Atticus and Boy Electronic (Bloomengine)

A person once said this:
“But there can be no dramatic irony in videogames, because dramatic irony depends on a knowledge differential between spectator and protagonist — yet in a videogame the player is both spectator and protagonist at once.”

This is an experiment to see if it could be done. It cheats a little because there are two protagonists.[Author’s description]

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  1. Interesting. The interface flows well, too.

  2. Very cool. I always enjoyed bloomengine’s stuff.

  3. I felt less like I was playing a game and more like I was turning a crank.

  4. Saying a videogame can’t produce dramatic irony is more than a bit silly, but I guess so are most comments of the “games can’t do [x]” variety.

    That said, what allows it to happen here is less primarily the two-protagonist trick (one could just as easily show the player something going on behind the protagonist’s back, though how this game does it is much more elegant, presenting secrets to a sometimes-playable character who cannot speak), and more the result of player-funneling. The player has knowledge that the character does not, but is denied any opportunity to use that knowledge to change the character’s actions. If you try to avoid the danger, say by wandering off, your character won’t let you move out of the area (since he has no reason to believe that makes any sense, despite his dog’s wordless warnings.)

    That said, other sorts of dramatic ironies show up in games all the time. All it takes is a non-playable character who doesn’t know a potted plant is about to fall on his head. Or, much more common, a boastful enemy who claims to be unbeatable, Bowser saying Mario will never find his princess.

    Which isn’t to minimize what’s going on here. This game is a real treat, maybe especially because of its two-communicative-protagonists trick.

    • Er, “two-non-communicative-protagonists trick,” which isn’t necessarily less awkwardly phrased, but is at least accurate.

  5. Glad someone else mentioned it. To copy+paste my take on it:

    I feel compelled to comment on Steven Poole’s quote, however. I feel it’s somewhat anachronistic, and it only applies to a limited definition of “videogame”. I would argue that it only fully holds true if the protagonist has no established personality of their own, and when the game never deviates from the player’s perspective. Any game with cutscenes automatically opens up the option for dramatic irony, though you could argue that at that moment, it’s a film and not a game. A game with multiple protagonists, as you have established, also enables it, as does any “meanwhile, in another part of the kingdom…” type scene. Indeed, even with the most silent, blank protagonists, it’s possible to create a disparity between the character and the player. Half-Life 2 is a good example of this.

    Also, it occurred to me that this whole idea is ripped straight from Tintin.

    • Well-said. And it crossed my mind that the Monkey Island series relied on dramatic irony all the time: every time you’re presented with six dialog options, all of which the player knows to be inappropriate, that’s a small form of dramatic irony.

  6. Thanks for playing the game. Well thought out points everyone. So the verdict is: player character with established personality + shifting perspectives = recipe for dramatic irony. Seems solid.
    Objections? Anyone think of other games with dramatic irony?
    Yeah, atticus is similar to tintin’s snowy. I’ll add “apologies to Herge” along with Oscar Wilde in the “about”.

  7. Maybe known tropes also may create dramatic irony.

    For example the start of Half Life – you know the “failed experiment” trope, and expect that the experiment will fail – but you can’t stop it.

    Maybe recognizing a familiar story (that’s a retelling of Romeo & Juliette! Protagonist, stahp!) can also count – but I don’t remember this in a game.

  8. I wonder if the author intended for Boy Electronic to sometimes be called “Boy Electric.” As in the screengrab atop this page.

  9. I really enjoyed this game (although sometimes the scrolling navigation meant I missed links at the bottom of the screen, but maybe that’s just me).

    I love the idea of two playable protagonists in a game that don’t get to communicate with one another, but I would like to see them influence each others’ actions more. No-one has done this really since Day of the Tentacle (please tell me if I’m wrong!)

  10. I loved the art and the writing. Really excellent game. I especially enjoyed the way the characters’ emotions were depicted via their eyebrows. 🙂

  11. I loved absolutely everything about it, it’s a great example of how video games ought to be taken more seriously as an art form. Keep it up!

  12. Sorry for the long post. I too c+pd my take. I THINK that the quote ruined me for it, in a way of speaking. Reading it I just up and reduced the problem to this. It seems very clear to me that when most games tell a story, no matter how interactively, the player doesn’t perfectly identify as the protagonist. In twine-like games especially. The experience presented by the game doesn’t come from the player’s heart. Like in a novel, the player has to read it and then adopt it (and pretend it came spontaneously — suspension of disbelief). The choices in a twine-like, no matter how well-designed, still feel nothing like making a move on your own; it’s still, what are my choices, what seems best to me, yes. That.

    There are experimental mechanics that bring player and protagonist together but still tell a story (but I think the story should be the game exactly as it was played; the experience of the player in playing the game, should be the only story the designer wants to tell — otherwise one is obliged to go into allegory and representation).

    Wow, a lot of this text was unnecessary. tl;dr, this game wasn’t interactive in one way at least, the player could not affect any of the outcomes. I would argue that its irony came from its indirectly telling a story, from the world of storytelling and not from that of games.

    ie, consumer as agent vs. consumer as spectator don’t seem to mix, at least most storytelling games have them both without mixing them; dramatic irony comes squarely from the latter aspect of a game. (BUT, I just realized that it would only be necessary to give the consumer the sense or illusion that she is an agent. If she believes it then it’s true. Maybe I was so hell-bent on analyzing the game that I didn’t actually play it?)

    Wow. Now I will read other comments, just because. nobody mentioned six inappropriate choices: I would still argue that this situation separates the protagonist (at least the idea of a protagonist presented by the game) from the player; the player herself cannot say something sincerely while knowing that it’s inappropriate. She instead is in a situation where she knows what to do, but is prevented from doing it by an artificial constraint imposed by the game. (That reminds us of a twine-like that would mix story and game: the player is given four inappropriate options because the protagonist only has four inappropriate options, and the predicament of the player and protagonist is becomes one. Could that be dramatic irony?)