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Ryan Fitzgerald Press Start to Begin: Are Videogames Worthy of Literary Study? 5,000 Words

Critics from within the field of videogame scholarship, and those from without, both treat videogames in distinctly different ways. To those who study videogames, they represent a new form for academic analysis; for example, the introduction to More Than a Game, written by Barry Atkins, describes the moment in which he realised that the videogame was ‘a new type of “text” that required critical reading in a way that differed from the critical reading of novels, films or television texts.’1 And yet The Video Game Theory Reader, edited by Mark J.P. Wolf and Bernard Perron, opens with the statement ‘it is hard to say what ranks lower on the artistic food chain than video games,’2 later noting that ‘the attitude considering video games as useless toys was already present even while the video game was still in a purely experimental stage.’3 Wolf and Perron indicate that the traditional critical institution does not consider the videogame to be a literary art form; it does not consider them to be worthy of study as a literary text. Whilst videogames are, according to MarieLaure Ryan, changing how we view the world, politically, culturally, socially and economically,4 few changes have occurred in how videogames are approached on a widespread critical or academic level. Representative of this attitude, The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (NAT) has no entries on videogames or any of the key terms associated with them. The closest that NAT comes to discussing popular digital media is the last essay of the anthology, Stuart Moulthrop’s ‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Hypertext and the Laws of Media.’5 Hypertext fiction, which appeals ‘to the “cool” intellectual elite,’6 has been embraced by the pre-existing critical institutions whilst other


Barry Atkins, More Than a Game: The Computer Game as Fictional Form, p.2 Warren Robinett, ‘Foreword’ to Mark J.P. Wolf and Bernard Perron (eds), The Video Game Theory Reader, p.vii 3 Wolf and Perron, ‘Introduction’ in The Video Game Theory Reader, p.3 4 Marie-Laure Ryan, Avatars of Story, p.xi 5 Stuart Moulthrop, ‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Hypertext and the laws of Media,’ in Vincent B. Leitch (ed.), NAT, pp.2504-24 6 Ryan, Avatars of Story, p.xxiv 2

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Ryan Fitzgerald forms have not;7 it thus provides an interesting comparison when considering how the institution treats and views the videogame as a worthy academic pursuit. Hypertext’s relationship with other forms of digital media, and videogames in particular, seems to be one of opposition; Ryan asks ‘How could a mere game compete in intellectual sophistication with a genre that was heralded as “a vindication” of the ideas of Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Guattari, and Kristeva on the nature of textuality?’,8 and Greg M. Smith, quoted in The Video Game Theory Reader, notes that ‘Michael Joyce’s hypertext Afternoon, a story has received more scholarly attention than the blockbuster CDROM Doom, although only a fraction of new media users have heard of Joyce’s innovative text.’9 There is a sense of respect for the hypertext, or at least an understanding of its achievements; Ryan does not doubt the ‘intellectual sophistication’ of the hypertext form, and Smith does not deny that it is ‘innovative.’ But neither of these critics embrace the idea that the hypertext is any more deserving of critical attention than videogames; Ryan’s use of ‘mere’ is clearly ironic considering that she writes it in a book that dedicates much space to videogames, and it is important that she does not call it ‘a vindication’ directly herself, but instead quotes another critic. Similarly, Smith suggests that the traditional critical institution is out of sync with the larger reading public. The hypertext might be accepted as the most literary or intellectually sophisticated of digital media, but, unlike the novel or film, it does not enjoy the widespread popularity of videogames. The elitism associated with hypertext might explain why, twenty years after the essay appeared, the hypertextual revolution has still not occurred. Despite this, the rivalry between digital forms extends in both directions, with Moulthrop’s essay treating other digital media with a sense of disdain; he dismisses them as something ambiguous and random, calling them ‘hazier and more glamorous obsessions’ emerging as a result of the ‘regular hazard of the postmodern territory,’10 and refers to television as the ‘idiot box,’11


