Digital Games and Electronic Literature: Toward an Intersectional Analysis

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

The line between electronic literature and digital games has started to blur more than ever. For example, Christine Love’s 2012 Analogue: A Hate Story can be read as a literary “story” that builds on the visual novel form. However, critic Leif Johnson (of IGN) reviewed Analogue as a “game-like experience” and even a “game” that “neatly sidesteps the label of mere ‘interactive fiction’ like Love’s other games thanks to some smart design choices.” Phill Cameron (of Eurogamer) describes Analogue repeatedly as a “game” and also reflects on its deviation from the “interactive fiction” category. The slippage between the language of fiction and games, in such mainstream reviews, reveals a fascinating taxonomic undecidability. Though Analogue’s “textual” focus makes it a natural boundary object between electronic literature and digital games, this tension extends to games that incorporate minimal text or even no text at all. In this presentation, I focus on Thatgamecompany’s third and most critically-acclaimed game, Journey, which was also released in 2012. In Journey, the player guides a mysterious robed avatar through a desert and up a mountain. At different moments, the player can discover other players but cannot communicate with them via either speech or text. The journey on which the player embarks is suggestive of many things but ultimately unsolvable at either a ludic or narrative level. As Ian Bogost observes, “It could be a coming of age, or a metaphor for life, or an allegory of love or friendship or work or overcoming sickness or sloughing off madness. It could mean anything at all.” Rather than determining the “literariness” of Journey, I explore how it uses the affordances of both electronic literature and digital games to produce complex narrative networks. As such, my analysis focuses both on the shared gameplay experience of Journey itself and on the fan-created “Journey Stories” Tumblr space that collects emergent narratives of interactive play. This experience, I contend, helps us think through and across the boundary between electronic literature and videogames, and their once-discrete cultural orientations.

(Source: Author's abstract at ELO 2013 site: )

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Stig Andreassen