Chapter 1: Vectors Toward a Discourse on Videogame Typography
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Vectors Toward a Discourse on Videogame Typography
0The title of this study, The Videogame Text, comprises two distinct but related assertions. The first, is that videogames contain text: alphanumeric signifiers that communicate verbal or semantic data to the gamesâ player. Therefore, the videogame text is that specific kind of text appearing in the context of videogames. The second assertion is that videogames are texts: they are materially distinct digital artifacts which give structure to a specific communication act through the manipulation of symbols. These symbols may be significant verbally, textually, culturally, or ludically (in the sense that their symbology serves the functions of play), but their coinvolvement in the production of meaning creates a characteristic textuality of videogames. By invoking this dual sense of the term âtext,â this study argues that videogames depend on typographic expressions of textuality because the design of alphanumeric symbols in games depend on the constraints of the gameâs platform. Typographic symbols exhibit a textuality that can demonstrate constraint without necessarily impacting a glyphâs ability to reliably function in a symbolic context. In other words, a highly constrained â3â is still as much a three (and as legible) as an highly ornate â3,â and as such, the aesthetics of typographic expression are not tied as closely to questions of representation as is the case in other symbolic systems.
0Furthermore, text plays an expressive role within games, determining how they produce meaning and express their unique aesthetics. Analyzing how these alphanumeric forms participate in and give shape to videogame textuality invites an analysis that goes to videogamingâs programmatic core as a medium. In this way, the major thrust of this study is that videogame typography exemplifies the discursive mediality of videogames. This places videogames alongside other forms of electronic textuality such as interactive fiction because I find the visual articulations of their status as digital artifacts to be relevant contexts for analysis.
0This project is also an effort to bring together two lines of inquiry which have previously had little contact: textual studies and videogame studies. The benefits of this convergence will be made apparent through the course of this study, but I propose typography as a logical entry point. Standing astride the textual and graphical regimes of signification, typography is an invitation to explore possibilities of meaning-making in multiple, simultaneous modalities. So-called expressive typography communicates through visual means as much as or more than the verbal or numeric content being rendered, and videogames routinely combine visual, verbal, auditory and even haptic sensory information into a coherent expression of a game space. The typographic form of the printed word has proven a valuable avenue for critical analysis in literary studies, so it is an important addition to the nascent field of videogame studies. Put another way, videogames have been one phenomenon that critical studies of typography and textual studies have overlooked; conversely the growing field of academic videogame studies has yet to incorporate an approach to video game typography within its emerging critical vocabulary. Videogame typography does, however, exhibit aesthetically unique properties and demonstrates through its gestures and forms a textual ontology that depends for its expression on the constraints of its material environment in addition to its semantic content.
0In order to provide the appropriate context for this argument, this first chapter situates the question of videogame textuality within the present academic conversation around videogames. Game Studies as such casts a wide disciplinary net, and as a result it is difficult to faithfully summarize even the most dominant ideas that inform its current state of what Jesper Juul has described as âproductive chaos.â1 The fact that Ian Bogost less optimistically uses the phrase âfunctionalist separatismâ (Unit Operations 52) to describe the same situation indicates the degree to which conflict is at the heart of the shaky interdisciplinarity of the collective field. Because videogames are still a relatively recent cultural genre, it is not surprising that game studies has yet to engender a fully autonomous academic discipline focused on their study.2 Given the wide variety of themes and genres within videogames, perhaps this is not a bad thing. Those who write on and research video games, therefore, usually do so as a function of a primary field (Media Studies, Sociology, English, etc.), though a growing number of scholars do identify themselves as primarily video game theorists. Both Juulâs and Bogostâs statements hint at the way interdisciplinary tension comes to bear upon conversations within the nascent field, but this may be a sign of the fieldâs robust potential for growth. Researchers have been studying videogames for at least 20 years now, but foundational principles such as what constitutes genre in games have yet to reach a consensus view.3 As a way of orienting what is at stake and what is assumed in the various conflicts, a brief discussion of the basic terminology around the object of study may illuminate some of the ideas certain parties bring to the conversation.
- 1. Jesper Juul uses this term in his introduction to Game Studies 5.1 (âWhere the Action Isâ)â . Though Juul is being optimistic, his attitude implies that there are serious, intractable disagreements among those who study videogames seriously.
- 2. Several schools do offer majors in game design, and there are programs like the one at the Georgia Institute of Technology, which encompass the broader field of Digital Media. To my knowledge, however, there is not yet an autonomous university department of game studies on the order of similar film studies departments.
- 3. Genre in videogames is complicated by the way generic labels describe different qualities in games than in other media. For example, while âWesternâ and âscience fictionâ are valid genres of film that describe something about the filmâs setting, videogame genres such as âfirst-person shooterâ or âreal-time strategyâ describe something about how the game is played. A first-person shooter game may be set in a far future context, but it will not be labeled a âscience fictionâgame. I attempt to address the problem of game genre in an earlier essay (Whalen, âGame/Genreâ)â .