Playing with Worlds: Narrative, Fiction, and the Cultural Reception of Videogames

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Stuart Moulthrop
University of Baltimore
@StuartMoulthrop
MITH Conference Room
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
12:30 pm

When even the most perceptive scholars based in traditional, typographic forms of literacy turn their attention to videogames, the results can be disconcerting. Two of the best in this line, Janet Murray and James P. Gee, both falter notably when they ask when, if, or how videogames can have cultural effects equivalent to literature. These moments do not represent failure so much as catastrophe, a collapse of interpretive method that may provide indications for more viable approaches. I suggest the key to a new agenda lies in the distinction of narrative, a main concern for my generation and our elders, from the sort of fiction Jesper Juul embraces in his theory of games: a form whose clearest illustration is not story or novel, but rather tableau. As Murray herself says: “The more we see life in terms of systems, the more we need a system-modeling medium to represent it.” But systematic or procedural systems cannot simply be interpreted or read as if they were conventionally inscribed texts. As Espen Aarseth argues, they must be played; and I would argue further that critics must also engage in the kind of fictive play from which games emerge. I suggest it is no accident that many of the most interesting new critics of the videogame, figures like Ian Bogost and Mary Flanagan, are active game developers, and argue more generally that videogames and other forms of cybertext require a more engaged, creative commitment from their critics.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1957, he became an English major at George Washington University after reading Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon in 1975. He received his PhD from Yale University in 1986. He taught at Yale from 1984–1990, and then at the University of Texas at Austin and the Georgia Institute of Technology. In 1994 he moved back to Baltimore to teach at the University of Baltimore. As a Professor of Information Arts and Technologies, he formerly taught in the Bachelor of Science in Simulation and Digital Entertainment. He is also involved in the Master’s and Doctoral programs. [Source: Wikipedia]

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