From interactive to interpassive gaming

Sonia Fizek

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


In early 2015, Gamasutra, a popular online website featuring a variety of topics on game design and development trends, publishes an article “The rise of games you (mostly) don’t play” (Parkin 2015), introducing a niche “idle” games genre to a wider audience. Idle games (e.g. AdVenture Capitalist, Clicker Heroes, or Dreeps, amongst many others), also referred to as passive, self-playing or clicker games, are characterised by automated or delegated gameplay, which makes the player’s participation optional or entirely redundant. In other words, there is minimal or no active engagement required from the player in order for the game to progress.

“Idlers” and other examples of self-playing games have left the gaming and academic community puzzled. After all, until now games have been primarily understood as objects to be actively engaged with, conflicts to be resolved, and meaningful actions to be taken (Huizinga 1949/2002, Caillois 1958/1961, Crawford 1982, Juul 2003, Salen and Zimmerman 2003). Digital games are supposed to be ergodic, requiring a non-trivial effort from their participants (Aarseth 1997; Aarseth and Calleja 2015). If anything else, games have been described as inherently interactive (Crawford 1982; Ermi and Mäyrä 2005), and oftentimes in contrast to non-interactive or less interactive media such as films or books. In other words, most digital games, staged in the medium of a computer, could be described as “explicitly participational” (Manovich 2001, 71).

How then to understand the ludic paradox? How to make sense of games that barely require human agency, effort and the execution of meaningful choices, and yet ask for human attention? In other words, what to do with games that we (mostly) don’t play?

In this paper the author will investigate self-playing games through the lens of interpassivity, a concept developed by Robert Pfaller (1996, 2008, 2011) and taken over by Slavoj Žižek (1997) to describe the aesthetics of delegated enjoyment. While the interactive media invite the observer to participate productively in their reception and take over parts of the artistic effort, interpassive media take the effort of participation away. As Pfaller explains:

Interpassivity is delegated ‘passivity’ - in the sense of delegated pleasure, or delegated consumption. Interpassive people are those who want to delegate their pleasures or their consumption. Interpassive media are all the agents - machines, people, animals, etc. - to whom interpassive people can delegate their pleasures. (2017, 55)

The concept of interpassivity, originally introduced within the context of art, has travelled into many other domains, such as media studies, film studies, political science (Feustel, Koppo, Schölzel 2011); even areas as remote as marketing and business (Walz, Hingston, Andehn 2014). In video games research, interpassivity has remained virtually unnoticed. It has been mentioned as an analytical possibility to understand the avatar-player surrogate relationship through the Žižekian interpretation of Jacque Lacan (Falkowska 2011; Wilson 2003; Thorne 2016). Pfaller’s foundational work has been overlooked altogether. This contribution aims at introducing interpassivity to a wider Game Studies community, and offers an alternative perspective to reflect upon digital games in general, and self-playing games in particular. As the author will argue, with idling and other examples of games with a predominant self-play element, we have arrived at a point, where interactivity, agency, and utter absorption do not suffice anymore as predominant conceptual frameworks to talk about digital games.


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Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jul 2018
EventDigital Games Research Association Conference 2018: The Game is the Message - University of Turin - Campus Luigi Einaudi, Turin, Italy
Duration: 25 Jul 201828 Jul 2018


ConferenceDigital Games Research Association Conference 2018
Abbreviated titleDiGRA 2018
Internet address


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