Power in Games

The word “power” has acquired a variety of meaning throughout time depending deeply on the context it can be used. Describing anything from electrical currents to the influence and control political entities can exert it is also a common term used to describe the nature and role of a player within games. Because video games serve as a medium to escape reality in some way it is vital for a game designer to be able to define what power means in their game.

Agency is becoming increasingly important within the industry as more and more developers focus on the ability of the player to act according to their free will. (Green, M.A., 2017) It is important to note, however, that players may have less control over their experience than they realize even in cases where a plethora of seemingly different choices and paths are introduced into the narrative. As Daniel Josephs argues the involvement of platforms is now essential to the distribution of video games which also dictates that the tools with which the medium works are completely unavailable to the end user. (Code of Conduct, 2017) Valve is a prime example with some estimates putting the company in control of over eighty percent of the market. In recent months Steam (Valve’s digital distribution platform) introduced an update which requires games to be updated to their latest version whenever one wants to play. (Valve, 2017) This introduces a plethora of issues including undesired changes by the player who may wish to keep an older version due to technical problems or personal preference of the game mechanics, unpredictable behavior in the modding community, and potential hardware incompatibility with certain devices. This is a prime case in which the player’s choice is limited to an extent of what game they want to experience.

Technical aspect aside, even within the context of the game freedom can be illusionary. Although it may appear that there are a variety of choices one can make which can lead to several different outcomes or ways of progressing it is often an intentional mirage created by the developers to instill excitement. A popular example is the Mass Effect trilogy which at the time was praised for the number of ways the player can interact with other characters and the environment. BioWare, the publisher, even created tools to allow players to keep their progression between the different installments. (theanomaloushost, 2017) However, as the franchise evolved, and especially towards the end it quickly became clear that most choices and events have been largely inconsequential to the narrative. NPCs which had been killed off previously are quickly replaced with almost identical, sometimes stereotypical variations of their overall character. This directly takes away any power the player may have thought he or she has over the narrative or even smaller nuances within the fabula

(Rives, 2015)

. A more recent entrance into the business in the form of The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt” has attempted to offer players a much larger degree of liberty and therefore power. The game is interconnected in a way that allows for multiple paths to be taken not only at the end but throughout the whole campaign which directly influences everything from abilities to the style and number of allies available as well as the approach to most problems.

(Ran, 2017)


Not all games are intended to have a narrative choice or even a gameplay one. It is important to understand what power would mean in such a case. Some of the most popular games today do not even have any plot to speak of such as League of Legends, Dota 2, Hearthstone, Playerunknown’s battlegrounds, and others most notably competitive e-sports titles. Power fantasy is quite clear here as the setting provides means with which a player rapidly becomes more powerful in a short amount of time.


While in the past traditionally MMO’s have supplied the demand for such a need, in more recent years the so-called MOBA’s (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas) have taken over as the primary provider of power satisfaction. This is due to a variety of reasons but primarily due to the easy accessibility of MOBA’s, the variety of gameplay they provide, and the significantly lesser time investment required than games such as World of Warcraft. (Crider, M 2017)(Statista, 2017) Competitive games are unique in the way that although there are many ways to play them, strategies usually revolve around the so-called “meta” which dictates what is best and what should be done in almost every situation. (Bernhardt, 2017) This restriction is self-imposed by the community and often shifts due to new discoveries or changes to the game. This can be considered a form of panopticism since there is no one person dictating the ways to play but rather the collective discerns what is best and what should be done and most individuals will choose to follow these decisions, such as acquiring the same skills, items, or any other means to win even in situations where variation is not only possible but even viable.

Image 2_grid view
(GTex, 2012)




Bernhardt, A.T. (2017) ‘Power Creep – Why MMOs, MOBAs, and TCGs Die Early’, Manaburnt, 11.06.2017. Available at: https://manaburnt.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/power-creep-why-mmos-mobas-and-tcgs-die-early/ (Accessed: 21.11.2017).

Crider, M. (2017) Why are MOBA Games Like League of Legends So Popular? Available at: https://www.howtogeek.com/331389/why-are-moba-games-like-league-of-legends-so-popular/ (Accessed: 21.11.2017).

Green, M.A. (2017) , in Kapel Wilhelm, M. (ed.) Storytelling in Video Games, The Art of the Digital Narrative. First Edition edn., pp. 12.

GTez. (2012) ‘Pro Tips for the New Item Shop’, League of Legends, 13.12.2013. Available at: http://forums.na.leagueoflegends.com/board/showthread.php?t=2898107&page=1#post32389915 (Accessed: 20.11.2017).

Joseph, D. (2017) ‘Code of Conduct’, .

McMahon, A. (2016) The Illusion of Choice in Gaming. Available at: http://thenerdstash.com/illusion-of-choice/ [Accessed: 23.11.2017].

Ran, R. (2010) ‘Early Review’, Gamespot, 2011. Available at: https://www.gamespot.com/forums/system-wars-314159282/the-witcher-2-early-review-in-28597632/ (Accessed: 21.11.2017).

Rives, J. (2015) ‘Do Your Choices Matter? A Look at Mass Effect by BioWare.’, Games and Culture, 20.03.2015. Available at: http://gamecult.umwblogs.org/2015/03/20/do-your-choices-matter-a-look-at-mass-effect-by-bioware/ [Accessed: 21.11.2017].

Statista (2013) Distribution of World of Warcraft Player in 2013 by Time Spent Playing. Germany: Statista. Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/327295/time-spent-playing-world-of-warcraft/ [Accessed: 21.11.2017].

theanomaloushost (2017) Mass Effect 1 PC Review. Available at: https://theanomaloushost.org/2017/02/24/mass-effect-1-pc-review/ [Accessed: 20.11.2017].

Valve (2017) Steam Client Updates. Available at: http://store.steampowered.com/news/?feed=steam_client [Accessed: 20.11.2017].


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