Look at the two images above. Now tell me, what is the difference between these two? How are they similar? The most obvious answer that comes to mind is that they are the same video game but at different levels in the game. But that is actually incorrect. The first image is actually a screenshot of a piece of electronic literature known as “Basho’s Frogger and Jabber” created by Neil Hennessy while the second screenshot is from a Frogger game.The fact that they appear so similar brings forth a new, revolutionary idea. If electronic literature can mimic the appearance of video games and can appear to be one, does this mean video games can be classified as literature? I will be discussing this idea in my blog post, addressing both Hennessy’s piece as well as electronic literature in general and how they are similar yet vastly different from video games.
At first glance, Hennessy’s piece rivals a video game because it mimics many video game elements. Appearance-wise, Hennessy’s piece looks exactly like a traditional Frogger game. Looking above at the two images again, notice in the lower left of both screens there are two small frogs representing how many lives a player has. Both of these images also mention a score for the game in the upper part of the screen. Stocks of lives and a player’s score are two elements that characterize most games and if we were to solely characterize “Basho’s Frogger and Jabber” based on these traits, the electronic literature piece would fall under the video game category.
Earlier, I used the word mimic because “Basho’s Frogger and Jabber” may contain common video game elements but it is not the same as a video game. Hennessy’s piece differs from video games because it contrasts against the nature of video games. The simplest objective in a video game is to win and characteristics of the game provide the player the tools to win. In “Basho’s Frogger and Jabber”, however, no such tools exist. As the frog in “Basho’s Frogger and Jabber”, you possess no way to cross the river and doomed to die every time you attempt to cross. A video game would not purposely doom the player like this but Hennessy does to allude to some larger meaning behind his piece and drawing the line between “Basho’s Frogger and Jabber” and a regular Frogger game.
In general, electronic literature and video games are similar because they allow player interaction to occur. Look at the intro page to “game, game, game and again game”:
The intro page provides instruction for the player as to how to “play” the piece in the red box in the lower-left corner. The author is then encouraging readers to interact with the story’s environment and move the story forward, implying that the story cannot move forward without reader input. The same implications are present in video games. When a player first begins a new video game, there is a tutorial or instructions page to explain how to play the game so the game may progress.
How a story is told is what sets electronic literature apart from video games. In video games, there is a story line that the player is immersed in and it is up to the player to figure out how the story line is mean to proceed. With electronic literature, though, the story line is not always clear or there is not a clear ending to the story. Much of the meaning in an electronic literature piece ends up being interpreted by the reader while in video games, the meaning and point behind the game is much more clear-cut and more closure is offered. Most video games will eventually reach an end point, where the player is aware that the game is now over or a limit has been reached. There are some exceptions, such as the Massively Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft where a player never reaches an ending in the game. Most electronic literature pieces end up being more interpretative to the reader because they do not offer a definite ending and continue in a loop. There are some pieces that do provide a definite ending to the reader, such as a credits page that tells readers they have finished the story.
While I began this blog post with the question about whether or not video games could be considered the same as electronic literature, I have pointed out various reasons as to how electronic literature may appear as a video game but is ultimately not. I believe that these two categories have overlapping characteristics but they should ultimately be kept apart through the way they tell stories. Yet, there is still potential for electronic literature to evolve and video game companies are always thinking of new game ideas to make the next big thing. As I mentioned, there are exceptions in both genres and it is possible that these exceptions may someday become the norm. The future of these two fields is yet to be seen.