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Uncharted Territory: Comparing Video Games and Electronic Literature

Over the past twenty years the technology sector has emerged as one of the most profitable and fastest growing industries.  A major contributor to the success of the technology sector has been the sale of video games.  Nintendo, one of the leading game developers, has sold over three and a half billion video games to date.  Video games are becoming more and more popular everyday.  Merchandise of the award winning Halo series has grossed over two billion dollars in total sales.  This is just a small fraction of evidence that clearly shows the increasing popularity of video games.  With all the different genres of games available there are bound to be games that blur the border between games and electronic literature.  Many popular games possess qualities that can also be found in pieces of electronic literature.  These shared qualities can make video games, such as Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, seem to be less like a game and more like a piece of electronic literature; however, the term “video games” encompasses countless types of games, which makes it very difficult to make a concrete distinction between video games and electronic literature.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves requires the user to manually input controls or commands to continue the story, much like pieces of electronic literature such as Facade or Everybody Dies.  This fact is the major similarity that relates Uncharted 2 to electronic literature.  Everybody Dies and Facade use the same basic method to tell a story as Uncharted 2.  The only difference is that Uncharted has a much more complex system of controls.  For example, the user may have to navigate a series of obstacles or kill a wave of henchmen to move to the next section of story.  In Everybody Dies the user would need to type in a specific word, such as go north, to unveil the next section of text.  Although these two examples are not completely equivalent, they do serve the same basic purpose in their respective stories.

Although there are clear links between this game and electronic literature, it is still closer to a game as a whole because there are more aspects that are more game related.  There are apparent connections between these two, but they are outweighed by obvious differences.  Namely, Uncharted 2 has multiplayer modes, as well as rewards for finding hidden objects in the main story mode.  The two aforementioned aspects add to the playability of the game, and give the user more options to entertain them.  Herein lies the true difference between video games and electronic literature: games are made to entertain and be played for as long as possible, while electronic literature sets out to convey an idea or moral to the user.  These differences make the distinction between video games and electronic literature quite clear.

It is difficult to compare the category of video games to that of electronic literature because the term video games embodies innumerable types of games.  Moreover, video games range from shooting games to role-playing games to sports games to puzzle games, and so on.  One cannot simply say that there are similarities between electronic literature and video games for this reason.  There are certain video games that share common characteristics with electronic literature, yet there are still many more games that have little or nothing in common.  The primary difference between video games and electronic literature is simply the fact that there are numerous genres of video games, but electronic literature is more specific.

When one considers individual video game genres, or even particular games, a better comparison can be made and the similarities become more apparent.  Many role-playing games could be considered works of electronic literature because they usually share similar story sharing techniques.  Both of these rely on a varying degree of user input to advance the story, along with other visual cues and images that help create meaning.However, when one considers a sports game it becomes evident that there are very little shared characteristics with electronic literature.  Therefore, video games as a whole cannot be compared with electronic literature, but individual genres or titles are easier to compare.

As we have seen electronic literature and some video games are, in fact, quite similar; nevertheless, the term video games includes many different genres and types of games, and therefore it is difficult to make a direct comparison between the two.  It is much easier to compare certain genres of video games with electronic literature, and when one does this more similarities become pronounced.  Some video games, like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, show the apparent connections between these two forms of entertainment.

Electronic Literature and Video Games: The Perfect Match

 

Electronic literature has changed the way in which we judge the foundation of a piece. Before literature was something tangible, written in a book and well known, but now with electronic literature that idea is thrown out the window. Recently, creators have also tried to change what we consider to be a “game.” Games formed in electronic literature, such as Christine Wilks, Rememori, incorporate the idea of wanting to win while at the same time telling a story in the background through different perspectives. We notice the obvious differences between the electronic literature and games and first, but once we take a closer look we see how both could be one in the same.

In most games there is obviously a winner, even if we are playing by ourselves we try to obtain the highest score possible. In the game Rememori, the author relates her father disease of Alzheimer’s to a game of memory. As we all know with this disease ones memory is the first thing to go. This piece of electronic literature highlights the feelings and thoughts of those closest to the one suffering as statements such as “just another face” float around while you try to match the proper cards. At the end of each game our score is computed and our time is given. With this type of information given to us, it can easily be considered a game that we play each time in order to get a better score and lower time.

