Play as Excavation of Meanings

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A casual glance on the Edge Magazine's website brought this to my attention:

Ian Bogost presented to the audience of the GDC Microtalks session that players play games can be crafted with meanings that players can interpret through play.

Using Ezra Pound’s 1913 poem In a Station of the Metro as his keystone (“The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough.”) Bogost explained, “The poem doesn't tell a story of any kind. Instead, it presents two sets of clear yet unrelated images. The poem creates equivalence, but performs no synthesis. It is up to the reader to reconcile them.”

This technique - leaving it to the reader to “answer” the questions the poem raises themselves, is something that Will Wright had most embraced of current game designers, said Bogost, quoting Wright’s claims that while “there are a lot of limitations with what we can do with character simulation” abstraction can allow designers to “offload” the missing simulations into the player’s head. (read the full article)

That Ian Bogost has taken the message to such a prominent level is impressive and heartening. It is important to consider the narrative aspect of games and to recognise that this affects the way in which we reach the very heart of narrative itself. This multiplicity of meaning creation and the fact that much of it stays with the reader is not a new element as the example from Pound's poem illustrates. The Edge article goes on to say how the narrative creation by the reader is not an abdication of authorial responsibility but that authorship itself is redefined here. There is very strong authorship but the authorship is that of creating situations with behaviours where meaning is constructed by free play with the things that the author leaves behind. Bogost uses the emphatic metaphor of excavating a ruin to describe this. Ruins (and this reminds me of Borges's 'The Circular Ruins') are loaded with unexplored meaning and can become rich spots of history when these meanings are interpreted. In themselves, ruins are spots of immense potentialities where the excavation can yield myriad different meanings (I am thinking of Shelley's Ozymandias). It is great that these ideas are finally percolating through the boundaries of academia into wider expanse of videogame culture.

Ian's talk embodies something that I have been trying to emulate, albeit not as successfully. Today was a case in point. I went to GameStation today and used my student card to get a discount. The shop assistant was probably not convinced about my being a student (and rightly so :-) ) so she asked me what I studied. 'Videogames' - pat came the reply. Then she asked me (as I'm often asked) whether I made them. After this of course things didn't so well. I said that I researching the stories in videogames and analysing videogames as texts. She looked lost and handing me the receipt, she said, 'Yes, I understand ... it's very difficult to explain what you are doing.' Well, I had my answer.

This has happened to me time and again but this time, I've vowed not to let it happen again. As a game researcher and a long-time gamer, some things are so evident to me that I forget that there are millions of people who do not know the basics about videogames or think that these games are instruments of evil or whose experience of videogames is restricted to Wii tennis. Surely, if we need these people to appreciate the merits of researching games, we need to simplify concepts and use lucid metaphors with whom they can identify. Pretty much like Ian does in his talk.

After all Souvik, it's unfair to assume that people are as bothered about temporality in game narratives as you are ... even if they work in GameStation.

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