Souvik Monday, November 24, 2008This year's LINK conference for PhD students from Leicester, Loughborough and NTU was held at NTU, last Wednesday. As already mentioned on Ludus Ex, I presented a paper on identity in videogames. The paper addressed identity as what games criticism commonly views it as a simple and direct process of 'being a character', based on a rather simplified reading of the FPS, which is for some reason taken as the representative of all videogames. Through a close reading of the STALKER games, my paper tried to illustrate how even in the FPS, identity was a complex entity and how even the first-person or the 'I' that is assumed by the player is constantly undercut by many not-I's or not-not-I's that the game highlights, in the various aspects of the gameplay. In this paper, I am still playing with some ideas that I had after a long chat with Mark Butler on a Berlin train. The audience was entirely literary and I thought the most obvious example of this from earlier media that occurred to me would be quickly picked up by them. So it was: I spoke of the doppelganger in Wilfred Owen's poem 'Strange Meeting' and compared it to the 'egoshooting' in the FPS. Owen's protagonist speaks through the 'enemy you killed, my friend'. The main purpose of the paper, however, was to illustrate to a non-gaming literary audience how videogames do further complicate the nature of textuality and how they need to be read as doing such, rather than being seen as a medium that differs in essence from earlier media in providing an entirely 'new' form of participation. The paper and the slideshow are going to be uploaded to my website soon. It is always a challenging experience to present a videogaming paper to a non-gaming audience and this time was no easier. I was extremely happy with the range of the questions though. Besides the obvious Manhunt and violence issues, there were observations about how people felt like Lara Croft in real life, on whether videogames illustrate the Barthesian 'death of the author' or on whether the subversive music in GTA IV complicate perceptions of identity.
Besides a panel discussion on teaching after/ during a PhD, there were three other very interesting papers. One of these was a study of the cleft-palate (commonly called 'hare-lip') and the development of perceptions about it in Early Modern literature and another was a study of memory in the poems of the Victorian poetess, Augusta Webster. My personal favourite was 'The Re-read Tent', a gender studies analysis of Anita Diamant's novel The Red Tent, which the speaker analysed as an alternative reading of the Bible where the patriarchal bias was highlighted and overturned. The women's tent and the concept of the daughter regarding all the women there as her 'many mothers' seemed to remind me of the Deleuze and Guattari's nomadic rhizomatic structure. Oops ... didn't I promise not to bring them in, this time...
'Literature is a combinatorial game that pursues the possibilities implicit in its own material [...] but it is a game that at a certain point is invested with an unexpected meaning' - Italo Calvino