The problem, of course, with demarcating game texts as this or that is that that sort of characterization can lead to a fixation on some sort of Platonic ideal of what a pencil and ink game of any genre should look like. It assumes some type of prelapsarian utopia in which games capture the essential form of what they should be.
While I hope for some sort of gestaltian wholeness that can magically transform online experiences, point-and-click games perhaps offer a more realistic microcosm of our actual online experiences – garish colors, bold headlines, shaded scenes that we can effectively ignore. A game like TD might well mimic the reality of online experience more than I would like – snippets of news stories become definitive bits of information, the illusion of solving a crime offset by the actuality of being led by the nose through a series of already-spelled-out clues, other people who we imagine to be a specific way but who in reality are of course completely different, and so on.
In this sense, then, KRZ is a perfect online experience for a very specific set of the digerati – we are encouraged to start exploring the game’s depths immediately, and it turns out that the depths are worth exploring, with interesting people doing fascinating things that are not in and of themselves earth-shattering but are powerful reminders of the types of questions that digital culture asks of us.
The Detail fits a little less perfectly. The promised depths never materialize, perhaps because the game lost its funding, but it doesn’t go much beyond stereotypes – and in the places where it does the story feels forced. I’m wondering if there is a place for traditional hard-bitten story-telling of this type in point-and-click games, and I’m hoping to be proven wrong soon.
More to come on this, of course.
Working with Deadly Synchronicity made me think of Eric Auerbach’s Mimesis, and the following passages came to mind, both from the first chapter of the book on The Odyssey. In particular, he comments on the ways that Homer handles the fact that it takes Odysseus three days to enact his revenge upon the suitors:
Thus the journey is like a silent progress through the indeterminate and the contingent, a holding of the breath, a process which has no present,
which is inserted, like a blank duration, between what has passed and what lies ahead, and which yet is measured: three days! (10)
And (comparing The Odyssey and the Old Testament story of Abraham): Continue Reading
In preparing for my article on Kentucky Route Zero I am reading contemporary southern gothic fiction, and Suttree is the latest on my list. Thoughts:
- I never completely understood why I was reading this – there is no driving plot tension, no looming epiphanic moment, no sense that Suttree will emerge triumphant. And yet at points I could not put this book down. Suttree actively rejects his previous privileged life, and for the most part destroyed his relationship with all those in his previous life including his children (!), but his ability to form bonds with people not of his same socioeconomic milieu made me keep reading.
- McCarthy pulls no punches – the area he lives in (on a houseboat on the Tennessee River) is degraded environmentally as well as in a million other ways, Suttree is at best a bit of an asshole, racial lines are purely maintained, life is violent and disturbing and with not much to redeem us.
- We get no nostalgia, either – this is 1951, after which we as Americans should be celebrating the end of the war and moving into our golden age, but Suttree rejects all that as well.
- But (of course) what struck me was that this novel was actually funny. I go into reading McCarthy thinking that I will be dragged through the worst of humanity, and while that sort of comes true in this novel it also made me chuckle gently to myself multiple times, with humor that was not directed at the inanities of the characters in the novel.
- The narrative voice is dramatically different from the dialogue, which was my first clue that this wasn’t Tortilla Flat and that it was instead someone who is doing more than simply slumming – he has all-out rejected his family.
- At times Suttree drives me crazy because of his reliance on the kindness of strangers: he recovers from beatings and from typhoid fever without paying a dime, and he has two relationships with women that are troubling at best. Again, McCarthy makes sure that we know that Suttree is no hero.
- The language is so beautiful and imaginative, though, that I found myself repeating phrases and admiring McCarthy’s eloquence, and I also found the contrast between the narrative and the dialogue attention-grabbing.
- We get a clue as to what McCarthy’s doing after we are three-fourths of the way through (Suttree is having a conversation with himself):
Of what would you repent?
I spoke with bitterness about my life and I said that I would take my own part against the slander of oblivion and against the monstrous facelessness of it and that I would stand a stone in that very void where all would read my name.
Of that vanity I recant all. (365)
The vanity of insisting that we are here for something more than just muddling through is the vanity that I think all of McCarthy’s fiction wants to recant from. Can’t say that I’m there yet, but I also feel that if this is the vanity at the heart of all southern gothic fiction (which might be his point) then KRZ is definitely not there.
- Another passage for your consideration (this is the last paragraph of the novel, one that provides a clue as to the fecundity of the narrative voice:
Somewhere in the gray wood by the river is the huntsman and in the brooming corn in the castellated pres of cities. His work lies all wheres and his hounds tire not. I have seen them in a dream, slaverous and wild and their eyes crazed with ravening for souls in this world. Fly them. (422)
Fly them indeed.
- The only part of this novel that a bit self-serving was Suttree’s embrace at the end (after surviving typhoid fever) of all marginalized groups in Knoxville society, even gay men. He has gone out of his way to seek out criminals, drunks,
and other folks he hasn’t associated with. He then seeks out friends in the black community (and I think the novel applauds itself for moving from a broad use of the n word to not using it at all by the end, a mark of Suttree’s own transition I’m guessing). This feels a bit too much like a working class hero schtick, even if Suttree still remains a bit of a scumbag.
