Gaming Paratexts

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!

Screenshot 2015-09-13 14.41.19

Continue reading Gaming Paratexts

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The Problem of Genre

I just read this post and the comments (omg comments that are actual discussion and not trolling! Weird!) on Pamela Regis’ The Natural History of the Romance Novel. It’s a book I have yet to get, but have been recommended it for my thesis because of its importance in romance scholarship. Since I haven’t read it, I can’t comment much on the book in general, but the author of the blog, Noah Berlatsky, brings up something of great interest to me: the problem of genre and its definitions and tropes.

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Regis refers to romance as having eight essential elements, which according to some, at once restricts the definition of romance to a set formula and chokes the potential for originality in the genre. Berlatsky is particularly critical of people who enforce the genre boundaries. He uses the example of an editor who sticks by the Essential Elements list to make authors change their stories to “better fit” the romance genre, thus influencing directly the limitations of how the genre is presented. Great literature is built on change, so he asks – do we actually need definitions?

Genres (and categories) are redefined all the time – they are “fuzzy and socially determined and always negotiated” (Berlatsky). Regis admitted in 2009 that her original definition including specific gender terms was excluding gay and bisexual romances, so the gendered terms turned into the neutral “protagonists”. There is also a problem in WHO defines the genre – genre is used most usefully by the publishing industry/process itself (including self-publishers). But readers are also important in the process (after all, that’s the whole point of publishing – to get the product to the consumers). The whole system of defining genres depends on each type of person invested in the genre. Look at the creation of the New Adult category.

Definitions are sort of useful in some ways. YA (a category, not a genre) is defined (by some) as “fictive texts which have an implied teenage audience; that is, books which either feature protagonists of a secondary school age (twelve to eighteen years), or, it is reasonable to suppose, would be read by those in this age group”. This is a rather loose descriptor, but fits quite well as it doesn’t impose rules. YA can be any genre. While YA is considered largely to be written in first person present tense, there is no rule saying it can’t be otherwise. There are trends and tropes, but they vary as well. Could a loose descriptor rather than a strict definition be the way to go?

IMHO, Genres (and categories) shouldn’t be used to limit new creations – society itself depends on creativity and change to grow (and society is always in a state of flux). As much as I’m not a fan of Deleuze, he referred to art as being its own form of philosophy, capable of true freedom from the strict rules of reality and able to bend the laws of time and space. I rather like that!

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Various Examples & Random Thoughts

  • Does romance require a Happily Ever After (HEA)? Where is the line between a Romance or a book containing romantic elements? (I’m having this very problem in creating criteria for my thesis)
  • Does the reliance of some fantasy writers on Joseph Campbell’s Heroes Journey restrict creativity? (E.g. This is not only used in writing books, it’s also used in analysing movies (thanks Ross for reminding me!). I have also read somewhere that George Lucas relied on it heavily for Star Wars.)
  • Some criticise YA for being too bleak and state that children’s/YA literature should always have a happy, or at least an ambiguous, ending, to inspire hope in the young readers – should this be an excuse?
  • Sometimes with popular books, they can cross genres/categories. If particularly popular, this will require a change in marketing and cover design (e.g. Harry Potter as the most obvious, Allison Croggon’s Pellinor). Some books might not be found if categorised in the wrong genre (meta-data=super important!).

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*Note: Funnily enough on the same day, I saw a link to an article about someone who went through and analysed the genres/categories on Netflix.

** Urge to go on about narrow definitions of monsters that lead to exclusion, but I’ll leave that for another blog. Until then, there is this blog about why sparkly vampires don’t suck as much as you think

Ideology and the Reader

This is a post of contention. The idea of ideology and meaning in fiction has long been argued about. I think the problem stems back to English classes where we are taught about authors intentions, deliberate meaning and relationship between the author’s feelings and own lives to their fiction. Now, this is ONE type of way to analyse fiction, but personally not one I go for.

This post is about exploring another way to analyse fiction. Nothing is right or wrong in academia (unless it’s written by a dead French guy, then it’s always right  /snark), so everything (that can be backed up with scholarly, peer-reviewed works) is legit.

** With thanks to Tim Coronel and Jodi McAlister for their input ❤ **

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Ideology in the Story

All text is considered ideological.

A narrative without an ideology is unthinkable: ideology is formulated in and by language, meanings within language are socially determined, and narratives are constructed out of language (Stephens 8).

