Sunday, 31 January 2010

Games and Comics

So, games and comics, my two biggest passions in life. I guess that may seem funny coming from somebody with a degree in Literature, but honestly I don't feel that games or comics should rank below the novel or plays as a literary medium. They just haven't been around as long. In Shakespeare's day, many groups got very riled up about plays being a bad influence, encouraging violence, sexual perversion and bad language... and a couple of hundred years later that these new-fangled 'novels' caused young people to get a lack of sunlight and exercise and to become socially maladjusted...hang on, that sounds a bit familiar... ¬_¬; Comics and games are coming into their own now. There have been a few stand-out 'literary' titles in comics, or rather, Graphic Novels, things like 'Maus', 'Akira' and 'Watchmen'. Games are a little younger, but have had a similar upbringing. Comics started out as little gag strips, just a little humorous picture or strip long before they got narratives, and games similarly started out as just a fun little time-passer, a whimsy made by somebody who realised you could program the computer to simulate ping-pong or whatever. Planescape Torment was as thought provoking, eloquent and well-concieved as I'd expect from a good novel or play. I would definitely consider it Literature. Now that's impressive. From ping-pong to literature in what, 30 years?

This is what excites me about games. No matter how you try to make a post-modern Novel, it's practically impossible. Have you ever READ a postmodern novel? They're barely readable, and you could argue that they're not really even post-modern because there is still a narrative structure. You can't read the pages all in a different order, you can't upset the linearity because language is inherently linear. Novels are limited. If you take away their linearity, they stop having any meaning. Films are another Modernist medium. Not that there's anything wrong with modernism, but you can't do that much new with it. It has to have a beginning, middle and end.
Now comics, comics are not limited by language. They use visual metaphors, they make words into images and images into words, they make rules about visual language and then break them all. They use symbolism and they twist symbolism. Comics are simultaneously a very new medium and a truly ancient one. Cave Paintings were pictures depicting a narrative. Elegant, rich, exciting and fun. Not chained to language, yet able to use it to enhance the narrative.
Games are, again, something very new with ancient roots. Chess is a depiction of armies marching into battle, mix that with oral storytelling and you get the roots of Dungeons and Dragons, mix that with the novel and some technological wizardry and you've got yourself Planescape: Torment. Games can use the linear structure of a novel or a film, but can also break it. They can allow for choice and improvisation to a degree.
Games and Comics are an area in which I feel we can still make great new discoveries, and do things that are absolutely novel, something which, ironically, is a lot harder in the medium of the Novel! These are truly Post-Modern media, and for me, the wild frontier of Literature.

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