The Myth of the Ergodic Videogame: Some thoughts on player-character relationships in videogames

The pleasures of videogames are frequently enjoyed by those that commonsense might encourage us to consider as non-players “onlookers” that exert no direct control via the game controls. In this article, I want to suggest that videogame players need not actually touch a joypad, mouse or keyboard and that our definition needs to accommodate these non-controlling roles.


Many a great game has poor visuals an entire generation of players grew up with blips of light, @ signs and even text-only games but there are few good game with bad controls. —James NewmanThe Myth of the Ergodic Videogame: Some thoughts on player-character relationships in videogames (Game Studies)

Some good observations on the complexity of the player’s identification with elements within the game world.

When my son Peter was about 2, he was spooked by one of those little coin-operated riding machines. He still enjoys sitting in them, but he never wants us to put in any money. The employee at the arcade near the shopping mall food court in Wisconsin got to recognize my face, and noticed that I never spent anything; at one point he would drop two or three tokens into a machine where Peter was happily watching the demo loop. When the familiar sequence was replaced with a “get ready to play” screen, Peter would put up with the interruption, or say “You play, Daddy.” After the game was over, he would resume his enjoyment of the demo loop.

During the coin-operated videogame craze of the late 70s and early 80s, I spent about two dollars on Asteriods, but I would often go to arcades to watch. Often, after having watched somebody play two or three games, the gamer would invite me to push the fire button, so that he (always a he) could concentrate on moving and accelerating.

Looking back, I wonder whether maybe I should have reciprocated; I never did, and I never recall getting glared at for my stinginess. It was my perception at the time that the paying player was, at least in part, rewarding me for being such an attentive audience.