The Washington Post headline reads “Teen Blames Killing Rampage on Science Fiction Thriller.” Not the typical headline you’d ever expect, right? You’re more likely to read that video games are being blamed for the increase in homicide related deaths. The meanings brought to different works of literature, by the reader, influence his/her overall understanding of the work. Because electronic literature makes the
reader, first, ask what constitutes literature and because electronic literature encompasses such a broad range of works, video games could readily be considered a form of electronic literature. Therefore, electronic literature and video games developed synonymously and have since grown in different directions, but are still literature, albeit digital.
When computer games and video games were being created the instructions that appeared with the game could have been seen as literary. As more and more electronic literature was published, different genres of it were named and categorized. I think, video games are a genre of electronic literature, just as hypertext fiction, interactive fiction, and flash poems are. Although video games are not usually thought of as literature, but as electronic games that involve human interaction with a user interface to generate visual feedback on a visual device (2). In this regard, why wouldn’t video games be considered a sub-genre of electronic literature?
While a form of electronic literature, video games involve more of the reader/participant’s interaction than other genres. For example, Robert Kendall’s Faith requires just a click of the mouse at the end of each sequence of words and letters falling to perpetuate the falling of more. Alabaster is an interactive computer program in which participants type commands that make the Hunter act. Faith is an example of a flash poem, while Alabaster is interactive fiction. Video games allow the user to become part of the action similar to interactive fiction. The difference between electronic literature and video games is for more literature there is only one ending to the story, but with video games multiple outcomes have been anticipated, calculated, and factored into the game. Video games and the like may not be considered to be of great literary quality, but that may change in the future.
Through the electronic literature work Still Standing, by Bruno Nadeau and Jason Lewis, it is possible to analyze video games using electronic literature. The poem, “seeking sedation,” does not assemble until the participant is perfectly still in front of the screen. According to Nadeau, Still Standing requires the participant’s full attention to understand the meaning behind “seeking sedation.” Still Standing is, therefore, an interactive piece. When the participant moves, the letters react, creating a give and take interaction association.
Bruno Nadeau and Jason Lewis’s Still Standing is a piece of electronic literature that straddles the line between flash poems and video games. Still Standing is more of a flash poem than a video game because the level of interaction required is minimal, but still present. There is only one outcome to the work and that is the formation of the poem once the participant is still. Therefore, Still Standing is closer to literature than a game.
Electronic literature is so much more than just literary text. It’s how the reader, user, or participant, perceives the piece. It is how meaning is found through the method from which the piece was created. And, finally, it is an endless spectrum of possibilities. Through the genre of video games, electronic literature reaches a wider audience than its print counterpart. Through pieces like Still Standing, we are able to see the relationship between electronic literature and video games a bit more clearly.
1) Electronic Literature Volume 2
3) N. Katherine Hayles’ Electronic Literature: What is it?
4) Dene Grigar’s Electronic Literature: Where is it?