Rememori also acts like a game in respect that we can take on different characters each time we play the game. Just like board games, such as Monopoly, we chose our character or what we what to represent ourselves with. The first thing we are asked before being exposed to the game is to enter a user name. Once that user name is chosen a series of phrases are shaped to that person, must like certain characters in a video game can only posses certain qualities. It’s evident that since the way we go about playing and what we are able to discover or achieve being based on a specific user, shows how this piece of electronic literature can fall under the game category.

Certain instances of electronic literature reflect that of a video game; one of which is the ability of having a choice. These options are based on what we want to do as a reader, just as a gamer could decide if they want to turn left or right at the end of that dark hallway. With electronic literature we are able to do just the same; we can click on specific words that completely change the course of the piece. Regardless the device still works, but now we are doing as we please and taking a risk to uncover the next bit of the puzzle our way.

However, electronic literatures main goal is to tell a story. In a normal video game the main goal is to complete a task or obtain a high-score, but we are also being told a story based on the input we give. This story-telling aspect can go unnoticed, since, let me be frank, they kinda stink; but it still is a story being told whether we pay attention to it or not. Many of the video games that we play today are based off of everyday experience, such as fighting in a battle or playing a sport.  Sure we can also create our own story in our mind of what is going on, but it is not pre-determined by the creator for you to grasp the story as it is in most cases of electronic literature.  This evidence allows us to see how electronic literature can be used like a game, but tells a deeper story like common literature does.

Who ever thought that electronic literature and video games could be classified in the same category? (Definitely not myself.) But after being exposed to different types of electronic literature throughout this course we are able to see how electronic literature, at the base, preforms just like a video game but the meaning behind it is of greater depth. Factors such as competition and choice makes us sway more towards electric literature being considered a game. But in the end it all comes down to the specific piece and the way we interpret how to use it, if we can consider it to be a game or not.

Sources:

http://gamemedia.wcgame.ru/original-memory-game.html

http://samsvgmb.blogspot.com/2011/07/super-mario-kart-or-kart-racer-that.html

http://www.gaming-blog.net/tag/video-game-design/

A Tale of Westward Expansion

For the last 40 years, The Oregon Trail has illustrated the experience of the 19th century pioneer in the westward expansion of the United States. While the word “game” is almost always used in its description, I would argue that it is more closely related to a piece of electronic literature. To make this argument, I must first define both video games and electronic literature and then illustrate where it lies upon the spectrum. While there are many similarities and differences between the 2 genres, a videogame has a definite end, whereas a piece of electronic literature could be considered infinite.

There are two specific similarities that I wish to illustrate between video games and electronic literature: first, their capability to involve different endings, and second, their ability to evoke, what I like to call “deeper thoughts” meaning: profound views and notions. Whether the piece under evaluation is Mario Kart 64 or Alabaster (the electronic literature retelling of Snow White) the outcomes vary from time to time. How the gamer plays each event in Mario Kart 64 will determine the outcome of each race and depending on the commands you enter into your computer while reading Alabaster, different events will take place and inevitable change the ending of the story.  The second similarity, these “deeper thoughts,” are almost always a product of playing a video game or reading a piece of electronic literature but what these “deeper thoughts” entail is a difference between the 2 genres.

“Deeper thoughts” are the main difference between video games and electronic literature. While video games will often evoke more strategically thoughts, on how to play the game more effectively and increase your chances of winning, electronic literature form thoughts more along the lines of ideas, beliefs, and concepts. While strategical thoughts are still developed, they have very little practical use outside of the framework of videogames, whereas the ideas, beliefs, and concepts developed through the reading of a piece of electronic literature can often be linked to larger theories and life.

The Oregon Trail is more closely related to a piece of electronic literature first because of the deeper thoughts that arise from a reader’s experience. During the experience, there is very little strategy developed because the lack of skill involved. The “deeper thoughts” that arise are more closely related to an understanding of the experience a pioneer had and the realities they faced while traveling The Oregon Trail.

Another reason The Oregon Trail is more closely related to a piece of electronic literature is the face that it is telling the story of westward expansion.  Whether the player dies of dysentery or completes the long journey to the west, a story of life and death, as well as one of success and failure is being told.

