Thursday, March 4, 2010

Level of Writerly vs Degree of Navigability

It may seem like I’m beating a dead horse, but Manovitch’s description of the game Doom really reminded me of Barthes’ idea of the “writerly” text. Doom involves traversing many narrow hallways in straight-line motion to progress through the various levels. Manovitch writes that Doom, “encouraged the players to expand the game, creating new levels…hacking and adding to the game became an essential part of the game.” Instead of the player as simply a “consumer,” both in the sense of buying the game and “consuming” it as a static entity, he is also a producer. He takes the basic structure and tools of the game and creates new additions and changes to it as he sees fit. For Barthes, the author’s text supplies a framework of sorts for the reader to work off; the reader is supposed to take it apart and change it around in order to find new meanings and form a new, original text. With a game like this existing, and new ones coming out all the time, does it mean that Barthes’ writerly text is leaving the world of the “ideal” and coming closer to becoming a real possibility?

Myst on the other hand, despite being very non-linear and exploratory (it doesn’t really have levels to beat like most conventional video games), seems to be more of a “readerly” text. Manovitch compares it to a piece of traditional artwork, as “something to behold and admire rather than take apart and modify,” and he calls it a closed system. That is because there isn’t really any (what gamers call) “customizable content,” and while the world of the game is vast and expansive, it is still all pre-programmed. The player does have more choice in how they go about playing the game than games of the past allowed, but the fact remains that Myst lacks the interactive, creative aspects that made Doom such a landmark work.

It’s interesting that the game with more linear and straightforward gameplay (Doom) is actually more writerly than the game based around free-form navigation (Myst). Apparently the degree of open navigability does not directly correspond with how writerly an NMO is.

Friday 11 AM Section

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