"Can a Game Be Literature?"
Outline of our talk at the
Richard Hugo House Sixth Annual Enquiry: Games,
Seattle, October 4, 2003.
Gary Smith and Mark Phillips, SmartMonsters
- INTRO: Can a Game be Literature? Gary & Mark bios. [Mark]
- HISTORY OF RPGs [Gary]
- many of these have common features we wanted to keep or enhance:
- interactive: you do more than read
- multi-user, including international
- constructed of words
- many of these have common features we wanted to move away from:
- written for teenagers
- violence is centric or privileged
- written in English (which we haven't dealt with!)
- CONCEPTS BEHIND TC [Mark]
- multiple paths to character growth
- written for adults (which doesn't mean sex)
- extensible: infinite linked online worlds
- subjectivity (Modernism!)
- OVERVIEW OF THE TC WORLD [Gary]
- "rooms" and what's in 'em
- three zones called "thirds" which differ in culture
- center of learning
- governance: collective
- cities: ancient Athens; medieval Baghdad; ancient Alexandria; speculation by Engels
- materials: wood, earth, paper, trees
- hierarchical (slavery)
- center of martial values, competition, acquisition
- governance: bureaucratic
- cities: 19th century London; 1920s New York; ancient Rome; Terry Gilliam's Brazil
- materials: steel, concrete, glass
- highly segmented
- center of art and technology
- governance: technocratic/technological
- cities: Diaspar; 21st century San Francisco; Terry Gilliam's Brazil
- materials: nanopolymer
- undifferentiated historical time: all times are simultaneously present
- cowboys, hoplites, astronauts, knights ride together on a mag-lev subway
- this is a Modernist convention (T.S. Eliot)
- much literary/cultural allusiveness:
- T.S. Eliot: The Waste Land: Tiresias, etc.
- the Caballah
- Oscar Wilde
- way more
- future plans:
- intelligent NPCs
- natural language processing
- machine translation
- bigger, more, faster, better
- TC AS LITERATURE [Mark]
- we answer the question re games a literature largely by reference to our technical practices
- key constraints:
- people don't like to read online
- authors can't rely on deterministic causality; implications for "plot"
- nondeterministic causality & "plot"
- can't rely on the order of experience
- spatial juxtaposition
- probablistic causality. explanation: fork in the road w/two signs, a drab one and a sexy one.
- "story" equals "plot" equals deterministic causality equals artifact of the codex book? Or, lack of codex constraint equals nondeterministic causality equals stories that are more like real life -- messy!
- nondeterministic causality and Postmodernism
- flat versus round characters: E.M. Forster
- computer-based RPGs are especially good at flat characters. Mrs. Micawber everywhere!
- human players provide the round characters
- recycled characters -- another Modernist convention
- RPGs as Postmodern poetics
- Critique of the Novel as a One-Dimensional Form
- answer: any imaginary experience constructed of words is inherently literary. whether it's literature or not depends on:
- how conscious of its place in literary tradition, that is, evolution of form, its authors are
- whether or not it's well-written
- if this is a reasonable answer, we're a form in search of masters
|© 2013 SmartMonsters, Inc. All Rights are Reserved.
"Two of the most common approaches [to academic study of] adventure games seem to be apologetics and trivialization. Both generally fail to grasp the intrinsic qualities of the genre, because they both privilege the aesthetic ideals of another genre, that of narrative literature, typically the novel. For the apologists, adventure games may one day -- when their Cervantes or Dickens comes along -- reach their true potential, produce works of literary value that rival the current narrative masterpieces, and claim their place in the canon. For the trivialists, this will never happen; adventure games are games, they cannot possibly be taken seriously as literature nor attain the level of sophistication of a good novel. Although the trivialists are right -- adventure games will never become good novels -- they are also making an irrelevant point, because adventure games are not novels at all. The adventure game is an artistic genre of its own, a unique aesthetic field of possibilities, which must be judged on its own terms. And while the apologists certainly are wrong, in that the games will never be considered good novels, they are right in insisting that the genre may improve and eventually turn out something rich and wonderful. This may or may not happen, so the only way to understand the genre is to study the various works that already exist and how they are played."
-- Espen J. Aarseth,