Just because it is fun to play does not mean that The Oregon Trail is strictly a video game. It has been used as a teaching tool for nearly half a century for a reason. Larger ideas and concepts, like mortality and success are developed and instilled in the player/reader, which makes this piece of electronic literature timeless and infinite.

Interactive Media: Video Game or Electronic Literature?

Can video games be classified as literature? While there is no rigid definition of literature, I draw a clear distinction between video games and electronic literature. Creating such a distinction is important as the definition of video games is constantly changing as new methods of interactivity become more mainstream. Upon experiencing the interactive drama Façade, its characteristics helped me establish a definition of what separates video games from electronic literature. While both forms of media share characteristics, I consider a video game’s main purpose to provide entertainment to the user while electronic literature explores the human condition at its core.

Façade shares characteristics with video games, but it sets itself apart as a piece of electronic literature because of it doesn’t aim to entertain. Façade is an interactive drama featuring a troubled married couple and a “third-wheel” character controlled by the user in first-person. The user can type key words and phrases to interact with the couple and shape the way their relationship ends up. As such, Façade should be defined as a piece of electronic literature because it doesn’t contain any artificial elements that aim to make the game “fun” or “entertaining.” In contrast, the game The Sims 3 also aims to simulate human relationships, but it is more goal oriented, making it more of an entertainment piece as opposed to electronic literature. Façade is void of any of these mechanics and merely serves as an expression of the human condition.

Façade is an interactive drama that explores the relationship of a married couple

To expand on that idea, Façade explores what it means to be human. While the AI is clumsy, this piece clearly aims to express the underpinnings of a failing relationship in ways non-interactive media cannot. While there have been many movies and books on the subject of relationships, Façade is different in that the user can actively learn the details of a relationship through interactive dialogue and even shape the way it unfolds. This sort of interactivity further elucidates the awkward nature of witnessing a “marriage on the rocks” because the user is actually participating in the event. More importantly, this allows the user to have a greater understanding of the human condition – something video games do not aim to do.

That’s not to say that video games and electronic literature do not share certain qualities. For example, both forms of media allow for interactivity between the user and the environment provided on-screen. This allows for a much more visceral experience in that the user often has much more control over how his or her story or challenge unfolds. Movies and traditional books, on the other hand, are more static and cannot be controlled. In other words, video games and electronic literature are more dynamic in the way their stories are told.

Even so, a clear distinction must be made between video games and electronic literature. In the same way certain books are not considered to be literature, certain forms of electronic media cannot be considered to be literary. As stated earlier, electronic literature at its core expresses something about the human condition without the intention of being fun or entertaining. Certainly video games have the ability to explore the human condition in some form. Take for example Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, which puts the user in a modern Middle-Eastern military setting. The game’s campaign mode constantly elucidates the ills of war, yet it would still be considered a game because it merely serves to entertain. It has artificial mechanics such as regenerating health and unlimited retries that are logically unsound, but are there to make sure the user has a more fun and entertaining experience. Electronic literature is void of such mechanics and exists merely to explore humanistic subjects.

Call of Duty 4, while fun, doesn't have enough literary implications

Therefore, video games and electronic literature, while similar in some respects, are different in their ambitions. Video games are “packaged goods” that serve the purpose of entertaining the user while electronic literature has more humanistic implications. That’s not to say that video games are always stripped of humanistic qualities but they aim for something analogous of a “summer blockbuster film” or a book one would find at an airport (at least in a narrative sense). Such a distinction is clear as interactive media is starting to get taken in a more serious light by the masses.

Image sources:

“Façade” http://download.cnet.com/i/tim/2009/10/22/1720_257x188.jpg

“Call of Duty 4″ http://xbox360media.ign.com/xbox360/image/article/815/815262/call-of-duty-4-modern-warfare-20070823032954275.jpg

 

 