- Suttree does all kinds of wild things in his rejection of his family – he goes on a vision quest in the Smokies (which almost kills him); he falls in love with a bipolar hustler woman (who almost kills him); he goes on long drunks and steals cop cars. Each one points to that recanting, I think.
In The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin takes up the dismantling of fantasy that Martin (and before him Delaney) and Esslemont and Erikson joyfully participate in, and the result was thought-provoking (and a great read). Thoughts:
- Jemisin incorporates different religious perspectives in this novel. Tolkien messed around with supernatural figures – Gandalf is a Maia or something like that if I remember correctly from the Silmarillion, and Sauron is a pretty direct corollary to Lucifer – but he followed Christian theology pretty closely. Martin has his characters invoke the gods all the time, but we never see their direct action. The MBOTF authors are brave enough to risk the idea of ascension for mortals, and they also pit gods against each other for reasons that appear almost petty.
- Jemisin comes at this from another perspective – what if mortals were able to chain gods and make them fulfill their wishes? Limits on godly powers certainly make for an interesting theology.
- Jemisin blends lots of religious traditions – I see traces of Greeks and Haitian (the god who rides in Yeine’s body like a loa) for a start – in a way that neatly allows this novel (and series) to think of world-building differently than we usually posit it in fantasy.
- Yeine is an interesting character, one who lives in her own head a lot. As a result, we get to live in her head too, and my guess is that Jemisin uses this limited perspective to question the foundations of world building in fantasy.
- More on this as I continue the series, of course…
Reading this article from Game Studies forced me to think about rules, and the game that I have played recently that seemed most obsessed with rules from a narrative standpoint is The Detail. I won’t go into all the caveats I already discussed about the game sort of sucks (just recall that it wasn’t finished because the developers lost funding), but I hope that one piece of the narrative that definitely would have changed was the ending, which was rushed beyond belief.
Perhaps the biggest impact that The Wire as a series had on me was its willingness to show how everyone is compromised – the police and city government and those who are supposed to be righteous as well as those who are taking advantage of the demand around them in order to improve their own socio-economic standing. The feeling of injustice that happens at the end of the first season when one Barksdale is given a reduced sentence and the police and city council get their pictures in the paper with news of a huge drug bust that we as viewers know was compromised and much less than it could have been felt devastating, as did the union boss’s death at the end of the second season. There is no true justice is an important part of the message of the best of these types of detective fictions.
The Crime Board – know your rules
Rules happen within games, too, and part of the dismay I felt about watching The Detail run off the rails happened when the detectives stumble upon a torture scene. That attempt to make the criminals look less than human was too obvious, too clearly set within a rule set that says that bad guys must do really bad things. This sort of easy moralizing was something that The Wire intentionally avoided.
In reading for the essay I’m writing on Kentucky Route Zero I have been trying to pick up everything I can from literary the genres that the developers Cardboard Computer pull from. That includes Child of God, by Cormac McCarthy, although I cannot imagine two more dissimilar narratives. Thoughts:
- The most straightforward approach to thinking of this novel is to consider it a meditation on living life without love of any sort. That approach works to explain Lester Ballard.
- It skips, however, the reasons why Lester is like this. We get a bit of his backstory, but why he is driven out of town is a story that we don’t get.
- That gap, I think, allows us as readers to fill in our own backstory, and thereby read Lester as we want to read him. Depraved, evil, barely human, either made that way from the womb or gradually transformed into such because of those who raised him – either way, he’s a cipher, someone we can paint our own worldly perspective on.
- The landscape also serves as a sort of cipher. It’s set in Tennessee, and while I think of east Tennessee in particular as beautiful, Smoky Mountain-dominated set of valleys and rivers and ledges and hardwood trees, a reader can clearly view it instead as a harsh landscape that takes a toll on its inhabitants. Again, the approach is yours.
- Thinking of Lester as being on a journey seems ridiculously hippieish (and it is). The journey is one of depravity and anti-socialness to an extreme, showing the gradual breakdown of someone who simply cannot play well with others.
- So, then, why does McCarthy write this shit? George Saunders in an interview said that he writes in order to show that the world is a cruel place and that he finds worth in understanding how people understand and deal with that cruelty, but I never get the sense that McCarthy gives a shit about that.
- Is it redemption? Uh, no. No one in this novel, or hell, nearly any novel of his besides maybe The Road gets any sort of redemption. Lester dies as miserably as he lived, and we as readers don’t even get the benefit of learning some sort of moral lesson – treat people right or they become monsters, or something like that.
- Is it a sociological/ethnographic study? If so, I’m not sure what we can learn, except that some people can only relate to dead people, after they have fucked them. I’m hoping that’s a small demographic.
- And yet the novel made me laugh a couple of times, and I had trouble putting it down. I’m not sure what that says about me…
And of course James Franco made it into a movie…