So where does a game begin and end? Or a book? You could say it starts with the beginning and ends with the end or credit screen, but there’s a whole new world out there! Gérard Genette wrote about paratexts, the little things that surround a book – like copyright, chapter headings, cover, interviews, etc – which surround and extend a text (within the book = peritext; external to the book = epitext). Genette calls paratexts a “threshold”, an undefined zone that is neither in the text, nor outside, but frames the text and extends it. Genette is very obviously discussing books, but let’s see how it can work for games!
Types of Paratexts
While Genette focuses on paratext as that which is created by those who have responsibility of the text, such as the author and publisher, some such as Jonathan Grey signify industry-created paratexts, those that are generally highly visible, and audience-created paratexts.
Industry-created paratexts are everything from the marketing, the posters, the websites, etc. This also includes the items that come with purchase, which is obviously different from digital purchase to physical purchase. Kocurek uses the term ‘feelies’ to describe additional items around games such as packaging, graphics, manuals, etc, that are integral to narrative framing.
These items don’t always necessarily get packaged with the game. Most of my associated merchandise is from World of Warcraft, like plushie murlocs and murghouls, a faerie dragon, a few megablok dragons, Stormwind, and the Frozen Throne, not to mention the books and graphic novels as well.
Moving onto fan paratexts, this can really be any form of conversation surrounding a tv show or film, such as reviews, fan fiction, fan art, spoilers, etc. For games, this could probably include mods, add-ons, player-created or unauthorised guides or walkthroughs, and so on. Consalvo’s book considers the role of paratexts in reference to cheating in games, and the differences between what is considered cheating, when is it acceptable (or if), and negotiations of cheating practices by players and developers. There are the authorised guides or gaming magazines, and then there are unauthorised things such as mods or cheating devices. Both of these Consalvo refers to as paratexts which are integral to the industry and understanding player experience.
I have a particular interest in mods or character creations as it relates to bodies in games, and how it can affect play. For example, a simple morph to change a character’s appearance in Dragon Age won’t change the gameplay, but a mod to add a trait in The Sims 4 might be more obviously different while playing. I’m curious as to the wide variety of these mods in affecting how someone might perceive the game and character/s. A pure textual analysis would miss how a player can change the text itself to suit them, and then share that alteration with others.
Bonus modded romance scenes for Alistair ^_^
Defining the text – Meta Para Ortho
Part of how to define a paratext, is defining what is the text. In a book, it could start at the prologue, and finish with The End, but obviously this works entirely different for gaming.
Carter, Gibbs and Harrop propose three terms to thinking about different activities associated with game play: Orthogame, Paragame, and Metagame. Orthogame is the core game – such as a campaign mode. Metagame refers to that which is beyond the scope or control of what players consider to be the orthogame – discussed by the authors as strategising, or breaking the fourth wall; it is the influence of a player’s context on the game. Paragame is that which is peripheral, but alongside orthogame – such as achievement hunting.
The orthogame – the central or core element of gameplay – is also negotiated. Their example is Star Craft, as either the single player campaign, or multiplayer mode. I would consider the leveling in World of Warcraft to be the core orthogame, but often come across player’s arguing that the main game is the “End Game” – usually meaning raiding or rated PvP. This is a negotiated area, by the players and the designers. In a way, it could also be argued that Blizzard consider end game as the core of WoW, by the addition of buying boosts for characters, so players can skip a significant chunk of the leveling process and get to that place. So really, there isn’t a “The End” to WoW.
For Dragon Age, there is a clear narrative from start to finish, although you can return to earlier points once you’ve finished a campaign (for example, in DA: Origins, after you have completed the main narrative, you can continue to play the game, although for the sake of the linear narrative, this takes place just before the final battle against the Darkspawn).
Paratexts in game?
Before I started reading around paratexts in games, I was really tossing up about what part of a game could constitute a paratext. For example, books in Warcraft. These are items randomly placed throughout the game and don’t account towards core gameplay, they are (mostly) not linked to achievements, and appear to be around for two reasons: cosmetic (to make the place feel lived-in) and to provide some lore or history about the world. It is not necessary, or required, or even encouraged (by the way of achievements, experience, or other gameplay-related things). They merely exist in the world. Could these be paratexts within the game, maybe?
Dragon Age has a different system to provide historical narrative of the world, through codexes found through items or quests. However, these could be considered more a part of the paragame, in that some codexes are tutorials related to creatures or the combat system, and in Inquisition are linked to achievements or experience gain.
- Kocurek, C. a., 2013. The treachery of pixels: Reconsidering feelies in an era of digital play. Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds, 5(3), pp.295–306. Available at: http://openurl.ingenta.com/content/xref?genre=article&issn=1757-191X&volume=5&issue=3&spage=295.
- Consalvo, M. 2007. Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames. Cambridge: MIT Press.
- Consalvo, M., 2009. There is No Magic Circle. Games and Culture, 4(4), pp.408–417. Available at: dx.doi.org/10.1177/1555412009343575.
- Carter, M., Gibbs, M. & Harrop, M., 2012. Metagames, Paragames and Orthogames: A New Vocabulary. Foundations of Digital Games, pp.14–17.