Video Game Literature

"Fallout 3" Dialogue

Electronic literature takes many forms. Showing ties to previous printed texts, electronic literature has become a part of everyday life. You have most likely heard of the popular ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ story books. The books are a form of literature known as interactive fiction. According to Dictionary.com, interactive fiction is, “an adventure or mystery story, usually presented as a video game or book, in which the player or reader is given choices as to how the storyline is to develop or the mystery is to be solved” (Dictionary.com). Similarly, the website’s second definition classifies the same literature as, “a type of computer game in which the player controls characters with text commands; also called text adventures.” Text adventures, however, are more commonly referred to as video games. While video games are a fairly new type of entertainment, they have already become a new form of art. As a result, the fine line between electronic literature and video games is shrinking. Take for example Fallout 3 (available for the Xbox 360 console) and Façade (available for download online), a video game and piece of electronic literature, respectively. In the proceeding paragraphs I will show the similarities and differences between Fallout 3 and Façade, as well as provide more basic information on both interactive fiction and text adventures.

"Choose Your Own Adventure" Cover

Interactive fiction allows the user to make choices that alter a story’s narrative. The viewer is allowed to choose a prewritten response to the current part of the story. While the user has the option to choose the response, he or she must choose from responses that are predetermined by the author. In response to the unique decisions chosen by the player, or reader, the storyline concludes accordingly. Sometimes referred to as video games, interactive fiction draws more similarities to a game than it does to text. However, some pieces of electronic literature, as well as video games, both incorporate interactive fiction. According to the Dictionary.com definition, both can tell stories, exist as either a video game or a book, and allow the reader or player to make choices that alter the storyline. How then are video games not a form of electronic literature?

"Choose Your Own Adventure" Interactive Fiction

Text adventures enable the user to have direct influence over the outcome of the story by manually entering the desired text. While similar to interactive fiction, text adventures don’t require the user to select text, but rather input the text themselves. The responses can range from individual words to full length sentences. Upon receiving the unique text, the text adventure responds appropriately. However, the one downside to text adventures is the lack of a definite response. The program can only respond to the users command if a response has been input by the creator. Interactive fiction, on the other hand, only allows the user to select a response that has a definite answer.

"Fallout 3" Gameplay

At one point, Fallout 3 was considered one of the most impressive video games on the market. However, the title was not only praised for it’s gameplay and graphics, but also it’s narrative. Fallout 3 exemplifies interactive fiction with it’s use of in-game dialogue boxes. The player interacts with computer characters by selecting an onscreen text box. During conversations, the player has about three to five unique options to choose from. Each response has it’s own consequence, whether good, bad, or neutral. The player has the freedom to interact with the narrative of the game, alter the story, and ultimately lead to one of about two-hundred different endings. In contrast, most video games usually only have one definite ending due to the lack of interactive fiction.

"Façade" Gameplay

Façade, on the other hand, is a text adventure. Users type unique text into the program and the computer characters react accordingly. There is no text to select, and yet infinite options. The question here is whether or not this is a video game. Compared to “Fallout 3,” many similarities can be drawn. However, the literature is in the narrative itself. While both contain unique options, Façade allows the user to create his or her own responses. Thus, the media earns it’s electronic literature title.

In conclusion, it is easy to see the similarities between electronic literature and video games. As technology improves and creativity expands, we are bound to see more interesting versions of both. You may be wondering, how does this apply to me, or why should I care? Whether you play video games or read books, electronic literature is gradually becoming a large form of entertainment that almost everyone can appreciate. When video games and electronic literature share qualities, the product opens up a market for those who may not have experienced it otherwise. After trying both Fallout 3 and Façade, I can say I am thoroughly impressed by both titles. Each one was unique and offered different styles as both electronic literature and video games. Whether or not you try either of these titles, you are sure to experience electronic literature and/or video games on a frequent basis. I urge you to keep an eye out for these types of media and draw your own conclusions; what are the differences and similarities between electronic literature and video games?

 

Sources:

*http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3226/3095501996_15af65d801.jpg

*http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3047/3118298902_d4e5f7c29b.jpg

*http://farm1.staticflickr.com/47/158788261_51be05e517.jpg

*http://www.sundancepub.com/Pages/itemimages/large/cyoa_Ninja_zoom.gif

*http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-0-u8MUWCwsU/TiQ1h2MNZVI/AAAAAAAAAhk/iy7TCs88kzQ/s1600/facade_2gracegreets.jpg

Rules of en-game-ment!