Nick Montfort, Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction, p.10 Ryan, Avatars of Story, p.136 9 Greg M. Smith, quoted in The Video Game Theory Reader, p.6 10 Moulthrop, ‘Hypertext and the Laws of Media,’ p.2506 11 Id., p.2515 8

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Ryan Fitzgerald presumably extending this criticism to other forms of popular screen entertainment such as videogames. At the same time, he proclaims that ‘hypertext means the end of the death of literature’;12 this hyperbolic, aggrandising statement, literally emphasised by the bold font he uses for the word ‘hypertext’ throughout the essay, reveals the fact that Moulthrop sees a clear hierarchy of digital media with hypertext at the top and other forms at the bottom. The essay’s inclusion in NAT, and the exclusion of essays on other forms of digital media, implies that this sentiment is one shared by the established critical institution. Interestingly, Moulthrop does try to use videogames to give hypertext a broader history and appeal; he states that the first hypertextual narrative was ‘the computer game called “Adventure,”’ which was made ‘in order to experiment with interactive computing in the early 1960s.’13 But, tellingly, his brief reference to videogames contains three errors. The ‘Adventure’ that he refers to is not a computer game, nor a hypertext, but an interactive fiction (IF);14 it was not made in the early 1960s, but first completed in 1975, and later expanded and rereleased in 1977; and it wasn’t initially made to experiment with anything, but was instead designed for the creator’s daughter.15 Unless the reader has an explicit knowledge of ‘Adventure’ already, these errors will remain unnoticed, and the false facts will be accepted as truth; but more indicative of the view of the critical institution regarding videogames is the fact that such errors were allowed to be made in the first place. It is unlikely that an essay that misrepresented the date that Hamlet had been written would be left unchecked. It is clear that videogames are an underprivileged media within the critical institution, and they are certainly not valued as literature. According to Raymond Williams, literary value became ‘necessarily selective and self-defining’ with the advent of criticism, and as part of this ‘selective’ process, critics decided that ‘not all “literature” was “Literature.”’16 Determining what constitutes “Literature” relies on the ‘discrimination of the authentic “great” or “major” works, with a 12

Id., p.2514 (emphasis in the original) Id., p.2505 14 A computer game called Adventure does exist, but it was made for the Atari 2600 in 1979. The distinction between IF and hypertext is made in Montfort, Twisty Little Passages, p.12 15 Montfort, Twisty Little Passages, p.11 16 Raymond Williams, ‘Marxism and Literature’ in NAT, p.1572 13

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Ryan Fitzgerald consequent grading of “minor” works and the effective exclusion of “bad” or “negligible” works.’17 This ‘discrimination’ is the job of the critic and the institution; as such, the constituent elements of Literature are based on the necessarily subjective conditions of assessment, of the ‘beautiful’ and ‘imaginative truth.’18 Since the critical institution simultaneously defines and discerns these values, the judgements of the critics become entrenched as transcendent literary values and traditions at the expense of other excluded forms and traditions of writing. This process is apparent in the reception of digital media; whilst hypertext fiction has been embraced as a new form of ‘Literature’ of the ‘authentic’ kind by the critical institution, videogames are firmly defined as ‘“bad” or “negligible” works,’ if they are even defined as ‘works’ at all. As long as the pre-existing critical circle retains control over a work’s valuation and worth, videogames will not be freed from this categorisation, because they simply do not conform to what the traditional critic defines as literary value. Indeed, if the claim that videogame theory is a worthwhile scholarly discipline is true, then the pre-existing critical institutions have yet to catch up and catch on. Perhaps the main reason that the traditional institution does not look upon videogames as literature is that applying traditional literary analysis to videogames does not often yield favourable results for it as a literary form. Ryan observes that ‘digital narrative is only a failure if we judge it by the criteria of the literary canon, this is to say, by the criteria of another medium.’19 Despite proclaiming that studying videogames requires a unique approach, Atkins’ More Than a Game does attempt a traditional analysis of narrative, exposing videogames ‘failure’ but in the process highlighting the problems associated with judging a videogame in the same way as a novel. He writes that ‘game-fictions’ are games with a ‘central narrative impetus,’ and uses the term ‘literacy’ when addressing how we relate to videogames; 20 this implies that he views such games as being led by their narrative, and situates them in relation to other readable texts. Such a comparison with prose seems to be essential to Atkin’s understanding of the videogame; the title of his book suggests that 17

