First Person Tense

Does anyone have any thoughts on using a first person tense instead of the default second person? Obviously this very subjective, not really a technical question. Specifically, what do you all think… if you are reading in the first person (and therefore keep seeing things like “I am hungry” or “my dog is missing”) do you feel more like you “are” the player or at least identify more with the player, or does the default “you” state of the second person (“you are hungry” or “your dog is missing”) feel more compelling?

I am unsure where I stand, because when it says “you”, it is indeed implying that things are related to you the reader/player, in a sense, at the same time as your player character… but it is like there is this omnipresent “game/book entity” which is speaking to you telling you the story, which can make it very easy for your brain to just dismiss “you” as referring to the player character only as if “you” is the name of the player character, and not actually being directed at YOU.

On the other hand, first person sounds like you are telling the story to yourself, if you align your brain just right, but it can also have the same effect as the second person, where instead of “the game/book” telling you the story, the player character is telling you the story, and “I” is just the name of the character…

Any opinions? If you really wanted to write a story that made the player/reader feel like they were the character, which tense is best?

I think “tense” only refers to time, not point of view. Like “past tense” or “present tense.”

Well, usually you would say “first person present tense” all together, but I was trying to omit discussions about the time part of it, and just the person… but that technicality is hardly the thrust of my question.

I think it depends on the needs of the story. It’d be hard for me to imagine Photopia in first person or Rameses in second person, but I can’t say exactly why. Boring answer, but true.

(I’d say “viewpoint” instead of “tense,” on that technicality.)

Seeing as the IF standard tends to say “you,” I’m sure a lot of people are a little more used to that. It’s not too surprising; things can feel more personal and immersive when the game says that you are involved with the action. The style also encourages a more open-ended viewpoint character and the player can fill in some of the finer details of said character. That would create even more reason to feel personally invested when the story is written well.

On the other hand, first person viewpoints may separate the player and the character just a little bit. It allows the character to appear as its own entity. The player still controls this character to some degree, but the role is subtly different. It’s not just “you” doing things anymore; you’re actually in a partnership with this distinct character to get through the story. This setup can encourage a certain illusion that the burden of play is distributed between the two–you’re the master strategist and the character is the minion responsible for executing your schemes. This tends to be the way of things in most visual video games.

The above two concepts are not set in stone, of course. It’s ultimately up to the player to determine his or her true role with the game–whether it be pulling the strings of a puppet, taking the place of that puppet, or somewhere in between.

As for me, I’m not particular decided the two styles. My greatest interest is in a strong and compelling viewpoint character that I can learn about and grow to love. Or love to hate. It’s possible with both first and second person viewpoints, just in different ways.

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Not sure if I have an opinion, except that when I’ve played games that didn’t do the standard second-person-present, I got used to them easily enough.

Anyway, I’m posting to say you should have a look at Shelter from the Storm, which lets you set the person and tense however you like.

It does seem a nice thing (or maybe it’s a curse? :stuck_out_tongue:) about writing IF as opposed to a static book, the fact that you can decide not to decide! Giving the player the option to use different viewpoints or tenses for a story is going to involve more detailed code, but will also allow the player to make the decision as to what best engages him. I like it. It’s as non-committal as myriad possible endings which are also a staple of the genre.

I specifically associate the ‘You’ tense with gamebooks and computer games. I grew up on them using it on me in this way (and nobody else was, except some pop songs, which is very unrelated) so I’m totally comfortable with this mode for games.

This doesn’t mean I’m uncomfortable with 1st person in a game. There’s also super early precedent in IF games: all Scott Adams games are in 1st person. Also, 1st person is the 2nd most common person used in novels, though obviously it’s a very distant second place in novels to our lord and mistress, the 3rd person tense, which is first. Still with me?

I do think the 1st person tense in IF has the potential to emphasise the edges of the protagonist’s personality somehow, but I’m only speculating. When I think of a 1st person parser game, I usually think of The Blind House (

What interests me about the 1st person is that I see it as potentially the biggest common ground between novels and IF, which could make an IF’s prose feel more reminiscent of the prose of a novel, perhaps, if that’s what you wanted for your game. Because novels almost never touch the 2nd person that IF loves, and IF almost never touches the 3rd person that novels love, but both can be comfortably written in 1st person.


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  1. ‘It depends upon the needs of the story’ – true
  2. Second person is actually well suited to very very few stories but most people simply choose it because it’s the most convenient option in almost every IF authoring system, despite its clear UNsuitability to the vast majority of storytelling – also true.

I personally prefer second person because it makes me (as a player) immerse into the story. One of the things I like the most about IF is to be the protagonist of the story. Using first person, that is lost.

I would only use first person in cases where it is strictly necessary. An example of this is in most comical stories, where the main character needs to make his own jokes, like Guybrush Threepwood in the Monkey Island games.

It’s an interesting idea, when I was doing my stories I didn’t even consider using a first-person perspective because 2nd is so uniquely tied with IF. Now that I think about it, for my personal tastes 2nd might better suited to an adventure story and 1st for the more serious/dramatic. An adventure story is fun, it might hav serious tones to it, but probably nothing really too intense that might be off-putting. That’s the sort of story I think a lot of people would like to pretend they’re actually participating in: have a great time exploring and be the hero.
On the other hand, when I play videogames it’s usually a sort of implied 1st person viewpoint because you’re “steering” a character around and getting back their feedback on events from their personality but not actually seeing it through their eyes. Obviously there are first-person videogames (mostly shooters which are a different story), but I’m specifically talking about like when I was playing The Last of Us: it was a very high stress, suspesnseful horror game where even though I never actually felt like I WAS Joel, I felt a very strong connection to his character and a sort of responsibility like “It’s my job to get this guy out of here alive”. For me at least, a degree of separation between myself and the events was much more comfortable than feeling like I was actually the one about to get eaten by a zombie (Infected, whatever). That would have actually thrown me out of the game and made it much less enjoyable for me.

So I guess what I’m getting at is that in some situations the separation that a 1st person perspective VS. 2nd allows might make for a better experience for your player. I agree that it also allows for greater bonding with the character becasue in 2nd person you’re essentially telling the player what they think and feel and there will enevitably be times when they say “no, I would never do this” and feel disconnected. With 1st they might disagree with what the character is doing, but allow it because “its his choice not mine”.

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I think it depends on the game. I prefer 2nd-person unless there’s a reason for it to be otherwise, but Infocom’s Suspended and Emily Short’s Counterfeit Monkey use the first-person magnificently (with a justification in the story).