By how you write characters, story and events, you create particular attributes, values, morals, ethics etc. which are inscribed as good or bad. Where this gets messy is the concept of the author’s intention. Some believe that authors do this all deliberately, to imprint upon her/his audience certain messages. I’m of the belief that the author’s intention cannot be read within a text (check out Death of the Author) – the text speaks for itself.

All statements are mediated (at first created by the author, but then by the narrator – for more on narration, check here). The creation of any text does carry particular meanings within it regardless of intent. Ideology is not merely carried through deliberate action but by subconscious assumptions too. What is communicated is the story and it is communicated by discourse (the discourse states the story) (Chatman 31).

Story and Discourse Pg 26

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The Communication of the Ideology

The type of study I am doing looks at how the narrative structure and techniques can influence or lead a reader to a particular message or ideology. This is not to say all readers are blank slates and blindly accept whatever they are given (resistance is entirely possible – see Althusser or Gramsci). The story creates an implied reader position or audience. The audience for young adult fiction is, generally, young adults. But we know not everyone who actually reads YA is a young adult. With what the text assumes about what its reader knows, and how it presents information (particularly through narration), it positions the implied reader regardless of the real reader.

A narrative texts’ construction of communication is read thusly:

Real Author -> [Implied Author -> (Narrator) -> (Narratee) -> Implied Reader] -> Real Reader

The implied author is the reconstruction of the author by the reader from the narrative. The implied author has no direction in the work, it is how a reader might imagine an author to be based on the narrative. Perhaps this is where all those “the room was blue, this shows the author was sad” sort of statements come from?

Outside the brackets are the real world, you can take, give, resist or write as you, the individual. Inside the square brackets are what is drawn from or created by the narrative, which is established within the round brackets.

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Hollindale’s Three Levels of Ideology

  1. Explicit social, political or moral beliefs of the individual writer and his/her wish to recommend them to readers through the story. Intended surface ideology. Usually more radical/non-conservative.
  2. The individual writer’s unexamined assumptions. Even passive beliefs can be revealed through story. These are generally widely shared values.
  3. A large part of any book is written not by its author, but by the world the author lives in. This transcends the idea of individual authorship.

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Examples:

Applebaum’s research into YA science fiction is based on the proposal that as adults are the writers of children’s books, they influence the novel (whether deliberately or not) with their own fears and anxieties.

…the function of SF as a vehicle for exploring contemporary dilemmas within the context of scientific and technological discovers, a perception which is central to this book (Applebaum 3)

James’ study looks at representations of death in children’s fiction, as well as gender and sexuality.

…a culture’s representations of death may be read collectively as a text to give insights into its social systems, death ethos, conceptions of selfhood, temporal orientation, and religious and secular values (James 2)

Trites’ research is into power relations that are represented within adolescent literature. Teenagers must learn the negotiation of social institutions (power) to be able to grow successfully, according to societal rules and expectations.

Adolescent novels…invariably reflect some cultural biases, most of which are likely to be veiled in ideological discourses that affirm widely held societal views (Trites 27)

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Recommended Reading

  • Chatman, Seymore. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film.
  • Barthes, Roland. Death of the Author. 1967 essay.
  • Applebaum, Noga Representations of Technology in Science Fiction for Young People
  • James, Kathryn Death, Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Adolescent Literature
  • Trites, Roberta Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature
  • McCallum, Robyn Ideologies of Identity in Adolescent Fiction: The Dialogic Construction of Subjectivity
  • Stephens, John Language and Ideology in Children’s Fiction
  • Genette, Gerard Narrative Discourse
  • Hollindale, Peter, Ideology and the Children’s Book (This article is especially useful!)
  • Gramsci, Antonio Selections of Prison Notebooks
  • Davis, Helen, Understanding Stuart Hall
  • Althusser, Louis Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses

Friends on Radio

This is an interview with my dear friend @SandrAntonelli who is researching women over 40 in romances, and pulling us up on our ageism. Older women have very specific stereotypes, the crone, the cougar, and rarely seen in a romantic light. She’s fought these general stereotypes herself with her two books, For Your Eyes Only and Basic Renovations. Check out her website here.

Another romancey PhD friend, looking at it from the librarians POV is @VaVeros. This show doesn’t have a podcast, but if you click the link above you’ll see all the links and info that Vassiliki talked about. There was discussion about whether libraries are keeping up with the digital age (mostly; yes), about the services they offer (they aren’t just there to loan you books, but offer a range of community events such as reading groups,  mums and bubs groups, even hosting apocalypses).