Game, Game, Game and again Game does away with scores, competition, or even difficulty, utilizing a simple interface for the sake of appealing to large groups. Jason Nelson created a flash game which crosses the threshold of games and electronic literature nimbly by adapting to the deficiencies of both.

The game is divided into 13 brief levels traversed by an eccentric dot that represents the player and controls like Super Mario Brothers. Each level is a belief system, covering everything from Christianity to Capitalism as a perspective and the problems that come with each one. Various symbols and activation points on the map open bits of text or enhance the background art, allowing the player to change the original painting or poem as he progresses through the level. Yet coupled with these game designs are countless moments that insist on not being a game at all. You cannot “die”; you just go back to the start of the level. The score is a series of shifting arrows that have no true ranking value. Even the art itself is disorienting, leaving it up to the player if an object is going to kill him, open up text, or zap him to another part of the map.

For example, within the Chemist level, which examines drugs as worldview, the syringes open surreal texts and rave-like graphics, and the game play path is largely illogical and deceiving. On the Faith level, the user has to choose between the two sides of the cross, with one choice offering a deathless death and the other continuing the path. The poetics on this level are written as satirical and irreverent bible passages, with each stanza inspired by personal events/encounters with Christianity.

Most games have specific goals and consequences, competitions, and scores. The game ultimately opts for is to focus on the experience of playing itself. Not a rewarding experience like you’re the winner or you saved the princess, but just the experience of the game. There are no stick measures to deter the player from losing and no gimmicks to reward the player for winning. You just play and explore the experience.

This isn’t so much game trying to be an electronic literature as it is a work of electronic literature borrowing from games. Perhaps the biggest obstacle here is that the simple fact that so many people simply weren’t expecting to experience electronic literature when they started playing. That it seems to consistently bring out a reaction, whether positive or negative, is almost more a testament to the way the game interface sucked them in than anything else.

To date, the game has gotten more than 5 million hits and that number is always rising. It takes about 15 minutes to play through, features great sound effects, quirky Easter eggs, and will forever change how you think about video games. It isn’t entirely appropriate to call it a video game, it isn’t entirely appropriate to not call it one. It doesn’t really matter either way. For the creator of game, game, game, and again game, the goal of making a video game was never the idea anyways. Gaming was simply the mode of art that expressed the message most freely.

Is Electronic Literature A Game Or Not?…That Is The Question.

If you were in a store, would you find electronic literature in the game section?  I don’t think this is something many people would think about, but it does raise a very interesting question.  With electronic literature being so evolving these days what is it that differentiates between a piece of electronic literature and an electronic video game?  Electronic literature and video games both overlap in what they have to offer. With all the new technology and tools that electronic literature has to offer, what is it that’s stopping people from associating electronic literature as a game rather then what it truly is, a piece of literature?  This may seem difficult to answer seeing as there are many similarities between the two, however there must be something that makes electronic literature different and unique. In order to figure out what that is we need to analyze “The Sweet Old Etcetera”, a piece of electronic literature.

In the poem “The Sweet Old Etcetera” E.E. Cummings “encourages the reader to play…, as the interactivity is only deduced in the act of engagement”.   The reader unleashes the poem in this text though ways of interacting with the piece, such as clicking on words or objects on the screen to have new words appear.  The scenic picture that the words make help get the reader in a different dimension and adds a picturesque touch to the piece of literature.  What I would consider to be the differencing factor which does not make this a game is its purpose.  The sole purpose of this piece is to relay over a poem to the reader.  The author however chose to do it through a creative way however that shouldn’t take away from the underlying fact that it is still a piece of literature.  Although there are similarities between this piece and a video game the sole purpose of this piece is to allow the reader to interact with the poem therefore having a stronger connection to the literature in it.  The purpose of a video game is to interact with a “user interface to generate visual feedback on a video device”-nothing else.  It may relay a message by doing it, but its sole purpose is entertainment. Although the two have similar actions, they both have different purposes. 

“The Sweet Old Etcetera”, although it does allow for some interaction of the reader with the piece, the interaction is very limited.  It sets out to engage the reader by allowing them to click on letters or forms to allow access to more words on the screen, in hopes to reveal the entire poem.  However, this is the only interaction the reader has with this piece of literature which makes it seem more similar to a piece of literature rather than a game.   Whereas in a video game where the interaction is greater and more hands on, “The Sweet Old Etcetera” it is very limited, making it more similar to a piece of literature.    

