Girl in the Machine
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Video Games as Literature

An elaboration on our mission at Girl in the Machine

Oftentimes when I mention to strangers that I play video games, the glint in their eyes or the sardonic curve of their smile seems to suggest that I look dumber than I did a few moments before. I think, though, that this means they have never considered the appeal of gaming or its similarities to conventional literature.

Video games are discredited as a result of their most appealing features, such as the graphics. Admittedly, games present you with visuals for the characters and setting, whereas we rely on reading comprehension and contextual clues to form these mental images when reading novels or short stories. Games have a decided advantage against traditional texts—their interactivity. Like the reader of a novel, a video game player experiences the story, except in a more direct fashion.

Because of their interactive nature, video game characters serve as an extension of the player’s identity. Through this new “prosthetic identity,” the player participates with a directly active role in the story.

Consider the game Indigo Prophecy. In it, Lucas Kane awakens to find he has committed a murder, but he has no memory of it. The player acts as both Lucas and the police officers Carla and Tyler. As Lucas, the player wants to escape the crime scene, return to a normal life, and figure out how and why he was committed the murder. As the police officers, the player has a mystery to solve, including looking for clues, gathering information, and interrogating witnesses. The player can purposely foil either side and directly impact the outcome of the story, which has three decidedly different endings.

Other games possess strong thematic connections to canonized literary works. For example:
• Rule of Rose recalls similar themes to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, including the loss of innocence and the tragic relationships within abusive groups.
• The Kingdom Hearts series recalls Homer’s The Odyssey or Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with its quests to find/prove oneself and face destiny, not to mention the coming of age elements.
• Silent Hill 3, with its absurd and ironic world, recalls the works of Kurt Vonnegut. The themes of rape and its effects on women are echoed in texts like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak.

The same strategies used when analyzing “high literature” can also be applied to gaming. Why, then, do many treat it as a less legitimate form of media? Part of it may be stem from fear, while part of it may stem from stubbornness.

Even books are, by definition, a form of technology we use to learn.

Considering video games as a genuine for of literature, they become an exciting vehicle for exploring the notions of feminism. As with conventional texts, an awareness of the presentation of men and women in gaming, including their sex and gender, race, socioeconomic class, and other limitless factors can help us enhance our understanding of the world and its machinations.

So get out there, play some games, and learn something.


 Posted by Calabar
 5:51 AM + Link to this post

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