Column by Rachel Wood, contributing writer
Guys, I’ve got some big news for you: the cultural significance of video games has come a long way since the ‘80s.
Recently, I had the opportunity to present my research on female video game writers at a popular culture conference in Chicago, something I never would’ve dreamed of before coming to college. I was overjoyed to present on a topic that I find extremely important, but it got me thinking: in any other setting, would anyone even care?
I’ve slowly learned that researching new media has its ups and downs – while I can easily argue my unique perspective on a game, I also have to argue that a literary analysis of video games has academic merit in the first place.
Fortunately, it appears I’m not the only one interested in the topic. After attending academic conferences two weekends in a row – a feat in itself – I’ve seen scholars analyzing games in aspects from the importance of artificial intelligence in non-player characters to the pros and cons of linear storytelling.
After hearing papers on video games in relation to subjects from computer science to English literature, it’s hard for me to imagine that there are people who still don’t see the cultural significance of games.
Well, actually, I can imagine it. Every major art form has gone through the “scholarly importance” battle before – Plato even fought against the mere idea of writing things down. It seems to be just a part of the process, since scholars studying film, television and comics have each gone through it; they might still be fighting that battle now.
I’ll be honest – this is one fight I don’t mind fighting. I like being right just as much as anyone else so if I can find a way to compare the plight of the 19th century female novelist to the 21st century female game writer, I’ll show you why my argument is important. If we don’t look at how art develops over time, how can we ever ensure that art will always be an aspect of our daily lives?
“But why can’t I just play games for fun and move on with my life?” you may be asking. Trust me, you can. That’s the beauty of art. You can take it at face value, but you can also take a deeper look at it – to each their own. The issue doesn’t come with the way we enjoy a work; it comes more with public perception. You can absolutely despise searching for symbolism in Jane Eyre, but you can’t fight the fact that it’s in our literary canon.
Think back to the last English class you were in, whether that was last week or several years ago; what kind of things did your teacher talk about? I’m sure you remember some of the buzzwords: archetype, protagonist, narrator, plot, dramatic irony.
Surprise: those terms apply to video games, too. Even though you, as a player, have more influence on the plot, the game still has a plot to study. They’re just like novels but with more of a “choose your own adventure” flair.
I’m not saying that all games were built for literary analysis, but let’s not kid ourselves – not all novels were made for it, either. Someone let Kendall and Kylie Jenner write a novel, after all.
Nevertheless, there are game writers that write breathtaking stories, so why should we disregard their literary value simply because it’s in a new medium?
Maybe Mario could’ve streamlined his journey a bit if he stopped and asked why his princess was in another castle – but that’s a question for another academic paper.