Chapter 2: Paratypes and Predecessors
Chapter 2: Paratypes and Predecessors
0Great care must be used in speaking of types, as definitions are very precise. (Wikipedia contributors & 126.96.36.199)
0The epigraph for this chapter appears in the Wikipedia article for the biological nomenclature term, âholotype.â The text itself offers a rather technical and thorough definition of the concept of type as it applies to biological taxonomy, but it concludes with this strangely aphoristic and ominous phrase, contributed by an anonymous user at the IP address 188.8.131.52. Although this user is speaking of type of a different sort (that is, a ânomenclatural typeâ), he or she supplies a succinct, if ironic, summation of the chief concern of this chapter and the next, the classification and description of typography as it relates to video games. Chapter 1 dealt with the issues at stake in a typographic approach based in textual studies and laid the conceptual groundwork for proceeding to study the textuality of videogames. In order to advance a general typographic approach that encompasses textuality, this chapter and the one that follows seek to describe and analyze typographic forms and draw conclusions about their discursive functions within videogame expression and in the broader field of cultural signification surrounding videogames. I begin by considering some issues relevant to type classification and propose two broad categories or dispositions, adapted from botanical nomenclature, which describe competing typographic categories or gestures: paratype and holotype. I explore paratypical videogame typography by examining the historical origins of some prominent typefaces commonly used in paratextual relation to videogame texts. Those origins, in turn, illuminate what it is at stake in unpacking the discursive plane of videogame typography, namely, the medially situated, technologically constrained mode of expression unique to videogame textuality.
0Since videogames are a pervasive part of culture and any expansive conception of videogame textuality includes a continuum of artifacts that will be indistinguishable from other textual domains, typography that is external to videogames yet still warrants an association with gaming culture provides a valuable starting point for approaching the unique and definitive aspects of videogame texts. If one begins with the truism that videogame typography is that subset of typographic form and function which in some way relates to videogames, then the range of phenomena earning the label paratype is that segment of videogame typography which is at the edges (phenomenal, discursive, or logical) of that overarching set. By contrast, holotype describes those instances of typography which occur at the center of the set (typically, as a part of or immanently contiguous with actual videogameplay) and which define the paratypical thresholds by comparison. In this way, holotype necessarily includes any instance of alphabetic writing or numeric characters within videogames, and paratype includes alphanumeric characters used in gaming paraphernalia or other contexts that have something to do with gaming. Examples of videogame holotype include the numbers used to indicate a playerâs score, the start screen, menus, heads-up display (HUD) interface, and objects in the gameâs virtual world which contain text (e.g., a billboard or a magazine cover). Examples of videogame paratype include that the typography of arcade cabinets, instruction manuals, t-shirts, or the sign in front of the arcade. Whereas any instance of videogame holotype is always an expression of a specific game, paratype need not be, and as the examples in this chapter demonstrate, a paratypical relationship with videogames may be entirely anachronistic or a-contextual.
0The boundaries of both holotype and paratype are necessarily imprecise, since different observers may disagree whether a given in-game specimen is indeed alphabetic or whether an external example legitimately recalls videogames. However, this imprecision does not mount an impassable hurdle. Instead it underscores the significance of thresholds and boundaries for the unique textuality of the videogame medium. Furthermore, the mathematical concept of fuzzy set theory provides a logical basis for proceeding with the sort of classification at hand, and because it allows multiple planes of simultaneous similarity, a fuzzy set approach to classifying videogame typography, both holotype and paratype, justifies a clear focus on the videogames produced in the so-called âGolden Ageâ of the late 1970s and early 80s. Put simply, this is the period in which both formal and empirical definitions of videogame typography are at their most reliable. I will return to the notion of âfuzzyâ as an aesthetic mode and theoretical paradigm in a later chapter, but the difference between a typological and a taxonomical approach to classification is worth exploring as a basis in which to discuss the significance of videogame paratype.
0In a thorough discussion of classification theories for social sciences, Kenneth Bailey makes an important distinction between typology and taxonomy as similar but differently-oriented synonyms for âclassification.â Whereas a typology depends on âconceptsâ and proceeds by introducing âcriteria types,â (K. D. Bailey 5)â a taxonomy is concerned with âempirical entitiesâ of specific physical qualities (6)â . The difference is important because each suggests a different approach to classifying videogame type and separating it from the larger set of all typography. What is interesting about this classification is that by using two separate criteria, empirical context and ideal form, draws our attention toward the same historical period. In other words, whether one defines videogame type as that which most faithfully complies with an established set of principles (for example, employing a low-resolution grid or bitmap for its composition) or one defines videogame type as that which appears most frequently in or around games, both organizing principles are at their most distinct when applied to the Golden Age.