All the delicious brains, PhD buddy Jodi McAlister (@JodiMcA) frequently does podcasts on tv shows, The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars. She’s studying romance literature, but also has a passion for theatre. I haven’t listened to the podcasts yet, because I’m very far behind on both shows, but she is bound to radiate her awesome through the airwaves.

Jon Page, bookseller extraordinaire, is also a book reviewer for 702 Sydney every Tuesday at about 10:30am. He talks on all sorts of interesting topics, and pretty much what he doesn’t know about the Australian book industry isn’t worth knowing. He tweets along at @pnpbookseller, and you can check his website here (GO BUY INDIE BOOKS!). The show doesn’t get a podcast, so be listening to the show or follow Jon’s twitter to keep up with it.

The Story of Diablo

 

As well as the history of the game (haven’t played D1+2 in so long, and can’t find the discs for it ><), I’m curious about the changes in Diablo’s appearance. Killing him for the third time in D3, I realised how incredibly feminine Diablo looks now. The first two are screenshots from the interwebs, the last is art rather than a game image, but it’s the clearest I could find to show how different the body is.

2196639-diablo_2_fire_wall Boss-battles-diablo1 diablo-iii-20120325013915274-000

Kickstarter Coolness: Just Press Start

The aim for this Kickstarter is to create a curriculum for the JFK Middle School that combines video games and learning. The learning aspect will include essays, reviews, and creative writing.

I don’t have the words to say how incredible this looks! I want it for myself <.<  But I’m all grown up (and looking into games at university level). I grew up on Word Rescue, Maths Rescue, Treasure Mountain – all educational DOS games. Actually, I just downloaded them recently onto my tablet (DOSBOX FTW) and started playing them again, just for fun.

There are always reports floating about of schools removing creative practice or classic texts for “functional” works. I hate the idea of the school as a factory, or the point of school to create mindless worker drones. This kickstarter, I hope, is just the beginning of a fascinating exploration of learning. Learning is about the funnest thing I can think of (I can also make up words, if I want to …) and one of the best things is to give others the opportunity to learn!

Go donate now!

 

(The below video is an example of learning through video games, not the actual kickstarter)

Video games as art form

One of my fondest and earliest memories of gaming is Alley Cat (The title screen on this video is shown till about 30 seconds in). Other games I remember early on are Prince of Persia and California Games. This was my childhood, later added to by an Atari 2600 (I’m pretty sure that was the version) and games like Space Quest (which I was never good at) and King’s Quest, and Maths Rescue and Word Rescue, Jill of the Jungle and Jones in the Fast Lane. I love how video games are getting their own exhibitions at museums, and even their own museum (ViGaMus) in Italy!

So one of the things that irritates me is the cry that video games aren’t art. I don’t get that? It’s many art-forms in one, visual design, sound and music, writing and storytelling, even choreography (which of course get progressively better over time. In WoW, you can tell what someone is casting or doing by looking at how their character moves, not just their casting bar.)

As an example: Gaming music is damn brilliant – I still have music from games like Heroes of Might and Magic 2 and Baldur’s Gate, and you cannot deny the quality and beauty of the Lament of the Highbourne from World of Warcraft. Yes, I love Sylvanas. (Hail to the Banshee Queen and victory to the Forsaken!)

It also influences the creation of art: visual art, video and sound editing with Machinima. Story telling (as much as people may say the Sims doesn’t have a story line, that’s the point. You create the story!). Fan music is another, and even fashion design with cosplay. My favourite fan artists who use WoW are Oxhorn and WoWCrendor on Youtube. They are awesomesauce.

I’m wondering if it’s the crass commercialism? I say crass, because there is a lot of talk around art as a purely capitalist gain, and the view of that as ‘not real art’ or ‘selling out’. Art should be made for love and passion, because you are driven to it, not because of money. Does this lessen the quality in some way? Is something wrong with video games because they are made to make money, or make the artists who work on them any different than the starving hermit artist?

I’m not saying that’s the one explanation, or even that it’s true, because I don’t know many non-gamers, or non-artists. I don’t know how they formed the idea that video games are not art or what influences them (another thought: the elitist ideals of high culture, Warhol, Shakespeare etc – although, as a lecturer reminded us the other day, Shakespeare was pop/mass culture of that time! – versus that dirty and lowly “popular” culture? For some reason, this still exists.)


(Disclaimer: Not all gamers are like this XD)