Genre Trouble: Narrativism and the Art of Simulation

Abstract (in English): 

Currently in game and digital culture studies, a controversy rages over the relevance of narratology for game aesthetics. One side argues that computer games are media for telling stories, while the opposing side claims that stories and games are different structures that are in effect doing opposite things. One crucial aspect of this debate is whether games can be said to be "texts," and thereby subject to a textual-hermeneutic approach. Here we find the political question of genre at play: the fight over the games' generic categorization is a fight for academic influence over what is perhaps the dominant contemporary form of cultural expression. After forty years of fairly quiet evolution, the cultural genre of computer games is finally recognized as a large-scale social and aesthetic phenomenon to be taken seriously. In the last few years, games have gone from media non grata to a recognized field of great scholarly potential, a place for academic expansion and recognition.

The great stake-claiming race is on, and academics from neighboring fields, such as literature and film studies, are eagerly grasping "the chance to begin again, in a golden land of opportunity and adventure" (to quote from the ad in Blade Runner). As with any land rush, the respect for local culture and history is minimal, while the belief in one's own tradition, tools, and competence is unfailing. Computer game studies is virgin soil, ready to be plotted and plowed by the machineries of cultural and textual studies. What better way to map the territory than by using the trusty, dominant paradigm of stories and storytelling? The story perspective has many benefits: it is safe, trendy, and flexible. In a (Western) world troubled by addiction, attention deficiency, and random violence, stories are morally and aesthetically acceptable. In stories, meaning can be controlled (despite what those deconstructionists may have claimed). Storytelling is a valuable skill, the main mode of successful communication. And theories of storytelling are (seemingly) universal: they can be applied to and explain any medium, phenomenon, or culture. So why should not games also be a type of story?

(Source: Author's introduction

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Scott Rettberg