0Tentatively, therefore, I offer the following two criteria for determining the boundaries of the set of typographic phenomena logically relevant to the subject of videogame typography. Following Baileyâs distinction, the first is typological, the second taxonomical.
01) Videogame typography is the semantic use of alphanumeric characters, the form of which exhibit any of the following properties in sufficient measure: geometric precision, rectilinear constraint, and raster granularity.
02) Videogame typography is the semantic use of alphanumeric characters in the context of an actual videogame or in paraphernalia or other material that directly augments or supports a videogame.
0Each of these definitions contain a number of unqualified assumptions, which the remainder of this chapter attempts to address, but they provide some traction in establishing what is at stake in arriving at the various nuances and in the present discussion. As the first definition is not historically bounded, many of the paratypical samples following this formal definition occur in sources well before videogames and in contexts that appear to be entirely unrelated, but the value of aligning their aesthetic features with similar features in videogame holotypes underscores the significance of videogame textuality and provides a basis for its cultural importance. The risk associated with definitions, and especially essays that begin with definitions, is that sometimes the only way forward a definition offers is to fulfill its own prophecies. These two criteria are, therefore, meant only as signposts with which to describe the diverse coalescences in the examples that organize the discussion which follows.
0It is worth noting also that the relationship of form to function is an important problem in other systems of classifying typography. In fact, Lewis Blackwell uses technologically derived fonts to undermine all typographic classification. Noting that faces like Barry Deckâs Template Gothic, Zuzana Lickoâs Lo-Res fonts for Emigre, Wim Crouwelâs New Alphabet, and OCR-A have forms heavily influenced by their technology, Blackwell concludes,
0â¦the faces clearly draw on technological contexts, and are in histories. But it is apparent that to map the location of a typeface, to pin it down in history and in formal properties, requires a system of multiple criteria, plotting the nature of a design on more than one axis. â¦ There is no rule book, only a series of possible readings to be made of each new font and from which its coordinates may be plotted. (Blackwell 183)â
0Other authors have been more optimistic, and a number of typographic classification systems do exist. The most common uses of these organizational schemas are within the pages of font catalogs or type specimen books. For example, The Concise Guide to Type Classification includes the following taxonomic chapter titles: âOld Face,â âTransitional,â âModern Face,â âSlab Serif,â âSans Serif,â âDecorative and Display,â âScript and Brush,â âBlack Letterâ and âBrokenâ (Apicella, Pomeranz, & Wiatt 2)â . And Homage to the Alphabet employs the following categories: âeven weighted sans serifs, thick and thin sans serifs, bracketed serifs, ruled serifs, spur serifs, soft serifs, square serifs, extra light, ultra bold, condensed, italics, scripts, inline/outline/contour/shaded, ornate, rusticâ (Philâs Photo, inc C1 - C2)â . Though many of these categories describe differences and similarities that experienced typographers will recognize and find useful, it is clear even among these two examples that different evaluations of sameness and difference can result in very different groupings. The Concise Guide, for example, mixes form and function, logically producing broad overlaps between categories like Sans Serif and Display (many of which lack serifs). The Homage is more precise, but many typefaces may exemplify more than one category. Benjamin Bauermeister has proposed a more rigorous, scientific method for typographic typology which relies on 7- or 10-digit values for a typeface where each digit represents a different criterion. This method, the PANOSE system, has its limits, however, and Bauermeister acknowledges that there are a number of criteria combinations which are possible within PANOSE but which would be impractical or impossible in any one typeface (Bauermeister 4)â . As these methods demonstrate, strict typological classification of typography is made impossible by the lack of non-exclusive qualifiers. In this way, a typeface may only exhibit qualities to certain degrees; therefore, any successful classification system must be based on a core of fuzzy logic.
0In its most well-known formulation, fuzzy logic is defined by L.A. Zadeh as follows: âA fuzzy set is a class of objects with a continuum of grades of membership. Such a set is characterized by a membership (characteristic) function which assigns to each object a grade of membership ranging between zero and oneâ (29)â . The benefit of fuzzy logic for typographic classification is not only that it allows for degrees of membership to a set, but that a setâs well-formedness or (in this case) its ability to provide insight into textual analysis is not a function of the sharpness of the setâs boundaries. Rather, it depends on the unique qualities of the entities with high membership relative to entities with zero membership. This is important because, when considering paratypical specimens, those typographic qualities most likely to garner an association with videogames are most similar to historical holotypes from the early 1980s. The fact that these associations need not indicate a specific historical contact with videogames suggests how important the formal classification is. Since that form depends on specific material constraints of videogame technology, the associations these constraints accrete form the context of a textual reading. Specifically, other modes of constraint which influence similar forms bring with them aesthetic, philosophical, or cultural narratives of their own which then become part of the overall picture of videogame textuality.