Ibid., (emphasis in the original) Id., pp.1571-2 19 Ryan, Avatars of Story, p.180 20 Atkins, More Than A Game, p.20. The following quotations are taken from this source. 18

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Ryan Fitzgerald they are not valuable as ‘mere’ games in and of themselves, and indicates that for a game to be worthy of study it must be something ‘more.’ His book maintains a careful distance from the idea of the literariness of the subject of his study; not long into the introduction, he writes that it is ‘hardly surprising’ that computer games have not ‘received much serious critical attention’ (p.5). This is a point that he expands upon as the book progresses; speaking of realism and narrative in Eidos’ Tomb Raider, he says that it is ‘undeniably primitive’ (p.28) and ‘laughably predictable’ (p.37); of Valve’s Half-Life, he writes that it ‘conspires to confirm just how “low” it is in relation to the high culture versus low culture debates’ (p.59). Taken as literature as traditionally defined, even to those within the field of videogame study, these game ‘texts’ suffer in comparison to prose works. However, Atkins’ judgement of videogame’s primitive narrative is not ‘undeniable’; in fact, the videogame’s status as new media suggests the opposite. The sequence of events, written down linearly, may well appear far from ‘beautiful’ or ‘imaginative,’ but this ignores the fact that events in videogames do not occur linearly, and it is in this difference that the value of the videogame narrative lies. Indeed, the ‘laughable predictability’ of the narrative forgets that the story unfolds based on the player’s actions, which can be prepared for but not entirely and accurately predicted by the designer, just as the specific and necessary actions to take cannot be entirely and accurately predicted by the player. The words of a traditional print novel do not physically change; they remain in the same place, and can thus be reliably predicted when approaching a text for a second time. The videogame, however, does offer truer variety, whether this is through user decision, by the way of alternative routes and endings, or through premeditated design, wherein a level’s layout may be randomised or otherwise altered on a player’s second playthrough. Whilst this variety defends videogames from Atkins’ criticisms, it does not bring videogames any closer to literature or the literary classics as traditionally defined. The book concludes with the sentiment that ‘all one can do is look at the current crop of derivative, primitive examples and weep for what might have been and hope for what might be to come’ (p.154).

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Ryan Fitzgerald The main problem with Atkin’s assessment is that this is certainly not ‘all one can do,’ and the actual output of videogame critics proves this to be the case; their articles rarely ‘weep’ for the state of videogames, but engagingly and actively examine, analyse and question them. Also problematic is the fact that when considering the literariness of videogames, Atkins takes narrative as a key element of comparison; yet few other critical accounts of videogames attempt a straight, direct, traditional analysis of videogame narrative. An article might analyse the ‘story’ of a game and extrapolate information from this, such as Mia Consalvo’s analysis of sexuality as read through the heterosexual love-plot of Square’s Final Fantasy IX; but crucially, even in this essay, Consalvo pairs her narrative analysis with a consideration of the manual’s description of the same-sex marriage possibilities in Maxis’ The Sims, and the realisation of these possibilities in-game.21 Indeed, Ryan notes that ‘a game does not need to tell stories that would provide suitable literary material,’22 suggesting that the videogame as a form has little interest in traditional concepts of literature, and offering an explanation as to why many videogame critics take narrative to mean something quite different to the normal definition. She also identifies four tendencies in the consideration of narrative within videogame studies, two of which are immediately relevant to a videogame’s prospective literariness; the ‘expansionist,’ who would say that the definition of literature needs to change to accommodate videogames, and the ‘traditionalist,’ who would say that videogames need to become more literary.23 Clearly, Atkins belongs to the latter category, whilst the broad spectrum of critics who deal with alternative modes of narrative belong to the former. But can these alternative modes be classified as literary? If they lie outside of the scope of Williams’ definitions, then the instinctive answer would be ‘no.’ However, ‘beauty,’ ‘imagination’ and ‘truth’ may well be concepts that have lost much of their credibility as stable markers of literary value in the contemporary, postmodern landscape. Of postmodern culture, Jameson writes that ‘what used to be stigmatized as mass or commercial culture is now received into the precincts of a 21

