First Vs. Second Person?

I’m playing with the idea of writing my interactive fiction game in first person instead of the traditional second person, and was curious to hear if anyone had any input on this.

Pros of first person:

  • More natural descriptions
  • I’m more used to writing it
  • Fits really well with the crime noir cyberpunk aesthetic

Cons of first person:

  • Less immediate, immersive, and tightly connected to the player
  • Loses the charm of IF lol

Sometimes your content can dictate this - based on how fully-formed of a MC you are writing. If you go first person you can get away with the MC having preferences and even refusing player input as the prose takes on feel of a dialogue between player and character.

If the MC is not player-insert it can make it more comfortable for the player to make choices they wouldn’t make “for themselves” which may be more in character and fit the story. It’s less jarring when traumatic things happen since there’s a layer of removal.


I’ve done first, second, and third person in different projects.

As I’ve learned from it, not every person works with every story/setting. The right one to choose depends on what you want to convey with the story (like Hanon said).

You tend to work best when you want the player to immerse themselves and feel like the character.
I makes it easier to focus on feelings/inner thoughts of a flesh-out character.
He/She/They/etc... … I don’t know where to put that one, lol… but it’s fun to use it too :stuck_out_tongue:


This will also influence your error messages.

In second person, you’re either asking the player to play a role, or anticipating them being themselves.

I’m first person, you can have the character explain why they don’t want to do that, as if they’re rejecting the player’s suggestion.

Sometimes if I have a character who is neurodivergent enough, I’ll favor using first person. I had a player character once that simulated my problems with sensory overload. I didn’t expect the player to know how to “play the part”, so I made the game in first person, largely after polling the forum for feedback.

I can probably find the thread, if you’d like, but it focuses on first vs second person for different reasons.


To me, the answer is triangles. I would consider the question in terms of two models:

The first is Graham Nelson’s triangle of identities. This is the relationship between player, protagonist, and narrator. Some questions:

  • Should the narrator and protagonist have the same knowledge?
  • Does the player know things the protagonist doesn’t?
  • Is the player meant to imagine themselves as the protagonist, or are they merely reading their story?

The second is that of the rhetorical situation, which is more of a writing studies thing. That triangle has been defined more than one way, but lets go with audience, speaker, and content. If the first triangle is about the way the narrative is constructed, this one is more about your overall writing strategy in rhetorical terms. When people suggest that content dictates the choice, that is a rhetorical strategy. Questions for this one:

  • What approach will best suit your content (story)?
  • How would you like audiences to experience this content?
  • Which choice will complement your writing strategy (emotional, logical, or ethical emphasis)?

I significantly altered my approach more than midway through my large game. I wish I had gotten it right at the start, but I did what I thought I was right at the time! Sometimes, I have to write some, assess, and then adjust.


Interesting. I don’t think this character is unique enough to justify having to rewrite all the parser messages to make sense, now that you’ve pointed out I’d kinda have to do that.


Hmm. I have some ideas for the player character’s backstory and so on, but I don’t think it constitutes enough to make the PC have a significantly different personality than whatever the player wants to play her as. So the player and protagonist remain pretty identical in the Nelson triangle. And I do want my players to approach/experience this content as if it’s them that’s experiencing it, so second person wins here too I think.


I went back through everything I’ve written so far and began to notice a pattern though — I’m very reliant on a point of view character’s internal monologue for communicating emotional reactions, which in turn are extremely important to my writing style, and I keep writing those in first person even though everything else is in second person. Which is… weird? I’m basically telling the player what they’re thinking? That makes me think I should consider first person strongly.


1st person is a great way to hide parser clunkiness, because the parser’s inability to understand can be dressed up as the character’s inability to understand. Done to brilliant effect with Lost Pig by Admiral Jota.

I’d recommend playing at least 10 or 15 minutes of the game just to watch this dynamic in action. Might get the creative juices flowing. I know it did for me.


If you’re using Inform 7 there are mechanisms to do this automatically. I was able to temporarily change the entire viewpoint of Cragne Manor to third-person during flashback sequences.


I’ve found just switching to third person insufficient (and I imagine the same thing would happen in first person). For my Spring Thing entry I made some changes to the Standard Rules to make it feel more like what I’d expect from a story told in third person. For one thing, in third person, a name is nice!


I think @alexispurslane has mentioned using TADS, but yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were ways to automate this at least as to the common responses/parser errors? Hopefully it’s OK to tag in some more of the local TADS mavens (@Jim_Aikin @johnnywz00 @jjmcc, I’m probably missing some).


I know that to some degree there are differences built into the TADS library messages for different persons, but as I have never fiddled with other than the default second person, I’m not savvy as to how thoroughly it’s covered, without some source research…


It’s pretty thorough, honestly. I was experimenting with a game that switched the written person a lot, and there weren’t any issues.


lol just being silly


You were the first person I thought of! I just figured since you were already in the thread you’d already get a notification :slight_smile:


I think the thing to notice about Lost Pig–so far as this discussion goes–is not the fact that it is first person. The important observation for me is that matching story and command responses to a narrative voice is incredibly effective. In the case of Lost Pig, it’s masterfully done. That lesson applies to second and third person games as well.

For a lot of games, trying to follow that path will involve tailoring custom responses to suit the narration. I’d separate that issue from the question of first vs. second person, since it will likely apply either way.

The good news is that you don’t have to deal with that (if you deal with it at all) at this point in your project. Save it for later or even for the end, when everything is decided on and the narrative voice is developed.


Like all great answers, it depends.


If you’re coding in TADS, you don’t need to do that. In adv3 (the standard library), you would set the pcReferralPerson property of your me object to FirstPerson. For adv3Lite, you would set the person property of your me object to 1. The default messages will adjust accordingly.


well, having a penchant for intimistic narration, I often swap between first and second person in the prose, the first-person used for the “inner self”, and the second-person for the “outer self”… ugh, perhaps an example is better than a hundred words:

You wake with a strong headache. “uuuhhh… I should have drinked three, not nine, bottles of beer…”; Looking around at mess from your little party with friends, I sighed at the realisation of the cleaning work ahead…

Hope that this is clear; of course, there’s not much space for adaptive prose, but the point is showing a case of coexistence of the two persons in IF narration.

following this narrative framework, I think that THINK should be in first person by default:

I don’t have an idea or reasoning about the foo.

hope this is an interesting consideration, and

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.