Tim Miechels – Freedom and Thrownness in Role-Playing Games

The hallmark of a successful role-playing game is the freedom it gives you to act in a multitude of
ways. Do you help Ryker to find the mysterious tablet in Divinity Original Sin 2? Do you help cure the
genophage in Mass Effect 3? Do you free or kill the tree spirit in The Witcher 3? The outcomes of
these choices will dramatically impact the gameworld and the NPC’s inhabiting it. In my proposed
contribution to the Action in Games workshop, I will offer an analysis of player’s freedom of action in
RPG’s with the use of the existential philosophy of German philosopher Martin Heidegger. I will do
this by focusing on the concepts thrownness, projection and fallenness.

With thrownness, Heidegger describes the way you are thrown into a world with pre-existing
structures over which you have no control. You are born to certain parents, in a country with a
certain language, in a specific era. In an RPG, these factors are determined by the sense of history of
the gameworld and the amount of influence you have on creating your character.
These pregiven structures do not completely determine your possibilities. And this is why Heidegger
adds the notion of projection. Because it is still up to us to form our own projects and plans. Even if
you are not in control of who your character is, like in The Witcher 3 for example, you are still free to
decide on how you want to act.

However: to what extent do we take up this freedom? With the notion of fallenness, Heidegger
explains that even though we are free to make our own decisions, we usually do not. We avoid
decisions by fleeing into mindless chores, or do what we think the majority of people would approve
of rather than thinking for ourselves. Think about chasing map markers rather than continuing the
story. Or looking up a walkthrough to see what the ‘optimal decision’ is, rather than choosing for


Tim Miechels is a PhD student and lecturer at the Radboud University Nijmegen. He mainly teaches
courses in the field of metaphysics and philosophical anthropology and writes a dissertation on the
concept of naturalism in the works of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. From 2017 until 2020
he worked as a part time editor for video game platform Pixel Vault, for which he wrote articles
analyzing the phenomena of death and freedom in video games. He owns a PlayStation 5 and is an
avid fan of Elden Ring and the Dark Souls-series.