Mia Consalvo, ‘Hot Dates and Fairy-Tale Romances: Studying Sexuality in Video Games’ in The Video Game Theory Reader, pp.171-94 22 Ryan, Avatars of Story, p.195 23 Id., pp.xv-xvii

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Ryan Fitzgerald new and enlarged cultural realm.’24 Videogames are interesting to consider as a part of this trend, as products belonging to ‘mass or commercial culture’; indeed, to say that they can be considered a postmodern form is based on more than their shared contemporary nature. Ryan refers to the widespread and widely accepted use of metalepsis within games, with characters frequently blurring the boundary of diegetic level by instructing the player to press certain buttons; interestingly, she calls this ‘more user-friendly than what we find in postmodern literature.’25 Furthermore, Miroslaw Filiciak writes that in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) ‘Hundreds of thousands [of] players are finding themselves in situations described by postmodernism theorists, even though the vast majority of them have never heard of Baudrillard.’26 What is interesting here is that players are not shaken by the use of these postmodernist techniques, but incorporate them into their natural interaction with the videogame. Aspects of postmodernist writing that normally create a distance between the reader and text are less volatile, and this is not because they have been simplified; as readers of contemporary, digital forms, gamers may be more used to postmodern notions and ideas, on a more frequent basis, than readers of other, more traditional texts. The presence of strategies that are shared with contemporary literature, and the ‘enlarged cultural realm’ of postmodernity, both suggest the potential for videogames to be considered as literary texts by progressive, postmodern theorists. A further indication that videogames can be worthy of literary analysis is the fact that there are multiple ways of reading them as textual artefacts. Ryan writes reading (and playing) for the master plot is not the only way to approach IF, or computer games in general. For the true connoisseur, one of the special pleasures of the genre lies in trying to evade the control of the game-designer, in the best tradition of deconstructive reading.27


Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, p.64 Ryan, Avatars of Story, p.224 26 Miroslaw Filiciak, ‘Hyperidentities: Postmodern Identity Patterns in MMORPGs’ in The Video Game Theory Reader, p.88 27 Ryan, Avatars of Story, p.130 25

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Ryan Fitzgerald It is highly significant that Ryan sees the potential for ‘deconstructive reading’ in videogames; contrary to the associations conjured by terms like ‘idiot box,’ videogames are not taken in mindlessly and processed without thought, but can be read in the same way that critics can read ‘high’ culture media. ‘Deconstructive readings’ dramatically alter the landscape of the game, and whilst the enabling of cheat codes can cause significant changes,28 they only exist because the designer allowed them to; true evasion is thus best realised through exploiting bugs, glitches or oversights, leading to results and consequences that were not foreseen or sanctioned by the designer. Such subversive readings ‘foreground the more radical possibilities of this as a form of fiction,’29 because they offer a chance to truly escape the control of the game designer, and give greater agency and freedom to the player, who is able to contravene the very rules of the game he or she plays. Interestingly, Ryan notes that these subversive readings are a ‘special pleasure’ of ‘true connoisseurs,’ implying a hierarchy of ‘player/readers,’ with some more ‘literate’ in reading videogames than others. The existence of different levels of possible readings can be discerned in the often invoked figure of Jacques Lacan, whom many critics turn to when considering the role of the playable avatar; Wolf suggests that ‘learning to control an onscreen surrogate and developing hand-eye coordination is similar to the “mirror stage,”’30 whilst Bob Rehak writes that ‘the video game avatar would seem to meet the criteria of Lacan’s objet petit a.’31 The reference to Lacan is symptomatic of a wider tendency in the work of videogame theorists to relate their study to concepts traditionally found in the study of the ‘higher’ art forms. This has two effects; on the one hand it establishes videogames as something that can be successfully investigated from multiple theoretical perspectives, conveying the depth and breadth of valuable topics for discussion. Secondly, it offers a clarification of the critics’ credentials; they are not adolescent males writing about how ‘awesome’ it is to get a ‘killstreak’ in their favourite games, but serious, intelligent, committed academics. The potential to 28

