Over on Terra Nova, academic Timothy Burke has posted a fascinating state-of-the-nation report on the fight between "narratologists" (who argue that the value of games is best understood by treating them as stories) and "ludologists" (who argue that the value is best understoof by analyzing games as a form of play). This is a new discipline a-borning, and its paradigm is being framed before our eyes:
In the context of games criticism, this tendency might lead to a narratologist placing enormous interpretative weight on the fact that most first-person shooters are structured by conflicts between the player’s avatar and small groups of three to six enemies, seeing this as a narrative choice that has authorial intent behind it, that can be related to various similar kinds of narratives in other media (e.g., the ur-narrative of Die Hard or Rambo or James Bond films, the narrative pacing of action films where the uber-masculine hero crushes small packs of slightly-less-manly bad guys). The problem is that the narratological kinship between Die Hard and first-person-shooters is a much more complicated matter in its actual historical evolution. If anything, when first-person-shooters first appeared with narratological structure that resembled the narrative of action films, to some extent that content was a superficial add-on rather than a deep structure of gameplay, a kind of narratological “skin”. The original Doom is a very good example of this pattern. The deep structure of the game (single player avatar versus distributed clusters of enemies) was, before anything else, a technical requirement dictated by the number of enemies it was then possible to have on the screen. This continues to be the case even though computers have much more processing power because the enemies have become much more graphically demanding.
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