Disparate Agency and Unified Agency: prevalent examples

24-05-2019 08:05



1.Define Hudson’s ideas of “Disparate Agency” and “Unified Agency” and give an example for both.

Hudson’s ideas of agency in a game revolves around what control of the story the player has versus what the character has. In more accurate terms, Disparate Agency is where the player’s agency is a ‘subset of the character’s agency’, which means the player’s job is just to keep the character ‘alive until the next cutscene’. With Unified Agency, the player’s effect is as impactful to the game as the character’s, essentially making them equal (Hudson, 2018).

Disparate Agency is common among many of the games today and in the past. The focus of them was always to make it harder for the player to keep the character alive or navigate the map or solve the puzzle, all in the effort to either gain experience, reach a certain level, or see the endgame. A specific example of this is Final Fantasy VII, where the main character must hunt down the bad guy to save the world. The main narrative of the plot is linear, and the player must level up their party of characters to be strong enough to face Sephiroth, the main antagonist, at the end of the game. While this game contains many strategies in combat to employ, allowing for a non-linear approach in the gameplay itself, it doesn’t wholly affect the narrative. To be specific, no matter how much you level up, no matter if you earn Great Gospel and Princess Guard, and no matter how many secrets you find, it doesn’t change Aeris getting killed by a simple stab wound (Ireson, 2010).

Unified Agency is becoming common as the trend for engaging gamers beyond typical gameplay is becoming more popular. One useful example of this is Undertale, an RPG that’s quickly become famous and a classic for subverting popular gameplay tactics and storytelling techniques. There are many aspects of this game that contribute to Unified Agency; however, the overall factor I’ll be focusing on is the gameplay system that ultimately effects the type of ending and character reaction you earn.

There are three main endings to Undertale: True Pacifist, Neutral, and Genocide. All of them rely heavily on how the player plays the game: by sparing all the monsters, killing  some of the monsters, or killing all the monsters (Ingx24, 2016). Each way of playing affects the characters involved, and there’s also the option to choose whether to go back and make friends with all the main characters. Some of the Neutral path’s dialogue even changes depending on how many monsters you kill, and especially merits reaction from main characters if you kill their friends but spare others. A specific example of this is when the player murders Papyrus and spares his brother Sans. Sans’ dialogue changes to suit this, asking the player ‘why d’you kill my brother?’ or calling them a ‘dirty brother-killer’ depending on how the player answered a question of his (Kuryree, 2015). There’s also an immediate effect of just killing Papyrus and no one else: while talking to the residents of the town (who the player has the option to kill while on a Genocide run), their dialogue changes. One wonders why their smile faltered, and another mentions Sans isn’t around despite normally being there by then (Yona, 2016).

While both are vastly different, neither one of them are better than the other. Both are valid ways of making a game; a player can have a preference in the breadth of gameplay options and customizations and can still have an engagement with the story told (Disparate Agency) or control of the story through decisions and actions (Unified Agency).


Hudson, K. (2018, December 27). Player-Driven Stories: How Do We Get There? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qie4My7zOgI&t=0s&index=5&list=PL2e4mYbwSTbYD6zfuWTwz2nTfvKOZBWMe

Ireson, J. (2010, July 12). Why Aeris Dying in Final Fantasy VII Makes No Sense. Retrieved March 23, 2019, from https://www.dualshockers.com/why-aeris-dying-in-final-fantasy-vii-makes-no-sense/

Ingx24. (2016, September 9). The Untapped Potential of Undertale’s Narrative: A Critical Analysis. Retrieved March 23, 2019, from https://ingx24.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/the-untapped-potential-of-undertales-narrative-a-critical-analysis/

Kuryree. (2015, November 25). Undertale – All Sans Judgments (SPOILERS) [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/KhAm81VYLN4?t=456

Yona. (2016, May 26). What Snowdin residents say when you kill Papyrus [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWOQ_BdQGRM