Jesper Juul, ‘Without a Goal: On Open and Expressive Games,’ in Videogame, Player, Text, p.199 Atkins, More than a Game, p.53 30 Wolf, ‘Abstraction in the Videogame’ in The Video Game Theory Reader, p.60 31 Bob Rehak, ‘Playing at Being: Psychoanalysis and the Avatar’ in The Video Game Theory Reader, p.106 29

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Ryan Fitzgerald read the videogame in the same way as traditional ‘high art’ forms makes a strong case for considering videogame as literary. Another way to conceive of videogame narrative is looking at the form as a narrative generator.32 This would still involve reading a player’s interaction with a videogame from start to finish as one unified narrative, but it crucially shifts the focus to the player’s production of the narrative, to the co-creative process and the interactive element of videogames. Despite his frustrations with their actual creative output, Atkins notes that because the narratives of videogames occur over the course of their playing, with some form of choice or agency on the part of the player, each playthrough is ‘inevitably unique to that individual, and to that moment.’33 In a radical move, this claim prompts him to suggest that videogames offer the solution to the problems raised by Walter Benjamin in his essay ‘The Work of Art in the Mechanical Age of Reproduction’; that ‘the work of art in our own supposedly digital age appears to restore the mystery and return the “aura” to us – we all have access to, and only to, an original.’34 The ‘low’ videogame is thus able to do something that ‘high’ “Literature” cannot; give each individual ‘player/reader’ a unique interaction with, and unique experience of, the text. The fact that the videogame is capable of answering some of the perceived failings of traditional literature is in itself another reason for considering videogames to be worthy of academic study, but, significantly, it highlights a capability unique to the videogame form. Indeed, both the ‘traditionalist’ and ‘expansionist’ approaches to narrative share a common ground in the identification of something new and different about videogames. I believe that a mediation between these two approaches best serves the consideration of videogames as literature; rather than refusing to engage with the videogame’s potential to be a narrative or literary form, and rather than defining narrative so openly that it becomes all-encompassing and loses its usefulness as a term, it is possible to conceive of videogames as a particular and unique form of literature. A hybrid approach


Matteo Bittani, ‘All Too Urban: To Live and Die in SimCity’ in Videogame, Player, Text, p.40 Atkins, More than a Game, p.74 34 Id., p.153 33

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Ryan Fitzgerald would not look to judge videogames by the same criteria as novels; but it would accept that videogames can be studied in some of the same ways as traditional literature, and would also pay greater attention to those elements of videogames that are unique to the form. Instead of studying videogames for sentence structure or rhyme, it is possible to analyse them from the perspective of their specific elements, such as the ‘save’ function. This, for Atkins, promotes the videogame as ‘the most “writable” of texts, with the player/reader actively engaged in the construction and telling, and not just the reception and decoding, of the tale’35; what this means is that the player can choose to replay and reconstruct passages of gameplay and narrative as many times as he or she desires. The narrative might be broken up into a series of smaller narratives that sometimes literally ‘overwrite’ the player’s past experience as the player attempts the same level more than once; simultaneously, by ‘loading’ a previously saved game, the player’s new experience will paradoxically be informed and affected by what is yet to come, since it has already happened once before in an alternative narrative strand; the past are future are merged into one, and this shifting temporality is written into videogames by the very existence of the save function. Other aspects of the videogame are also concerned with its writability; for example, some games include ‘character creation’ tools to allow the player to customise his or her avatar, or ‘level editors’ that enable the player to design his or her own challenges. Even when these tools are not directly packaged with the game itself, many computer games have ‘mods’ created through a player’s manipulation of the game’s coding. These ‘mods’ allow the player to alter his or her playing experience, and range from simple character modifications to the creation of entirely new maps and game systems, and moreover, the final product can be distributed online to share with other players. This online, social aspect of videogames is another area that is unique to interactive media in general, but best considered in the terms of MMORPGs. The existence of other characters, controlled by sentient human players rather than through artificial intelligence, fosters a co-creative element within the videogame. Because human actions cannot be predetermined, no player-


