Don’t be discouraged by the somewhat bland title, reader. The article I’m about to recommend/review is quite compelling. First of all, the author attempts to diffuse some of the problems and accusations that come with multidisciplinary approaches to game studies, namely the threat of undermining the game aspect of video games and the reductive conceptualizing of video games as a subset of other media. More specifically, the author attempts to overcome the drawbacks of applying literary/textual studies methodology to video games, and he does a decent job at pointing out some misconceptions and misapplications that both “ludologists” and “narratologists” are guilty of, but the best part of this article is the perspective of text and code that the author espouses.
Long story short, the code is not responsible for the multiple narrative possibilities that can be found in games because players never actually interact with the code (modding excluded). Players only interact with the interface. They can glean hints about the code that runs the interface, but the narratives players experience are not derived directly from the code because players can only interpret the signs provided by the interface, and they conceptualize narratives (and the game as a whole) based on these signs. Essentially, there is a discrepancy between the code, the interface, and they player’s understanding of the game. To help explain this, the author uses the concept of viability.
I’m just going to put this bomb-ass quote that explains viability way better than I could.
“Viability, as defined by the constructivist Ernst von Glasersfeld, means that a sensation is stabilized by perception, but whether something proves viable is by no means proof of its reality. In relation to games this means that a player does not necessarily gain access to the implicit rules of the game through playing, but that he or she will find a way to interact meaningfully with the game, no matter what the actual rules encoded by its designers are. In fact, the player might even find ways to interact with the game that its creators did not think of. The concept of viability is often explained by the metaphor of a blind man who has to walk through a forest every day. Initially, he will bump into a tree quite often, but by and by he will learn to avoid the trees, because he will have created a mental map of the forest. This map does not have to bear any relation to the forest at all, in fact it is not even necessary for the map to represent trees. Nevertheless, this representation of the outside world proves viable for the blind man, because it enables him to find his way through the forest. The player of a computer game learns to navigate through the code of the game in a similar way, although he or she will usually not set eyes on it (von Glasersfeld, 1985). “
Sick, right? There’s plenty more where that came from in the article. Plus, the implications of viability can go pretty far. I’d be willing to say that if we understand consciousness as viability, then games and virtual worlds are “real” for all intents and purposes. I definitely want to come back to this topic, but for now, please enjoy this article.
by Julian Kücklich