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Literary Spamming in Games: Cold Dust in Lord of the Rings Online and Endgame in Counter-Strike

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Abstract (in English): 

Video and computer games as performance spaces continue literary traditions of drama and theater, and particularly Brechtian “defamiliarization” and subsequent practices of street / guerrilla theater. Such performance work is one end of electronic literature: delivery to a vast audience, potentially the largest any work of e-lit could have; at the same time, epic failure in the complete disregard for the performance by the game players – the literary performance as nothing more than spam.

In fact, exactly this makes such work literary. This presentation discusses two game “interventions” staged over several years by the Center for Literary Computing at West Virginia University: 1) Coal Dust, a series of agitprop theater performances about resource exploitation staged in MMORPG Lord of the Rings Online; and 2) Beckett spams Counter-Strike, carefully staged performances of Endgame in the tactical shooter Counter Strike: Global Offensive.

Such interventions are critical displacements and performances enacted on the game space and community of CS:GO and LOTRO, but also on the literary works themselves – on the agitprop theater text and its claims, and on Beckett’s Endgame. As “existential spamming” (one name for the overall project), the interventions both insist on a political and contextual “reading” of the game space, but also consume the space through absurd and ineffectual performance – a problematic situation that perhaps defines the literariness involved.

This presentation at ELO 2015 situates these works in terms of literary and dramatic tradition, as described above, but also as a corrective supplement to the existing discussion of computer/video games in e-lit scholarship. “Literary games” are an established area of scholarship. Astrid Enslin’s excellent book sets a precedent for analyzing both artistic works making use of game-like aesthetics and affordances (think Jason Nelson’s games), on the one hand, and games that can claim literary merit, on the other (think Journey or Left Behind). The interventionist projects described here offer a very different engagement with games, and in doing so call attention to a need for greater understanding of performance and improvisation in e-lit.

(source: ELO 2015 Conference Catalog)

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Hannah Ackermans