I do wonder if my somewhat slavish obeisance to The Author + desire for videogames to be a consumptive leisure activity I do to relax and experience joy rather than something I should put work or effort into are combining to rob me of experiences like this and what some others describe (@tomchick, I’m looking forward to reading the Planetfall and Massive Chalice stories you linked earlier while I eat today).
I have a very firmly fixed opinion that The Author Is Very Much Alive, Thank You Very Much. Basically keeps me from finding any joy whatsoever in fanfic, fan theories, etc., despite being constantly surrounded by that portion of fandom by the friends I largely associate with IRL. I don’t have any interest in imagining what Luke might have done between raucous teddybear party in Return of the Jedi and crankily milking space cows in The Last Jedi. I rely on George Lucas and now Kathleen Kennedy and her stable of uncooperative wannabe auteurs to tell me what he did. I might well think what they tell me is dumb and could plausibly imagine something better, but that isn’t what I’m supposed to do. What he did is fixed, in canon, by his puppetmasters. That might well bother me a lot or satisfy me greatly or somewhere precisely in-between, but whatever my reaction, the story provided is the only thing I’m especially interested in reacting to.
(As the first of two minor asides, I suspect my inclination not to view fictional characters as people but rather tools of the narrative also comes into play here. Luke isn’t a real person with motivations and dreams and desires that I might divine and use to predict different courses of action than he takes onscreen. He is and does precisely what the filmmaker tells me, and nothing more, a useful icon to hang the threads of narrative upon en route to the conclusion of one or more Hero’s Journeys)
If a videogame elects not to really present a constructed narrative – or even a responsive one – but merely has systems that react to me as a player and produce semi-unscripted actions on the part of the AI within the structure of its rules and mechancis, on some level, I think I treat that choice as canonical, bizarre as that might be. There’s no greater meaning at play here being handed down; this is just a set of (perhaps interesting, entertaining, enjoyable) gameplay systems interlocking and interweaving. Of course the current leader of Spain conspired against me and of course his spurned heir worked with me; my Plot for the Throne was uncovered by Spies in Turn 192, and I’ve been sending Envoys to the Heir’s prison cell for 4 years to increase our Trust stat to the maximum for non-married characters.
I could weave more meaning into than that, and heck, if someone asked me to recount the experience to them, I think my storyteller inclinations would likely step in to provide some narrative glue to the rote recitation of mechanical gears turning in their infinite majesty. But generally speaking, moment-to-moment in the experience of playing the game, that part of my brain doesn’t want to work. I came here for someone else to dump easy-to-consume entertainment on my lap, and I’ll do no more than sit down to create such a lap, thank-you-very-much.
And again, sometimes, this can lead to disappointment. Open-world games wherein the next quest is whatever challenge you give yourself to overcome, grand strategy titles that encourage you to forge your own path carving through the normal order of set history, blocky C64 space sims where my crew roster of auto-generated redshirts are slowly whittled away by the long campaign against the Vaxian menace – I frequently have a hard time connecting with these games. The systems are often a little obtuse, or have a high skill barrier, or both, so without that drive to generate a narrative to accompany my journey through them, motivation quickly bleeds away and I find that I’ve wasted $50 again, oops.
(As a minor addendum that I personally think is interesting but really diverges substantially from the ongoing conversation, I think TTRPGs short-circuit my slavish devotion to “canon” because I’ve come to see them as shared authorship experiences, not a case of a singular Word of G(od)M coming down from on high to dictate the truth of the fiction. Like a good sitcom writer’s room or improv troupe collaboratively working on a slowly forming concept, joyfully discovering unexpected connective threads between their disparate ideas, and cobbling together – sometimes awkwardly and haltingly, sometimes with great speed and fervor – a narrative from what they have found, a TTRPG table is all about the experience of making something new and unforeseen together.
I certainly can play in a heavily on-rails GM-crafted game session with but only one ending to arrive at by means decided upon before the fact, but when I do so, my engagement drops and I, basically, treat what I’m in the midst of like a videogame. An entertainment experiences being handed to me that, sigh, I must occasionally do work for with some kind of math and sigh handwriting of statistics onto paper to get to the end of. At least there are usually friends nearby to joke around with in the interim)