The Paradox of Interactive Fiction: a New Approach to Imaginative Participation in Light of Interactive Fiction Experiences. 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2020

Abstract

The aim of this project is to examine contemporary theories of fiction and imagination with regard to the imaginative experience of interactive fictions such as videogames and virtual or augmented reality games, and to develop a comprehensive theory of fiction and imagination that is able to account for interactive fiction. Peculiar to interactive fiction is that the appreciator is also a participant in the story, as the narrative development depends on the actions of the appreciator who is granted agency within the story through identification with a fictional character. Consequently, the appreciator of interactive fiction feels present in the represented, fictional space. The existing, dominant fiction theories, such as Kendall Walton's make-believe theory and Peter Lamarque's thought theory, discuss traditional fictions like literature, theatre, and film. As such, these theories cannot explain the fact that we can be moved to act towards fictional representations. To analyse the strengths and problems of both fiction theories in explaining the imaginative experience of interactive fiction, they will be confronted with Paul Ricoeur's hermeneutic approach of fiction. In his fiction theory, Ricoeur makes use of the concept of re-figuration and of a notion of practice to describe the experience of literary fiction. These two notions will be analysed and used to avoid the problems of Walton's make-believe theory and to investigate whether and how Lamarque's thought theory can be expanded to account for interactive fiction. A central aspect in Lamarque's theory of fiction is the opacity thesis, which states that the imaginative experience of a reader of literary fiction is determined by the way the fictional events are presented within the work of fiction. The hypothesis in this project will be that Lamarque's opacity thesis can be expanded and reinterpreted to contribute to the explanation of interactive fiction experiences. A study will thus be conducted on whether and how the new aspects of interactive fiction experiences – agency, immersion, and identification – are dependent on the specific mode of presentation of the interactive, fictional narrative. Furthermore, we will investigate whether and how the concept of imagination that is dominant within contemporary fiction theories should be modified. Generally speaking, these theories assume that fiction-induced imagination can cause (quasi-)emotions, but not actions. To show that fiction-induced imagination can motivate actions towards fictional objects, this project will draw from contemporary studies on imagination within the field of the philosophy of mind and confront these studies with the phenomenological approach of imagination in the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre's approach, in which the constitutive contribution of the imagination to emotions and actions is analysed, might provide an interesting perspective to account for the connection between imagination, emotion, and action in the interactive fiction experience. Throughout these different steps, this project will gradually clarify and articulate the role of imagination in (interactive) fiction experiences. Lastly, the developed position will be evaluated by checking whether it is able to solve persistent problems within the philosophy of fiction (including the so-called paradox of fiction), and whether it is able to explain the phenomenological experience of interactive fiction.

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Research team(s)