It just doesn't belong

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"Attempts to apply the perspectives of literary theory of the adventure game genre have been sparse and unconcerted. Over the last decade...several individual attempts have been made to put the genre on the agenda of literary studies, but perhaps understandably, no breakthrough has yet been made." page 108-09 of Espen J. Aarseth's Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature

 

I really hope Aarseth isn't too surprised at the absence of breakthroughs for adventure games into the agenda of literary studies. Adventure itself never made for great literature even in the traditional sense. It's had slightly more success in American literature thanks to authors like Mark Twain, but he's in a very small company. Do you typically associate adventurous literature with Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Poe, Williams, Austen, Hawthorne, Whitman and Steinbeck?

The lack of legitimacy among the literary elite is an enormous problem to overcome, but, as in the case of Twain's literature, can be done. Adventure games' biggest and most irreparable one is that they are games. They won't be accepted as a genre of literary studies because they are not literature. It really doesn't matter how great a storyline is produced. Nowhere in Merriam-Webster's definition of literature does it mention anything about digital stories created for interaction with the audience as being literature.

Without a change in the definition, which I can't see ever happening, adventure games will only exist as a medium of entertainment outside the scope of literature. If those who create adventure games have a problem with that, tell them to go write a book. Maybe then they will understand the separation of the two and let it remain as is. 

1 Comments

But Aarseth isn't really talking about adventure literature -- he's talking about text games that were inspired by a computer game that happened to be called "Colossal Cave Adventure." The connection to adventure literature is really not that direct.

Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, Melville's Moby Dick, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, anything by Jack London, and the popular sub-genres such as Toklein's fantasy, Tarzan, Westerns, and all sorts of frontier literature draws on the adventure tradition.

English has been the discipline that first took film studies seriously, and the graphic novel, and women's literature, and other subgenres such as horror, romance, sci-fi. Heck, a few hundred years ago novels weren't considered "serious" literature, and even Shakespeare was, from one perspective, a failed poet, rather than a successful dramatist. So Aarseth isn't being all that outlandish when he considers the possibility of the literary establishment taking interactive narrative seriously.

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