Id., pp.43-4

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Ryan Fitzgerald experienced narrative in MMORPGs can be predicted prior to its occurrence; it can only take place in the present. If hypertext is embraced as literary because of its ‘“vindication”’ of poststructuralist critical theory, then these aspects of videogame, which offer a greater level of interactivity and agency on the part of the ‘player/reader,’ demand consideration; whilst hypertext gives control over the direction of the narrative to the reader, he or she is still only browsing predetermined links. Videogames may guide the player and attempt to keep him or her within a predetermined set of rules, but with ‘mods’ he or she can rewrite these rules, and with other human players, the stories can be entirely new and user-created. The consideration of media-specific elements is of central importance if videogame study is to prove its worth within the institution; scholars will no longer have to borrow terms meant for discussing other forms, which, as can be seen from Atkins’ More than a Game, is where videogame study is at its weakest. However, some critics have gone even further and established an entirely separate school of thought known as ‘ludology.’ Ludology represents a break from videogame narratology and says ‘“Games are games,”’ and that they need to be ‘liberated from narrativism,’36 suggesting that they should not be studied for any sense of story or plot. The ludologists define narrative traditionally, and are thus more aligned with the critical institution than other videogame scholars, and believe that videogames should only be studied from the perspective of their rules. The term ‘liberated’ conveys the sense of constriction and limitation that ludologists see as a result of the application of any form of narratology to videogames, but I feel that ludology is just as closed to the narrative and literary potential of videogames as the traditional critical institution; ludology’s own definition of videogames is, in fact, constricting. To study only rules ignores the interaction on the player’s end in propelling the narrative forwards, because ludology does not believe that videogames have narratives;37 it supposes that rules cannot be broken since they define a player’s experience of the text, precluding the ‘subversive readings’ that Ryan highlights; it dismisses character, music, and visual design. Of course, the rules, and other unique elements that go into 36 37

Ryan, Avatars of Story, p.183-4 Id., p.97

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Ryan Fitzgerald making a game exist as a game should not be ignored in an analysis of the videogame as a form; but the same ought to be true of the more traditional aspects of literature that do occur in games. A fundamental part of the question of defining videogames as literature is clearly how critics treat their material. Yet there are other factors that affect how a text is received, and Barbara Herrnstein Smith updates Williams’ concept of critic-defined literary value in her essay Contingencies of Value, in which she writes that alongside the authorial process and the individual reading process, those who, as may happen, publish the work, purchase, preserve, display, quote, cite, translate, perform, allude to, and imitate it; the more explicit but casual judgements made, debated, and negotiated in informal contexts by readers; [...] scholars, teachers, and academic or journalistic critics; [...] reviews and explicit ranking orderings, evaluations and revaluations; [...] the awarding of literary prizes, the commissioning and publishing of articles about certain works, the compiling of anthologies, the writing of introductions, the construction of department curricula, the drawing up of class reading lists all affect a particular work’s value.38 This larger apparatus that Smith identifies as determining literary value affects videogames as much as any other form, down to the implicit canonisation of games such as Doom or SimCity. For videogames to be considered literary, a consensus is required from these sections within the videogame community; and then it must be attained again on a wider, more general academic and cultural scale. At present, the operation of this apparatus with regards to videogames is especially interesting in the critics’ willingness to share their space with those outside of the field of academic videogame study; a number of books and essays are not only written through the firsthand words of critics and theorists, but are also based on interviews that are conducted with designers and other players, incorporating the videogame’s cultural and commercial valuation into the critical evaluating process. Already, videogame theorists are moving towards a survey on the status of videogames from those who design, play and think about games. This inclusive nature of videogame study is exemplified by the book FirstPerson: New Media as Story, Performance and Game, which was developed simultaneously online and in-print, and offered anyone the chance to pose questions and respond to the initial contributors online. Some of these responses were then included in the printed book, and each essay’s author was also asked to 38

