The make-believe theory of representations implies a multiplicity of fictional worlds, since every dream, every representational work, and every appreciator's game of make-believe implies its own world. As we have already seen, a work world – the fictional world associated with a particular representation – can be understood to entail everything that is true in all the fictional worlds corresponding to the (authorised) games of make-believe appreciators play with that representation as a prop. There is thus a clear distinction between the world of the work, and the world of the game we play with that representation as a prop.
As has already been mentioned, when we play a game of make-believe with any given prop (such as a toy, a painting, a novel, or a movie) we can say it is an authorised game when it corresponds to the work world and the implied intentions of the artist behind the representation concerned. But it can be no trivial matter to determine what is an authorised game and what is not. When watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, for instance, which fictional truths are to be admitted? Those contingent on just that episode? On all the other episodes? On all the other episodes, and the episodes of the original Star Trek? Authority in cases like these can become nebulous, especially when so many individuals have contributed to a single franchise.
In Walton's terms, each individual episode of any given TV show has its own authorised game, and any attempt to tie them all together is not entirely authorised. Similar examples can be found in literature. Bram Stoker's Dracula has an authorised game in which it is prescribed to imagine that there is a vampire named Dracula. The Hammer horror movie Dracula: Prince of Darkness also has an official game in which it is prescribed to imagine that there is a vampire named Dracula. It might even be considered part of the latter's official game that the fictional truths of the former apply. But it can never be part of the authorised game for the former that the latter has any sway over the fictional truths generated (say, by requiring that Dracula be imagined as looking like Christopher Lee while reading Stoker's novel). The reason fans get into trouble in situations such as this or the aforementioned Star Trek example is that they are trying to treat a set of representations as if they were factual. This can be a fun game, but the principle of generation in effect in such instances is far too draconian – it is effectively an attempt to enforce a bastardised Reality Principle where something closer to the Mutual Belief Principle should apply.
These situations, and others like them, fall under what Walton refers to as silly questions (perhaps the only instance of a philosopher using 'silly' as a technical term!). He asserts that there is a principle of charity involved when the mechanics of generation are at work, and thus some fictional truths which might otherwise by implied are blocked (or de-emphasized) primarily “because they would render the fictional world uncomfortably paradoxical”. Walton notes that “declaring a question to be silly does not answer it; it is an excuse, however legitimate, for not answering it.” This is advice that any Star Trek fan would be wise to heed.
Examples of silly questions abound. Walton cites the fact that Shakespeare’s Othello speaks in perfect poetic verse, and that the disciples in Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper (pictured above) all sit on the same side of the table as paradigmatic cases of silly questions, and recognises that questions such as these arise from the demands of appreciators' access to fictional worlds. If the disciples were not sat on the same side of the table, it would not be possible to see all of their faces, and this requirement pre-empts our normal assumptions about sitting around the dinner table in this case. Similarly with the ubiquitous speaking of English by characters of other nationalities in novels and films: the requirement for the appreciator to understand what is said trumps the strictures of realism. Star Trek writers have attempted to paper over this crack with a MacGuffin – the universal translator – but this frequently opens the door to yet more silly questions.
The opposite of an authorised game in Walton's system is an unofficial game, one in which we devise our own rules, modify the authorised ones, or otherwise alter the principles of generation in play. He is keen to stress that there is nothing illicit in this process – certain kinds of unofficial game are perfectly natural, such as the aforementioned unofficial game in which all episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek are to be considered part of one fictional world (despite the many contradictions this entails). Indeed, in this case the writers of the shows in question participated in such an unofficial game when creating new episodes! Walton notes in respect of unofficial games:
We play special games for special purposes. Sometimes in doing so we follow unorthodox traditions of one sort or another. Sometimes we improvise on the spot. Many unauthorised games are fragmentary, our participation in them constituting a momentary turn in the course of a conversation. Sometimes – even more so than in the case of authorised games – we do not so much participate in them as merely allude to them. Nevertheless much of what we say concerning representations must be understood in terms of such games.
In dealing with unofficial games, precedents have an important role since “there are certain more or less standard patterns of implication, even when the implied games are not authorised ones.” He cites the practice of combining unrelated works in a single unofficial game as an example, as happens when sci-fi geeks debate match-ups like Death Star versus Borg cube. This is clearly an unofficial game – but it is certainly a natural one. Among many other possibilities, the pursuit of silly questions can transform an authorised game into an unofficial one – this (Walton states) is what happens “when one demands to know why the diners in Leonardo’s Last Supper all sit on one side of the table.” Just as with the principles of generation, there is likely no systematic way of determining the kinds of unofficial game that can be implied in any given case.
So far, talk of fictional worlds has been constrained to the analysis of the fictional truths that comprise these worlds, but in practice our relationship with the fictional worlds our games of make-believe generate from various props is far from as detached as this might suggest. As Walton observes:
We don’t just observe fictional worlds from without. We live in them (in the worlds of our games, not work worlds)... True, these worlds are merely fictional, and we are well aware that they are. But from inside they seem actual – what fictionally is the case is, fictionally, really the case... It is this experience that underlies much of the fascination representations have for us and their power over us... appreciators immerse themselves in fictional worlds. They are carried away by the pretence, caught up in the story.
This is not always the case, of course – sometimes we appreciate art without participation, for instance, and Walton notes that these cases are “something of a spectator sport; our stance is more akin to that of an onlooker than a participant in games of make-believe”; we observe the kind of game that might be played with such-and-such a prop. Much of our relationship with artworks (especially modern art) can take the form of such “distanced” appreciation. Yet even in such cases, make-believe is central to our experience, and Walton notes that “appreciation not involving participation is nevertheless to be understood in terms of it.”
Next week: Participation