Videogame as Text
Videogame as Text
0Returning to the question of what a videogame is, the question of narrativity in videogames has a parallel in the question of videogame textuality. Though this study focuses on text literally, the idea of the videogame itself as a text is a foundational assumption. This concept has not garnered the same controversy as the narrative question, but it is nevertheless one that Diane Carr notes has been implicitly objected to in the theme of the 2007 DiGRA conference, âSituated Play.â Drawing on Roland Barthes, Carr notes a contrast between structural approaches to videogame criticism and textual analysis of videogames, concluding that the latter has untapped potential:
0When adapted for digital games, Barthesâ work (1977) suggests that structural analysis would involve looking at the units in the game-as-system, and these unitsâ relative (and shifting) values, organisation, placement, mobility, relationships, as well as the scope for manipulation afforded by these units. ... Textual analysis, then, goes beyond content description, itâs not limited to the âstaticâ or the linear aspects of a game, and it does not involve seeing a game as an isolated, static object. It looks to the game-as-played, to games in culture, and to culture in games. For these reasons textual analysis offers one approach to questions of meaning. (Carr)â
0She has also developed this idea in the collaborative essay collection, Computer Games: Texts, Narrative and Play, which was itself the product of a research project titled âThe Textuality of Video Gamesâ (Carr et al. Acknowledgments)â . Similarly, though it lacks such a specific defense of textuality, Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinskaâs Tomb Raiders & Space Invaders: Videogame Forms & Contexts takes a definite textual approach to unpacking videogame systems of meaning. Calling attention to contexts in the title implies there is a core of textuality in relation to which there is a contextuality.15 In one example, Doom is described as a communicating a specifical formal modality by way of its paratextual materials: âCover and interface artwork immediately establishes a fantasy framework twice distanced from the material of external reality, a blend of neo-gothic and science fiction imageryâ (King & Krzywinska 20)â . In this way, the âdistanceâ between the external and internal reality is mediated through a specifically associational paratext that establishes the means through which players make sense of the âin-game-world.â
0In a more explicit treatment, Barry Atkins in his book More than a Game does not hesitate to recognize the computer game not only as a kind of text, but also a full-fledged form of fiction. He even eschews his initial term computer game in favor of game-fiction, insisting that a game-fiction âpresents a fictional text that rewards close critical scrutinyâ and that that scrutiny âis not intended to be a work of theoretical enquiry, but a work of close textual criticismâ (10). The nature of this scrutiny, however, is textual to a fault, to the exclusion of visual textuality. He eschews the term videogame, for example, because it âoverstresses sight with no reference to cognitive understandingâ (Atkins 20)â . In contrast to this, my goal in this study is to deal directly with the kinds of meaning produced through visual textuality in videogames.
0James Newman appears to be in at least implicit agreement. Although he acknowledges the objections of ludologists â âfor ludologists, it makes no sense to talk of the videogame text, in part because it cannot be seen to be constituted without the activity and action of the playerâ (Videogames 95)â â it is clear that Newman is comfortable with applying the term text to refer to videogame content. Throughout both Videogames and his coauthored 100 Videogamesâ , Newman offers qualitative analyses of specific games, and frequently invokes the term text in reference to the object of study.
0One other sense of videogame text bears mentioning in this context: the genre of computer which is completely text-based in its content. Nick Montfort has written what is perhaps the definitive scholarly work on so-called interactive fiction, Twisty Little Passages, and has also contributed an excellent piece, first presented at the 2005 Word and Image conference, on the role of text and image within gaming environments. In âHow Stella Got her Text Back,â Montfort concludes with a call to what can only be considered a textual studies of videogames: âTo understand the place of text and image within computing, we should bring humanistic concern for history, social and cultural contexts, the computational equivalent of intertextuality, and all the rest - and we should bring an appropriate technical understanding of the systems we are considering, and a grasp of the basic nature of computingâ (Montfort, âHow Stella Got Her Text Backâ). Clearly, text adventure games are worthy of visual analysis in terms of their presentation and arrangement of text, but this statement from Montfort highlights how the study of digital artifacts, including videogames and text adventures, benefits from a thorough understanding of the material condition of production and reception which constitute their textual identity. For example, Dennis Jerz has created one such comprehensive textual criticism of the seminal âColossal Cave Adventure,â the goal of which analysis was to perform a close reading of the gameâs sources â both its recently recovered source code and the actual cave in Kentucky which inspired the game (Jerz)â . Significantly, Jerzâs goal in this article is not to recover the original text, but to inform our understanding of its origins and evolution. As such, this work presents a fascinating example of a criticism focusing on the social text of a digital artifact.
0With a more explicit acknowledgment of the field and techniques of textual studies, Steven Jones orients his approach in The Meaning of Videogames on the question of the social text of videogames. In this work, Jones defines paratext in a way that will be useful in chapter 2 of this study. Specifically, the concept of paratext is a useful way of organizing my approach to videogame typography because it establishes a framework through which to build an understanding of interiority and exteriority for the videogame text.
0Borrowing terminology from botanical nomenclature, I define typographic signifiers in these internally and externally textual situations as holotype and paratype, respectively. Chapter 2 begins this analysis with a focus on paratype, which is followed in chapter 3 with a discussion of holotype. I chose this organization because the textuality of typography works in both ways â establishing the signification obtained by text in videogames and signifying the textual conditions of videogames in other situations. In other words, the textually distinct meaning production inherent in videogames exists in a dialectical relationship with other situations of (possibly) related textuality, and the semantic content carried through typographic expression exert meaning across and through the permeable barriers of material technology separating videogame textuality from other media. Chapter 4 continues this analysis by focus on a particular dimension of expressivity â the competing or complementary aesthetics of âjagginessâ and âfuzzinessâ which imply different ontologies for the videogame artifact. Chapter 5 concludes by offering a close typographic reading of the various versions of the game Berzerk.
0In addition, two appendices provide additional information relevant to this study of videogame typography. Appendix A outlines a piece of software, ROMscrape, which I created in order to assist my qualitative analysis of letter design in Atari VCS games. As a flexible and Web-deployed tool, it is hoped that this software and the core search algorithm it uses can be useful for other researchers in the digital humanities. Appendix B catalogs various character sets and typefaces discussed throughout.
- 15. In their actual use of the concept, it appears that what King and Krzywinska refer to as context might better be described as paratext (after GÃ©rard Genette) as Steven Jones has and as I will throughout this study.