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Literary Theory and Computer Games

Kuklich, Julian

in CosignConference, 2001


In this paper I discuss the possibilities and limitations of analyzing computer games from a literary perspective. Starting from a critique of the ‘theoretical imperialism’ of most ventures so far to use philological terminology in the study of computer games I attempt to assess the merits of this perspective and its contributions to a general theory of interactive fiction. While I am mostly concerned with narratological aspects of computer games, I also try to define areas of inquiry for which the terminology of literary theory is not appropriate.

Literary Theory, Computer Games, Narratology, Aesthetics

1. Introduction

In evolving toward an integrated science of cultural phenomena and the media, literary studies have turned toward new fields of analysis. These fields now include not only literature in all of its different forms and varieties, but also films, hypertexts, and art forms that explore the possibilities of computer and video technology. However, the analysis of these phenomena remains dominated by the paradigm of the printed text – and although the term ‘text’ has come to signify an increasing number of things, artifacts such as computer games are still being neglected by literary studies. In assuming that lingual and scriptural signs play only a marginal role in these phenomena, this perspective disregards that the processing of signs always recurs to language in some way – even understanding a picture, or a sculpture, requires some sort of literacy to decipher the object’s references to cultural codes. And, as Nicholas Montfort puts it, „even in a purely graphical interactive fiction the interactor must do some internal reading as he or she pieces together the narrative from the images displayed. This is akin to the non-verbal ‘reading’ done by someone looking at a picture book or a narrative series of photographs.”[1]




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