In Chapter 1 of Gaming: “Gamic Action, Four Moments,” Alexander Galloway explores video games as a mass medium. He does this without delving specifically into the more creative comports of gaming or the social and specific significance of the playing of video games, but focusing on the semantic makeup of the video game design as a whole and play as medium-specific actions.
First, he explores the differences between video games and previous media. “If photographs are images, and films are moving images, then video games are actions” (2). This is not the same as “active audience” media, where an audience can apply their own subjectivities to media, such as an interpretation of a film. While films and images are passive in our intake of them, in that we cannot affect them directly in how they affect us, video games are an “action-based medium” which requires our input to engage us (3). This concept can be compared to children’s toys.
First, there is the image, the photograph—or in children’s toys, the action figure. Think specifically of the action figure that you are not supposed to play with, or one of the shoddier type you get in Happy Meals: the one that doesn’t have moveable bits, where you must invest your own interpretations into the toy. This could range from anything to fighting aliens to having a tea party, but the main point is that while the toy might look like Iron Man or Barbie, it doesn’t have to be played with in a certain way.
Next, there is the moving image, the film—or the active toy, like the Furby. Furbies were these toys from the early 2000s. If you don’t remember, here’s a commercial:
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Tagged ben 'yahtzee' croshaw, coloring books, Cybertext, diegesis, Fable 2, film, furby, Galloway, Gamic Action, Gaming, hypertext, Jodi, photographs, Video Games
In “Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature”, Espen J. Aarseth defines and defends “ergodic literature”, named after the Greek words ergon and hodos (meaning “work and “path”) to be highly performative compared to typical readings of texts. He is careful not to compare it too closely with literature because he is not trying to prove that it fits the same constraints, but instead to investigate it for its own functional features. Though he admits this way of reading still must have some linear characteristics– “the act of reading must take place sequentially, word for word”– ergodic literature and cybertexts create active readers where as linear narratives do not (Aarseth 2). The two types of readers Aarseth describes are divided by their ways of experiencing the text. Readers of narratives are “voyeuristic”, “powerless”, merely looking at a book” (Aarseth 3). However, cybertext readers experience the “investment of personal improvization”, “a struggle not merely for interpretive insight but also for narrative control” and traverse the paths presented by texts with intent (Aarseth 3).
Typically, I expect research material such as this to first explain the topic and terms and then to hit me with the theory or counterarguments. However, it is not until page twelve that Aarseth starts a section entitled “What is Cybertext?”, in which he goes on to (finally) define text. Not to mention, there are multiple times in the introduction where he notes which chapters will continue a discussion of which topics. Though that in itself may be “normal” protocol for an introduction, when paired with the links beside the text (which are obviously only functional when read digitally), it seems that Aarseth created this article with a bit of ergodic encoding. Afterall, as a reader, I could choose which, or how many of those links I would like to explore, if I would like to skip ahead to chapter 4 and if I would like to crush some of the linear functions at work with my “narrative control”. Ergodic texts are characterized by an “unlimited possibility for variation” and also a reminder of paths not taken– or links unexplored (Aarseth 9).
Quite possibly the quickest and easiest way to understand Aarseth’s ergodic literature genre is to quite simply look at the document itself. If you decided to do the readings this week, you went online, checked the syllabus, clicked the link, and were brought to a website: Sample Chapter from: Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Given the nature of the medium, you then were given two choices: print out the reading as a hard copy on paper, or simply read it off the computer screen. A simple choice usually dictated by personal preference (or sometimes even the economy of time) has the ability to change this reading from ergodic to unergodic literature. Continue reading