Game vs. Text

Karin Wenz, Assistant Professor of English, University of Kassel

Computer games are not texts the same way a printed literary work is a text. Are they texts at all? They produce textual or interwoven structures for aesthetic effects. In so far they are comparable to literary texts. But a computer game is a program for the production of a variety of narrative texts. Confronted with a network such as a computer game, the idea of a narrative text as a labyrinth, a game, or an imaginary world seems to be appropriate. Within this world the player can explore or play around and detect the rules. As Aarseth (1997) puts it:

"A reader, however strongly engaged in the unfolding of a narrative, is powerless. Like a spectator at a soccer game, he may speculate, conjecture,extrapolate, even shout abuse, but he is not a player. Like a passenger on a train, he can study and interpret the shifting landscape, he may rest his eyes wherever he pleases, even release the emergency brake and step off, but he is not free to move the tracks in a different direction. He cannot have the player's pleasure of influence: "Let's see what happens when I do this." The reader's pleasure is the pleasure of the voyeur. Safe, but impotent."

The player of a computer game, on the other hand, is not safe, and possibly he or she is not a reader at all. Trying to experience a computer game is more like a personal improvisation with the risk of failure. The tensions at work in a computer game are not incompatible with those of narrative texts, but they constitute an extension: a struggle not merely for interpretive insight but also for narrative control. The reader in a computer game comes to be a player. There is a difference between games and narratives and we cannot ignore their essential qualities, but there is also significant overlap between both of them. While Myst offers experiences in constructed worlds, it implicitly draws our attention to the possibilities of electronic linking; however, their users learn little about their own existence, the thoughts of others, or commentaries about the one or the other - notions many of us associate with narrativity. While an understanding of and reflection on our world is missing, the cybertextual nature of computer games allows its users a better understanding of the potential of multimedia and the future of multimedia literature.