domingo, 29 de maio de 2016

Context and intertextuality in games

A game, as any media in the contemporary times, needs a context to happen. One important thing in this scenario is to understand the player as the co-author of the narrative. Different players with different motivations will experience one game in different ways, and so it is in the movies, books, theater, comics etc. It’s very naïve to suppose that one game will be interpreted and reinterpreted in an equal way for different people.

On the other hand, one powerful tool to contextualize a game for an audience (or many audiences) is the intertext. Sometimes, the using of specific references from other fields like literature, cinema or even other games could be very useful to create a dialogue with the players.

This way, if we want “to make sense of digital games, we must determine in which context they are supposed to make sense and in what way this meaning changes if they are removed from this context. For example, many games manufactured today are meant to make sense within the cultural context of Western society. Games such as America’s Army or Conflict: Desert Storm is likely to be understood differently when played by an American or an Iraqi, respectively. From the perspective of literary studies, however, it is more interesting to focus on a game’s contexts in a more literal sense, that is, the texts that the game in question refers to explicitly or implicitly. These contexts, often called intertexts, are not limited to literary texts, but might also include legal, scholarly and journalistic texts as well as films, song lyrics, urban legends and myths”. (RUTTER; BRYCE, 2006, p.105)

To talk about context and intertext, I want to present three excellent and distinct examples from different fields: one small tale, one short comics strip and one mobile game.

1) The first example comes from literature and it’s the short tale “A Woman Alone with Her Soul”* by Thomas Bailey Aldrich:

A woman is sitting alone in a house. She knows she is alone in the whole world: every other living thing is dead. The doorbell rings”.

This is an incredible exercise of imagination, context and references/intertexts. Are we talking about a nuclear holocaust? Is it a futuristic tale in a distant future or is it a story about the dead knocking on the woman’s door? The brilliant thing in this example is: there’s no right answer. Each person, with his or her references, will find one different explanation for this situation.

2) The second example is this very clever comic strip by J.C. Duffy . Starting from the same idea from “A Woman Alone with Her Soul”, Duffy presents us an absurd and comical situation where the character Jim receives a letter from someone (or something) inside his closet.

Once more, we are confronted with the exercise of context and intertext. Who sent this letter? Is it a creature? Is the closet a portal to another dimension? Is someone from the future trying to contact Jim in the present and the closet is the link between them? Every single person, with his or her knowledge, will tell a different theory for this funny situation.

3) The third example for this post is the mobile game DEVICE 6. We’ve already talked about this awesome game, but it fits perfectly in this discussion. Check the trailer below:

The game explains little or nothing about what is happening to the character you command. You wake up in a strange room full of enigmas and your mission is to solve them. But, as in Aldrich’s tale and Duffy’s comics, the player is called to use his or her imagination. Each enigma solved presents only little information and – strategically – the game authors invite the players to fill in the blanks and explore the references behind the narrative. Once again: the context will generate different experiences and some players could search for references from other fields embedded in the gaming narrative.

The intertwining of games and literary theory is a thought-provoking subject. We will discuss more about this theme in a near future.



RUTTER, Jason; BRYCE, Jo. Understanding digital games. London: Sage, 2006.

*Reproduced from the entry in The Book of Fantasy, which reproduces it from Aldrich's Works, Vol. 9, which was published in 1912.

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