Digital Textual Studies
Digital Textual Studies
0Typography combines verbal and graphical expression, so its importance within the overall expression of a videogame is consistent with the modality of the videogame medium. But the specific ontologies of text and image in computing media invite humanistic scholarship that takes this separation for granted. For example, all too common conflation that words and images in computing are both reducible to binary code creates the impression that the binary code is the ideal, abstracted form of any text without acknowledging the differences inherent in the successive layers of abstraction intervening between the act of digital inscription and of reading. Mathew G. Kirschenbaum has skillfully unpacked these layers, arguing that a digital artifact exhibits both forensic and formal materiality through the interventions between these layers (Kirschenbaum, Mechanisms 9 - 11)â . Furthermore, as Jerome McGann argues in Radiant Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Webâ , the problems inherent in electronically archiving literary works foreground latent problems and assumptions in traditional, semiotics-influenced textual studies. In this context, the main challenge for the bibliographer lies in capturing visual and textual components of a work in a way that allows electronic search and retrieval (the main advantage of a computer archive) but also remains faithful to the original work itself. The works of William Blake provide clear examples of the difficulties inherent in this challenge. An archivist can simply transcribe the apparent text in a plate of Urizen and store it as a searchable text file, but if a researcher is cross-referencing instances of, say, words with the capital letter O when they appear near images of orbs, even combining a text file with a scanned image of the corresponding plate is inadequate to retrieve the relationship the researcher is investigating. This hypothetical conflict between the affordances of an archive and the aims of a researcher can be seen as an outgrowth of the Romantic ideology of intentionalism to which McGann responds in his Critique of Modern Textual Criticism. The alternative approach to textual studies that McGann develops in conjunction with what D. F. McKenzie terms âthe social text,ââ necessarily includes a robust sense of textual materiality, and it is interesting to juxtapose McGannâs sense of materiality with the fictional worlds of games which Jesper Juul identified as immaterial in the quote mentioned above. Like the eclectic text that is the goal of the New Bibliographer, the immaterial videogame envisioned by Juul and others can only lead to similar forms of scholarly crisis â whether that is considered a âproductive chaosâ or a âfunctionalist separatism.â
0Juul seems to use the term, immaterial, in the sense of, irrelevant, but at a fundamental level, Juulâs approach bears the same kind of semiotic logic that McGann critiques. Juulâs formula pits fiction against rules in a manner that imagines rules as the transcendental form of the game toward which artifacts of the fictional world are arbitrary or at best autonomous. In other words, videogame fictions are important only because of the means by which they communicate the transcendental reality of the rules. This basic assumption forecloses the procedural, material-based criticism that McGann suggests and that Bogost, I would argue, opens up for videogames. The alternative approach to videogames that I am arguing for here follows this trajectory, recently articulated by Kirschenbaum, and begins with the medial and material conditions of the game as the foundation for expression, aesthetics, and interpretation of typography.
0Johanna Drucker has written about some of these issues in relation to electronic textuality, and her work therefore provides an interesting bridge between game studies and textual studies. Discussing the problems inherent in the electronic archive, Drucker begins with the basic entity of the letter, and by considering the form of the letter as it initiates the production of meaning, she provides a context for discussing typographic form as an object available for textual criticism. In her essay, âIntimations of Immateriality,â Drucker poses the central problem of electronic textuality as a pair of identities for the bodies of letters â letters either have an inherent essence so that recognition proceeds from correspondence to that form, or letters derive identity from their relationship to a system of signs. She describes the first identity as phenomenological and the second as semiotic, but it is important to note that neither of these ideas involves expression or aesthetics as a necessary feature. Accordingly, Drucker proposes a new approach which is surprisingly harmonious with Bogostâs: âTherefore, I suggest that in addition to logical and natural language, we consider configured language (that is, language in documents where format, graphical organization, or other structural relations contribute substantively to textuality) in the electronic contextâ (Drucker, âIntimations of Immaterialityâ 55, emphasis in original)â . She further suggests that this approach corrects a rift between form and meaning in text that is unique to the electronic environment, but it is interesting that by employing the term, âconfigurative,â Drucker echoes Espen Aarsethâs definition of one type of cybertext that is in turn echoed by Bogostâs definition of unit operations.
0In his influential work, Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literatureâ , Espen Aarseth makes a case for a new kind of text, one that is ergodic in the sense that it demands non-trivial input from the user.13 Aarseth does not spend much time in this work dealing directly with videogames, but he develops a typology of cybertexts that contrasts ergodic with linear texts. From this it is clear that videogames are among those texts in which configuration is the dominant activity of engagement. Markku Eskelinen argues that a criticism based on this understanding should itself be configurative rather than interpretive; this requires including âa combination of ends, means, rules, equipment, and manipulative actionâ within the gaming situation (Eskelinen, âTowards Computer Game Studiesâ 38)â . But it is not clear from Eskelinenâs essay how one practices configurative criticism unless one takes an approach similar to Bogostâs unit analysis. For Bogost, unit operations define a system that is itself configurative, so a criticism that first identifies a systemâs constituent units and then proceeds by rearranging those units into a logical meaning also configures meaning in a similar way. As an example of this, Bogost analyses the Tom Hanks film The Terminal by identifying and juxtaposing units that, when taken together, configure the entire film as a meditation on different kinds of waiting. In this way, the work of criticism lies in recognizing and arranging the elements that generate productive meaning, not in responding correctly to the filmâs inherent meaning or transcendent ontology.
0For Drucker, the configuring that takes place in configured language appears to originate in authorship, but preserving an appreciation for it through the act of criticism bears some resemblance Bogostâs procedural criticism. Simply put, both attempt to move beyond the dominion of structuralist criticism by calling into question its semiotic basis. Drucker moves this kind of criticism, derived from McGannâs initial critique, into purely electronic contexts (as opposed to transcribed or electronically archived print works), and Bogost moves from the programming logic of video games to produce a similar kind of criticism that accounts for their unique ontology. Bogost does not discuss typography or textuality specifically, but since Drucker does, this coming together provides an important critical framework for developing a critical approach to videogame typography.
- 13. Turning a page is trivial effort, choosing a hyperlink to click on is non-trivial because it requires the user to make a decision.