Barbara Herrnstein Smith, ‘Contingencies of Value’ in NAT, p.1926

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Ryan Fitzgerald reply to the reactions his or her essay had provoked, creating an organic critical writing process that decentres the critic as an isolated evaluator. It is the hope of the editors that ‘the online discussion will continue to grow – with expanding “first person” commentary from another level of thoughtful readership: including, perhaps, you.’39 The readers of criticism and the designers and players of videogames thus have the explicit and open opportunity to be a part of the same process of valuation as the critics themselves. Surprisingly, the book contained one response by Stuart Moulthrop, in which he talked about the sexualised physique of Tomb Raider heroine, Lara Croft, and one original contribution that revealed that the Moulthrop writing at the start of the twentyfirst century for First Person is very different from the one writing in the early 1990s about hypertext; no longer dismissive of videogames, he now believes that ‘games and play demand serious attention.’40 This clearly indicates the beginning of videogame study’s advancement and acceptance as a scholarly discipline, even if it is limited to the more progressive circles of institutionally accepted criticism. The question of whether videogames should also be categorised as literature is one that can only be answered by Smith’s system of critical, cultural and commercial operators, and to that end, I submit one answer of many, that yes, videogames can be considered literature, albeit in a unique form. Videogames have not produced a Shakespeare or a Joyce, but they do not need to. ‘Literature’ does not mean novels alone. Videogames are not books, and should not be studied in the same way as traditional prose or poetry, but they are worth studying as literary texts if we are willing to accept that there are different ways of reading a text; though poetry and prose are analysed in different ways, they are nevertheless both categorised as literature. And though videogames have unique elements specific to them as a digital media that must be studied to fully understand them, and though these elements are not present in traditionally defined literature, these facts alone should not preclude them from being considered literary works.


Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan, ‘Introduction’ in Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan (eds), First Person: New Media as Story, Performance and Game, p.xii 40 Stuart Moulthrop, ‘From Work to Play: Molecular Culture in the Time of Deadly Games’ in First Person, p.56

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Ryan Fitzgerald Bibliography Secondary Texts Atkins, Barry, More Than A Game: The Computer Game as Fictional Form, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003) Atkins, Barry and Krzywinska, Tanya (eds), Videogame, Player, Text, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007) Jameson, Frederic, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991) Montfort, Nick, Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction, (London: MIT Press, 2005) Moulthrop, Stuart, ‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Hypertext and the laws of Media’ in Vincent B. Leitch (ed.), The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, (New York: Norton, 2001), pp.2504-24 Ryan, Marie-Laure, Avatars of Story, (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2006) Smith, Barbara Herrnstein, ‘Contingencies of Value’ in Vincent B. Leitch (ed.), The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, (New York: Norton, 2001), pp.1913-32 Wardrip-Fruin, Noah and Harrigan, Pat (eds), First Person: New Media as Story, Performance and Game, (London: MIT Press, 2004) Williams, Raymond, ‘Marxism and Literature’ in Vincent B. Leitch (ed.), The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, (New York: Norton, 2001), pp.1567-1575 Wolf, Mark J.P, and Perron, Bernard (eds), The Video Game Theory Reader, (New York: Routledge, 2003)

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