Light Novel Kindling: Infinite Dendrogram and Becoming Someone Else in Games

Our next Light Novel Club discussion is on Infinite Dendrogram, Vol. 5! We’re approaching the finale of the first major story arc, and as such we have some final battles and reveals that you might or might not have guessed. Amidst all of this, one of the major themes that has been present throughout the series and comes to a head here is: How do characters act as their player characters in-game compared to who they are in real life?

One of the things video games allows us to do is to pretend to be someone else. The increased agency that video games provide is a key element in this, as unlike in something like a movie where we can only watch someone else do things, in video games, we are performing the actions ourselves. This can be taken a step further if a game lets you customize your character instead of giving you a designated protagonist to follow. Even something as simple as being able to choose the gender of your character can be meaningful for many players. That said, even if customization options are limited, as long as games offer a good amount of freedom in player actions.

Many players will simply play the character like they themselves were in the game, making their character look as much like themselves as possible and making the choices they themselves would make if they were in the game world. Other players will prefer to make their character very different from themselves, experimenting with what it would be like to be someone completely different in both appearance and behavior. There’s also plenty of space in between, for those who only want to change some things while leaving other aspects close to their real-life selves.

When we play as someone intended to resemble our real selves, oftentimes that character becomes something like an idealized version of ourselves—who we would be if we had the power to change things in our lives that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to. In Infinite Dendrogram, this is demonstrated particularly with Hugo, who plays a knightly character that protects all women because “his” real-life self could not protect a beloved sister. And of course, this is the protagonist Ray’s way of playing the game himself, as it is with pretty much anyone else with a Maiden-type Embryo.

The choice of gender for a player character is an interesting part in all of this. For some people, gender is completely an aesthetic choice to determine what you’re looking at for the majority of a game. Others might choose to play as the opposite gender as part of role-playing as someone else entirely. And some people play with the mindset of “What if I were the opposite gender?” and otherwise play their character similar to themselves. This does not necessarily indicate an actual desire to change gender or a struggle with gender identity; it can be just an interesting way to explore it.

Infinite Dendrogram explores the relationship between characters’ player personas in-game and their real-live selves. We will get to explore all of these aspects and more in our discussion of volume 5, which will start on the Beneath the Tangles Discord on January 23rd! In the meantime: how do you like to play your characters in video games?

Infinite Dendrogram vol. 5 is available from J-Novel Club.

Want to get a head start on our February reading? We will be discussing Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, the first volume of the “Rascal Does Not Dream of…” series that was adapted as an anime in 2018! You can get this volume from Yen Press here.


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