“The computer is not the enemy of the book. It is the child of print culture, a result of the five centuries of organized, collective inquiry and invention that the printing press made possible.
“I see glimmers of a medium that is capacious and broadly expressive, a medium capable of capturing both the hairbreadth movements of individual human consciousness and the colossal crosscurrents of global society.” – Janet Murray
After the blog posts I have made about previous articles, you can imagine how much of a relief Janet Murray’s “Hamlet on the Holodeck” was. Indeed, the artistic and literary value of technology has been a major point of contention for me even before this class, as I find myself drawn to the expressive (and even academic) value of non-traditional media as much as I enjoy classic print novels. While some parts of our culture have become increasingly hostile to art forms such as video games, digital art, or other such crafts born of the digital age, I can only dissent more avidly, and move toward the further creation and consumption (or appreciation) of these new media forms.
The literary nature of “The Museum”, to me, is obvious- however, it is important to note that this is because my definition of literature is not at all conservative. I believe that “The Museum” functions as both a direct analog to exploring an actual, physical museum- there is no end, and you are guided often by your whims rather than actual order and structure- as well as an exploration of psychological and sociocultural concepts. Its unique structure can seem very confusing, and even overwhelming- but is that not true of many books that we would consider literature?
I believe that putting an excess of rules on the question of “what is literature” only leads us to further questions and caveats. While it may make prescriptivist outlooks ignite concern for society’s changes or for the degradation of the print medium, I do feel that as our opportunities for media changes broaden, our idea of what literature is should broaden as well.
In terms of my own personal experience with “The Museum”, I did not enjoy it from the experience of a reader for entertainment. Like others, I felt overwhelmed- I, myself, am a completionist. However, from an analytical point of view, I liked its challenging of traditional mediums and its similarity to the interactive fiction I have engaged with in the past. I think that its unique structure and the experience of playing it echo Janet Murray’s ideas- that the medium is developing, and that this can be beneficial for us and our society.
Here is a list of games I find especially literary, for one reason or another. It is obviously not exhaustive, as I find that almost every video game I’ve played is literature- whether it is good or bad is something else entirely. With that said, these are all games I think are good, and are listed in no particular order (although the Twines are at the beginning). Obviously you don’t have to read this, but these are just games that are valuable to me and have informed my perspective. I think that selecting any one of these at random could provide further insight to how I have developed my perspective about gaming and literature, because I have played all of these before I ever encountered this class.
- my father’s long, long legs – A horror Twine game with sound effects. Very creepy and atmospheric. This game, like many other experimental twines, makes interesting and unique use of the medium. It does not have ‘choices’, unlike the popular image of interactive fiction where the plot is influenced by your actions.
- With Those We Love Alive – A Twine game by Porpentine, one of my favorite game designers. I suppose I would describe it as a sci-fi fantasy. It also asks that you write on yourself using pens/washable markers, although it is not necessary for the enjoyment of the game. Many people who have played the game share the images of the ‘sigils’ they wrote on themselves, which Porpentine often shares on her online blog.
- Howling Dogs – !!!! This thing has to be experienced for itself. It is another Twine by Porpentine, and while it is not as famous as With Those We Love Alive, I like it better. I can’t give it the description it deserves here, as it is very unique and almost formless, yet full of meaning that has to be parsed out. I will simply quote Emily Short, a very well-known interactive fiction author who helped create Inform 7, who says this of Howling Dogs: “I came away thinking howling dogs should be an assigned text of study for people considering writing link-based fictions.”
- Horse Master – Another one of my favorite Twines ever. Equal parts humorous and horrific, with a unique literary style and a plot that I find very compelling! I also believe that it has multiple endings. I struggle on whether to call this more ‘light’ than the Twines above- it has more humor, but it’s also… something else.
- Bloodborne – I plan on talking about this (console) game within my essay, most likely. Most simply stated, Bloodborne is a Victorian-era Lovecraftian horror game with plenty of fighting and exploration. This is a far more traditional video game than the Twines above, being that it well-known and made by the same people who created the popular Dark Souls franchise. However, it is loaded with symbols, secrets, and a narrative that has to be divulged through exploration and careful reading of NPC interactions and- above all- item descriptions. Youtubers like VaatiVidya devote themselves to analyzing the meanings of Bloodborne and the true ‘plot’ or meaning of it, and one individual wrote a 100+ explanation of Bloodborne’s plotline titled “The Paleblood Hunt”. It has 3 endings, and the playthrough itself can vary depending on the player’s actions.
- Undertale – I plan on talking about this in my essay as well. Another game, like Bloodborne, that is not freely distributed on the internet, Undertale is similarly full of secrets and complexity. Indeed, many people wonder if all of the secrets found within Undertale have been discovered yet. Touted as the game where you ‘don’t have to destroy anyone’, Undertale tells a story that riffs off of traditional gaming ideas- the idea that you have to complete and find everything, kill all of the enemies, etc. Undertale is a game where everyone can live, but also everyone can die. Critically acclaimed, Undertale creates extremely lovable characters that people have felt so attached to that they haven’t even wanted to play the “no mercy route”- the variant of the game where every monster and every NPC is killed by the player-character. In an example of intertextuality, however, the game has a joke targeted specifically at people who were too scared or put off by the “no mercy route” and chose to watch walkthroughs of it on Youtube instead. Uniquely, the game experience changes almost completely depending on your actions, whether they are ‘evil’ or ‘good’, and the game remembers what you have done- even when you don’t save the game, or when you ‘reset’ and play it over again.
- The Majesty of Colors – A free online flash game with five different endings. You play as a sea monster and can choose how you interact- or do not- with human society. It is simple and short, but does tell a story and can be analyzed.