I study games in an English department, which means that I am often called upon to think about how games relate to literature and how literature relates to games. For example, in my dissertation I discuss how literary study has often been constructed in a very game-like way, as students of the canon find themselves asked to decode puzzles crafted out of intertextual references and theoretical frameworks. Historically, one of the main reasons for studying the canon was, in essence, so that readers could participate in social and cultural games where one scored “points” (or as Pierre Bourdieu put it, accrued cultural capital) by demonstrating insider knowledge of the classics. In this way, one “won” themselves entry into the cultured elite by proving that one belonged among their ranks.
I am also very interested in how games and literary works have been/might be translated into one another. In his book Film Adaptation and Its Discontents, Thomas Leitch discusses what he calls “post-literary adaptations” or the current rush by Hollywood producers to find non-literary properties (including video games, pen and paper role playing games, and even board games) that can be adapted into profitable film franchises (with varying degrees of success). Part of the challenge of adapting a game into a film is figuring out how to create a coherent narrative out of an abstract set of game rules and micro-encounters (shoot enemy, walk forward, repeat, obtain power up, kill final boss, Congratulations! or Game Over!).
In addition to theorizing how to make movies out of games, scholars are starting to think about gameifying books and films, converting classic narratives back into abstract sets of rules (for a fun thought experiment along these lines, see Derek Attig’s “Turning Classic Novels into Video Games”). Still others are considering the ludic possibilities of literary production, as when authors of fan fiction “play” in the worlds of their favorite media franchises by writing their own narratives and inventing new characters.
Here is a fun opportunity to participate in that sort of play: Phillip J. Reed over at Noiseless Chatter is inviting authors to “novelize” (or short story-ize?) classic Nintendo Entertainment System games for a fiction anthology called Lost Worlds of Power. The collection is named after a short-lived series of novels produced by Nintendo as advertisements.
If you are interested this kind of literary play, the deadline for submissions in January 31, 2014. I know that I am eagerly awaiting this anthology and I hope some of you readers and gaming scholars out there submit!