I'm sure more-qualified people have discussed this more intelligently, but I never let that stop me before...

There are notable works written in second-person narrative, but the majority of fiction is written in first- or third-person. And while readers can identify strongly with the second-person form, most find it jarring and forever associated with cheesy choose-your-own-adventure books. Yes, this is just a convention, and obviously long-time IF readers think nothing of being told how they feel, act, and react, but it seems the average reader doesn't want to make the jump. I suspect that as long as interactive works are written in the second-person, most new readers will be turned off.

One problem with the protagonist of a story being "you" is that either the writer characterizes "you" with interesting details which likely clash with your real reactions and specifics, or the writer omits them for you to fill in, creating a bland "cipher" protagonist. With good first- and third-person fiction, the protagonist is unique and compelling, perhaps wildly different from the reader, but someone they can identify or sympathize with.

Why isn't more interactive fiction written in the first- or third-person? I'm interested to hear what people think on this, and what  notable non-second-person interactive texts are out there.


07/17/2010 1:49pm

I recall an interesting discussion of this in Jeremy Douglass' dissertation:


<blockquote>Strangely, the use of the term ‘person’ in language studies does not correspond to its use in visual studies. Most games studies discussions use ‘person’ in the visual style, corresponding to the viewpoint of the player. The first person camera is the most immediate, providing a view from the eyes of the avatar with little more than a hand of the avatar-self encroaching on the image. The third person camera is more mediated and distancing, as when the separate self of Lara Croft or Master Chief46 is displayed on screen and followed through the game world by a cinematic crane shot. The function of this mediacy is complex, but one effect is that greater immediacy imparts greater immersion.

In language simulations such as IF, gamebooks, or RPGs, this process works differently. Rather than the process of simulation occurring as if from the player’s viewpoint, the simulation is addressed to the player from the simulator (“You are in a maze of twisty little passages”) creating complimentary thoughts in the mind of the player (“I’m in a maze!”). Second person narration (“You are”) evokes first person participation (“I am!”).


In both the textual and visual case, the game system describes an inhabitable experience through assertion (second person) for the purpose of the player’s participation, identification, or immersion (first person). We can conclude that the “first person camera” as it is discussed in games studies and the “second person narration” of RPGs and IF are not in fact two categories, but rather two perspectives on the same category of simulated immediacy. This immediacy is distinct from the more mediated “first person narration,” which creates much the same distancing effect as a “third person camera.” It does this in much the same way, by introducing a separate self into the frame. [144-145]</blockquote>

07/17/2010 10:32pm

@george: I had puzzled a little bit about what "second-person" might look like in a 3D shooter environment, and realized the end effect of first and third wasn't that different from IF's second...

When a person describes their experience playing Call of Duty (first person) or Tomb Raider (third), it's the same as a playthrough of IF. They usually say, "I jumped, then shot the soldier in the head." Maybe for Half-Life, where the character and narrative is more fleshed out, they might say something like, "There's this part where Gordon has to choose..." or even "this part where you have to..."

With books and movies, it's pretty much always, "I loved the part where Mr. Darcy proposed," or "Holden Caulfield can't communicate with anyone but his sister" – talking about someone else. And yet, readers identify/sympathize strongly with these characters, probably more so than characters who are supposed to be the reader (though, IF has a much smaller audience and shorter history, and may produce landmark characters yet).

Would new readers be more interested in and willing to try interactive works with first- and third-person protagonists, intriguing and relatable individuals who don't have to be told through the lens of "you"?

07/18/2010 9:52pm

Have you played <em>Walker and Silhouette?</em>. It plays in first-person voice with two characters, and overall answers your question quite well.

07/24/2010 3:07pm

Yes, I was going to list that one as a starter. I was hoping readers could list more. I read of an IF game where you could freely switch the narrative between first-, second-, and third-person, but can't remember enough about it to find the title.

07/25/2010 6:37pm

I think that's one of Eric Eve's games, Shelter from the Storm.

07/28/2010 2:53pm

So we've got Walker & Silhouette, and Shelter from the Storm. Any others?

08/23/2010 12:03pm

Matt at getmewriting.com recently mentioned Lost Pig, which had slipped my mind: a story told from the view of Grunk, so it should be first-person, but since Grunk's grammar isn't so great, he uses third-person.


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