RWP: 2:22 AM – Amy Lo

When does a game become an experience, and when does an experience become a game?

While games give players a sense of agency, allowing them to make meaningful decisions and choices that impact the outcome of the game, experiences often provide a more passive role for the participant, where the emphasis is on experiencing something rather than actively influencing events. To a certain extent, 2:22 am often feels like an experience rather than a game, where players are passively “browsing” the surreal illusions of different worlds and experiences, and player agency is unclear or limited by the interactions in the game.

However, it is important to note that not all games provide the same level of agency. For example, we have played games before that have linear or guided narratives, like “What Remains of Edith Finch”. In addition, the degree to which players even have agency can vary widely across game genres, with some games (MMOs, open worlds) having high degrees of player agency and others (interactive fiction) intentionally limiting this agency.

In addition, the passive role of experiences is not always the case. For example, a virtual reality experience can still give people a high degree of agency and interactivity as they move around the space or interact within the environment. Thus, it is difficult to argue that interaction and agency alone give us the feeling of a “game”, when a game and experience can have the same or similar levels of agency and passivity.

2:22 am raises interesting questions about what a game is supposed to be. Is it supposed to be fun? No, it was not. Am I supposed to have agency? Choices? No, sometimes you do not. It feels like an experience, but it also feels like something slightly more by taking advantage of the perspective-shifting and limited agency that we have. Many games try to give us more choices, more realistic rendering, more action – 2:22 am often tries to take that away.

Do games require active engagement from players? If so, when? How? To what extent? 2:22 am crosses the line between a game and experience, the same way other genre-bending media like “Bandersnatch”, a Netflix interactive escape show/film, do. Our reactions to our lack of agency are also a game in itself – what can I click? What do I have access to and why not? Much like our daily life, where we are hit with the bounds of our physical reality, in this game we are hit with the bounds of our fantastical world. This subversive effect is also on theme with the dream-like, shifting nature of the game.

2:22 am subverts the genre of a game in this very way by challenging what agency and player participation in a game should look like. By intentionally removing player agency through interactive elements and using narrative to create an immersive, haunting experience, it forces us to rethink what makes a game.

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  1. I also immediately thought of Bandersnatch when watching 2:22. I liked your reflection on the question of active engagement from a player as part of the definition for a game. I used to think that having some level of player agency/engagement was necessary, and that it was okay for a game to take that away from the player at times (for some deliberate reason). 2:22 challenged this definition for me for sure, and your thoughts lead me to think that the game is more like an ongoing question or experiment for what a game truly is.

  2. Hi Amy, really appreciate your thoughtful response. The questions you pose are really interesting, and I think given 2:22am’s ability to completely subvert what people might consider to be core to what makes a game a game — player agency — speaks to the idea that games can be games simply if the creator declares it to be so. I think it is kinda of an overly simple answer to what is a game, but one that allows for boundaries and expectations to be pushed to create unique experiences that bring fun to people.

  3. I think the questions you’ve raised here are really thought-provoking, and trying to define exactly what 2:22AM is as either game or experience is something that I don’t think I have really clarified for myself either. I think one thing that’s very interesting is the idea of player agency in defining a game — at what point do we determine enough interaction to be “game” or “experience”? It makes me think of a hypothetical ‘game’ someone once posed where the game is the entire Matrix movie, but with one point of interaction where the player can choose to take the red or blue pill — is that still a game?

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