Can a Game be Literature?
We believe that textual virtual worlds are an emerging form of literature. They do a pretty intriquing job of fulfilling the formal and thematic agendas of "Postmodernism". Here's what we mean.
Modernism was about epistemology. Modernist authors employed fictional strategies emphasizing questions such as, "How can I interpret this world of which I am a part? What am I in it? What is there to be known? Who knows it? How do they know it, and with what degree of certainty? How is knowledge transmitted from one knower to another, and with what degree of reliability? What are the limits of knowledge?"
By contrast Postmodernism is about ontology. Postmodernist authors go after different questions, such as, "Which world is this? What is to be done in it? Which of my selves is to do it? What is a world? What kinds of worlds are there? How are they constituted? How do they differ? What happens when different kinds of world are placed in confrontation, or when the boundaries between worlds are violated? What is the mode of existence of a text, and of the world(s) it projects? How is a projected world structured?"
We didn't make this business up. It's borrowed from Brian McHale's waycool Postmodernist Fiction.
These Postmodernist questions are, of course, exactly what RPGs are about. The problem has been that until now RPGs tended to be trivial romantic-Medieval kill-the-dragon style games for teenage boys. What happens if you take them seriously as a literary form, and use them to explore more sophisticated themes? We believe that if you do this, RPGs will grow up to become the locus classicus of Postmodernist fiction. It's exciting to help realize that vision.
What does all this have to do with our game TriadCity? Lots. TriadCity is a large-scale multi-user role playing game, currently in beta. It's a rich, immersive, emotive, collaborative, imaginary experience authored jointly by our game writers and the playing participants. And it's all over this Modernism / Postmodernism stuff.
Does this mean you have to have a Ph.D. in literature to enjoying playing our dumb game? Nope! If you like to read interesting fiction; or you like to play multi-user games; or you like to role-play; or you're simply a smart and curious person; we think you'll have a lot of fun in our big play world for grownups. And Postmodernism be damned.
Intrigued by this games-as-literature business? Have a look at Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, by Janet Horowitz-Murray of MIT. This is a fine book which discusses many of the technical practices we employ.
For more about Modernism and Postmodernism, check out Brian McHale's Postmodernist Fiction.
For more about how TriadCity is different than earlier role-playing games, click here.
In October, 2003, SmartMonsters' Gary Smith and Mark Phillips gave a talk on games and literature at the Richard Hugo House Sixth Annual Enquiry: Games in Seattle. We thought it was really fun. If this interests you, here's a condensed outline of our lengthy yack yack yack.
The Winter 2005 issue of the Bay Area Library and Information Network Newsletter includes an interesting article on TriadCity and literature by BayNet President Steven Dunlap. Check it out here.
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