Can a Game be Literature?
We believe that multiuser role-playing games 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
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 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
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,
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
For more about how TriadCity is different than earlier role-playing games, click
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
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
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