In 2021, during New Zealand’s second major lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Peter Wills, a high school science teacher in Auckland, created a short text adventure game for his students using the open-source digital authoring platform Twine. The narrative positions you as Prime Minister and, using statistical modelling available at the time on projected case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths, it leaves you in charge of the nation, as well as the government’s daily 1 pm news briefing. The text offers a robust example of how we can use playable simulations to understand complex data flows. But what about understanding affective flows among the human actors involved, or the potential empathic flows of the reader turned national leader? The proposed paper underscores the need for narrative theoretical analysis of playable simulations; at the same time, it demonstrates how such works call out for alternative pedagogical frameworks for sense-making beyond traditional hermeneutics.
David Ciccoricco is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Otago. His research is focused on how narratives shape and are shaped by minds and media. He is the author of Reading Network Fiction (2007), a book on pre-Web and Web-based digital fiction, and Refiguring Minds in Narrative Media (2015), which is focused on cognitive approaches to narrative and literary theory in print novels, digital narratives, and story-driven videogames. His work appears in Narrative, Poetics Today, Digital Humanities Quarterly, Games and Culture and, most recently, an article on “How to Play a Parable” in Storyworlds: a Journal of Narrative Studies. He is also the creator of dtour, a literary tourism app developed in partnership with the Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature, available free from the App Store and Google Play.