto. I think this characterizes both traditional portrayals of Lucifer, to some extent, the first entity purported to have uttered the phrase, “non serviam; I will not serve”, in the Christian tradition. Milton certainly ran with the idea, with his Satan concluding that it was better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven.
I propose for this Mythmoot to write and present a paper wherein I consider the extent to which there are biblical roots to the notion of evil deriving from unwillingness to serve that which a being knows to be good. I intend to consider how John Milton inherited and transformed this tradition in Paradise Lost, perhaps with some reference to earlier parts of the Christian tradition. Finally, I want to consider the degree to which this idea shaped fantasy literature over the last century, especially the recently completed Lightbringer series, since it is the series that inspired me towards this project.
Kevin Hensler is a doctoral candidate in Religion at Temple University, where he is currently writing a dissertation focused on the names used for God in the early chapters of the Book of Genesis. His other academic interests are manifold. He is happy to return as a presenter at Mythmoot.
Against the Fall of Night: Defining, Fighting, and Embracing the Darkness
Arthur S. Harrow
Arthur C. Clarke’s first novel, published in magazine form in 1948 and as a stand-alone book in 1953, lives up to its title by presenting numerous examples of contrast between light and darkness, knowledge and ignorance, cooperation and coercion, wisdom and presumption, courage and fear. His protagonist Alvin moves from chapter to chapter learning, exploring, and growing in knowledge and wisdom as he travels from the safe isolated city of his home into the wider world and galaxy, with all the light and darkness it contains. From the claustrophobic urban utopia of Diaspar to the pastoral land of Lys, from the blazing light of the Central Suns to the Black Sun at the edge of the galaxy, Clarke guides us through an amazing array of possible answers to the question “What shall I do or write against the fall of night?”
By following Alvin’s journey, I hope to show that Clarke progresses from seeing Night as a threat, to something that may be defeated, to an essential complement to Light.
Arthur Harrow is a physician/educator in Baltimore, Maryland who has been reading and re-reading science-fiction and fantasy for over 55 years. In addition to participating in the Mythgard Academy and past Moots, he has achieved a certain amount of success as a comic-book super villain.
“Descending Darkness, Heroic Virtue, and Reasons for Hope in the Light of Literature”
Defining darkness as the mere absence of light is a dangerous oversimplification that puts one at risk of running afoul of its more sinister implications. Properly understanding the impact of darkness on the soul better enables us to resist its corruptive effects. Further, comprehending its nature arms us to contend with and in time to ultimately defeat it.
While darkness in the form of moral evil is seemingly pervasive and has dogged humanity’s steps since our earliest days, it is not a permanent aspect of the human condition. Good and evil are not equally balanced forces in the world and the struggle is not indeterminate. It is our obligation to defy the darkness until the day of vindication comes, and we will be better able to do so when darkness is clearly defined.
Philosophy provides us with the necessary knowledge but it can often be dry and difficult to absorb. Literature enriches us with vivid, comprehensible illustrations of darkness as well as inspiring examples of virtue and valor. Tolkien as both author and philosopher effectively weaves the wisdom of Aristotle and Aquinas into compelling narrative form in The Lord of the Rings.
We shall discover darkness in Middle-Earth first by exploring dark places including the Barrow Downs, Moria, and Cirith Ungol and perceiving the malevolent wills haunting them. Next we shall observe the effect of darkness on Theoden, Denethor, Old Man Willow, and Saruman. We shall pause to consider the evil of the Dark Lord himself before deducing the common traits of some of those who dared to oppose him: Sam, Merry, Aragorn, and Gandalf. Ultimately, we will take Boromir as an instructive example of how to dispel the darkness within ourselves so that we may be free to confront darkness in the world around us.
Jason Troutman is an introverted appreciator of fiction who, when not absorbed in books, either parents his two young children or dons his Air Force uniform to manage defense acquisition programs. He has been an ardent admirer of Tolkien’s works since discovering the Professor’s writings in his freshman year of college, when he was lent a copy of the Hobbit by the remarkable woman that later became his wife, a fact he periodically reminds her of with delight and gratitude.
Workshop: The Silmarillion Film Project: Casting and Rehearsal
Run by Marie Prosser and Rhiannon Cire
Have you always wanted to be an elf? This is your chance! The Silmarillion Film Project, a theoretical adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion into a long-running television show, is looking for volunteers to take part in a dramatic reading of some scenes from the scripts for Season 4. Come choose a role and practice for the reading, which will take place here at Mythmoot later this weekend, along with your fellow castmates, or just come and laugh at those who do. All are welcome, and no prior acting experience or knowledge of the project is needed!
Season 4 of the Silmarillion Film Project covers the chapters “Of the Return of the Noldor,” “Of Beleriand and its Realms,” and “Of the Noldor in Beleriand,” beginning with Fingon’s rescue of Maedhros and ending with the arrival of Men. It includes the reveal of the kinslaying to the Sindar, the love story of Galadriel and Celeborn, Morgoth’s Spell of Bottomless Dread, Glaurung’s first appearance, and many other adventures. Scenes will be chosen based on participant interest, and there will be a part for everyone who wants one.
Marie Prosser is the Showrunner for the Silmarillion Film Project, and she has the unenviable task of trying to keep Corey Olsen on task and remind him of what he has said. Despite her best efforts, the Silmarillion Film Project is now in its 5th Season, and, somehow, people seem to have forgiven her love of Fëanoreans!
Rhiannon Cire joined the project in Season 4 as an enthusiastic participant and quickly filled the role of script writer, writing scripts for each episode based on the efforts of the script team. Regular SilmFilm listeners will know her for her devotion to Angrod and love of dragons.