 

 

Competitiveness is something which is found in games yet is not found in electronic literature.  Unlike games where there are time limits and opponents, electronic literature possesses none of these.  You can take as long as you like and not feel the pressure to succeed at a fast pace and you are not competing against anybody other than yourself.  Unlike games where there are rights and wrongs, electronic literature does not have that.  It takes on many different directions and will allow you to decide what happens next.  It will give you the option of choosing different directions to take the story in.  You are the deciding factor as to what is right and what is wrong.  Unlike video games where the sole purpose is for entertainment, electronic literature generally has a purpose behind it.  It can be revealing a kinetic poem, a piece of literature or a piece of history through a story.  Although it may do it by means of a game or creativity, its purpose is to relay over a piece of literature.  The game acts as the intermediary which relays the literature from the author to the reader.

Although we see lots of differences between video games and electronic literature, there are still some similarities. “ A video game is an electronic game that involves human interaction with a user interface to generate visual feedback on aa video device”.  This sounds very similar to certain elements of electronic literature.  Many pieces require the reader to be hands on and interact with the literature just like a video game would.  It involves clicking to get new information or continue to the next level.  Some require more interaction such as “Game, Game, Game, and Again Game” while some such as “The Sweet Old Etcetera” require less.   Both electronic literature and video games include audio sounds in the background and different visual components to gain one’s attention and have a greater affect.  Although electronic literature has more to offer, there is a large component of it that is similar to video games.

One may assume that the similarities between electronic literature and video games are enough to consider the two the same, however as we can see there are still lots of differences between the two.  It is true that both electronic literature and video games require interacting with the programs, entertainment and accomplishing tasks.  However, the underlying purpose of electronic literature is to relay over the literature to the reader.  The author may choose to deliver the literature through creativity; however the purpose of the creativity is to deliver the literature.  The reader is able to form a bond with the text and appreciate its meaning in electronic literature, something which is not accomplished in video games. 

Sources used:

Electronic Literature Volume 2

Wikipedia-video games

 

Playing the Poem

When one thinks of literature one rarely correlates it with games.  In the case of electronic literature however, many elements overlap.  One example of this is the piece of electronic literature Rice, which incorporates aspects of both games and literature.

 

Both electronic literature and games are based off of the same concept, entertainment.  Games are created and played to have fun and challenge yourself and others either physically, mentally, or both.  Electronic literature is a different type of entertainment.  It is a form of art, which can be used to teach a lesson, get a point across, or educate the reader.

 
The stark difference between the two is the fact that a game must be interactive and have a reason to play, or goal.  While some pieces of electronic literature include forms of interaction such as hyperlinks or textual input, there also exist others which are based off of flash or other video software and have no inputs.  Also, most pieces of electronic literature do not have a set reason to evaluate them or have a final point or meaning.


Rice is commonly considered to be a piece of electronic literature.  It is comprised of many pictures and different forms of poetry.  Once combined these different aspects of the piece take the form of a complex story and its use of hypertext and animations solidify it as a piece of electronic literature.

 
However, Rice can also be thought of as a game.  Rice begins with a screen full of pictures.  In order to reach our objective, of discovering the meaning of this piece, we must click through the different pictures.  These pictures act as hyperlinks and allow us to reach different sections of the game to better understand the pieces meaning.  Because it falls on the user to go through the piece to learn knowledge stored in the piece it can be considered a game.


Rice is not simply a piece of electronic literature.  It can also be construed as a game.  Many other pieces of electronic literature are similar to Rice, taking the form of multiple types of media, that of a game and literature.

Playing Literature: Are You Game?

  Frogger.png FroggerPC

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.

Sources:

Inception of Controllers as Mediums of Literature

     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.  clip_image002For 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.

 

Sources

1) Electronic Literature Volume 2

http://collection.eliterature.org/2/works/nadeau_stillstanding.html

2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game

3) N. Katherine Hayles’ Electronic Literature: What is it?

http://eliterature.org/pad/elp.html#sec2

4) Dene Grigar’s Electronic Literature: Where is it?

http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/technocapitalism/invigorating