My Bangor talk

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After that long twenty-eight year wait, India has won the Cricket World Cup once again and I cannot but help joining in the jubilation and euphoria in my country. Congratulations to the Indian Cricket team.

This is the first world cup that I haven't watched on television. British television is not interested in cricket, especially since the England team has been so dismal in its recent performances. 'It's not cricket', they'd have said back in the days but well... that's another story. As the team was battling the formidable Pakistan team in the semi-finals, I was not watching the match but giving a talk in lovely Bangor, far from the tense atmosphere at Mohali. I love going to Bangor University both for the place and the people. I would like to thank Dr Astrid Ensslin and Isamar Carillo Masso for inviting me to speak.

The Humanities building in the University looks something like Gryffindor Tower - ancient and dignified. It even has vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows. In such an august venue (although my talk, strictly speaking, was held in a more modern section of the building), I held forth on my pet subject - reading games and playing books. Yes, I'm still making a case for reading game narratives as seriously as literature and films. As I said in earlier posts, I use Deleuze and Guattari's concept of 'minor' literature to analyse game narratives and their place in literature. Here's the relevant section from my abstract:

Videogames are not the only such type of narrative; Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari identify similar characteristics in the works of authors ranging from Franz Kafka to Lewis Carroll. They call this type of literature 'minor literature' by which they mean any literature that subverts and dislocates tradition.  For Deleuze and Guattari, 'minor literature' is great literature and it does not necessarily belong to minorities, although this may be the case. Like other examples of 'minor literature', videogames contain multitelic and multiple narratives. Further, although they are seen to be at the periphery of narrative studies, they are nevertheless seen to occupy a central position as research in videogames progresses.

I also used examples such as Cortazar's Hopscotch and B.S.Johnson's The Unfortunates to talk about the ludicity of literature itself. Finally, I defined videogames as an 'assemblage' (following Deleuze and adapting DeLanda's definition of assemblages). Assemblages are characterised by rules of exteriority. A component of an assemblage may be detached from it and plugged into a different assemblage in which its interactions are different. The exteriority of relations implies a certain autonomy - 'a relation may change without the terms changing'. I've spoken about this before and this time I was a bit bolder in that I came up with a 'definition' of videogames.

Sonia Fizek, who is doing a PhD on videogames, picked up on this and very rightly asked why I called this a definition especially when many other things could be called assemblages. True enough -  Deleuze himself describes other things as assemblages. So the 'definition' is in effect a non-definition. Its aim is to indicate the complexity of videogames as a phenomenon and the problem of identifying something as 'the videogame'. I do not believe in 'the videogame'; videogames are multiple and arguably they resist any easy compartmentalisation more than other media. Instead, the videogame-assemblage plugs into other assemblages and the boundaries give way to organic relationships. I may have more to say when I describe videogames as assemblages but I certainly have less to define. However, definitions provoke people and my guess is that a thought-provoking idea becomes more interesting when put forward as a (non)definition. Thank you Sonia for highlighting this.

The other main issue that rings in my head is that about the 'Canon'. Do videogames have a Canon? Should they have one? And if I were to choose my ten games for the A-Level videogames and literature syllabus (should such a thing ever come to pass), what would they be? Humanities in general now makes it its business to resist attempts towards  sustaining the canonical. I do not see any reason why videogames should do otherwise. My personal theoretical orientation prevents me from singling out any specific examples for special attention. Instead of selecting individual games (although like everyone else I have my favourites), I'd go for concepts and ideas and leave the selection of related texts fluid. 

There were other questions asked and my memory fails me as to the finer details. Someone asked about videogames and morality. Astrid Ensslin gave us a singularly problematic example of a game where the player as Berlin Wall guard has to decide whether to shoot one of those who tried to cross over. From this and other slightly unrelated meanderings, the session closed with a question about whether we can have a Paradise Lost in videogames. I'm wondering ... after all, I had Milton as my special paper in my Master's. I don't think we need to have a videogame version of Paradise Lost just as we don't know whether a film version will capture its charm. What we need, however, is a work of such epic proportions in videogame-narratives. Videogame storytelling is getting richer by the day and I'm optimistic.

Here's a message to the naysayers, videogames are maturing as very complex narrative media  - face it or run away.

1 comment :

  1. Thanks for leaving a comment. There is quite a bit of research material already in Game Studies on the role of the developer as author and also nowadays it is obvious that the whole development team is involved in creating the game. However, that was not what I was talking about in this presentation. This presentation looks solely at videogames AS literature.