Some stories weave tales of love and loss for in-game characters that are little more than window-dressing, such as the silent dancers in Dance Dance Revolution, or the near-silent stars of games like SSX Tricky and Crazy Taxi. Think about what this means: These hundreds of people aren't simply expanding the stories for well-developed characters, but crafting fully-formed stories to fill in the empty, stereotypical shells whose most compelling in-game dialogue amounts to yelling "Atomically supercool" when pulling off a massive jump. If there's a better testament to strong visual character design in games, I can't think of it.

Other times, the stories focus on the players rather than the games themselves, as is the case with many of the DDR fics available. Often, these are simple descriptions of the writer's experience with the game, but sometimes they expand into full-blown fantasies about drawing crowds and receiving the acclaim of passing arcade throngs. Addiction is a common theme to many of these player-focused tales - writers sharing real or imagined inabilities to draw themselves away from a particularly compelling game ("She felt so cheap, like some sort of Freecell whore!"). Even when the stories aren't ostensibly about the player, they can often offer a disturbing window into the inner life of the author ("But here I am, forgotten, like a silent whisper in the wind on a cold winter night surrounded only by ocean. ... Where did I come from?").

Many fanfic authors use story-free games as a jumping-off point to wax poetic on the Zen nature of play; the futility of playing an un-winnable game is a common thread, as are the limitations of games that continuously repeat ("Humans have created a concept/But, in truth, even infinity ends," writes one Tetris-inspired poet). A writer going by the handle K Project seems to be the form's standard-bearer, writing strictly metered sonnets about five separate story-free games so far.

And it's a poetic ideal that seems to be running through the heart of all these story-free fanfics - a need to assign meaning to what are essentially meaningless games. Most videogames and pieces of art, even the awful ones, continue a storytelling tradition nearly as old as man himself. There seems to be a strong desire among these writers to add these story-free games to this tradition.

These are games that were never meant to be more than simple entertainment - games that never even made a slight pretense towards being more than they are - and yet these stories are attempting to do just that. In a way, they could be seen as an effort to justify the hours and hours spent sitting in front of a screen, transforming a consumptive waste of time into a creative and artistic outlet. Alternatively, many of the lighter-hearted stories could be read as a challenge to the idea that games need to be something more than a set of rules and an interface for exerting control over them.

However you look at it, it's apparent that these stories fill a hole that at least a small segment of the internet felt needed filling. Without some sort of story or mythos backing them up, these games fade to nothingness at the edge of the screen. But in the realm of fan fiction, the game only ends when your imagination does, and what happens when you go through the warp pipe is yet to be determined.

Kyle Orland is a video game freelancer. He writes about the world of video game journalism on his weblog, Video Game Media Watch.

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