Special Session
2001 MLA Annual Convention
New Orleans, December 27-30, 2001

Computer Games, Narrative, and Special Effects

Description | Abstracts

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Since the rise of hypertext theory in the early 1990s, it has become commonplace to situate digitally mediated, interactive narrative within the general context of participatory reading. As the field of interactive narrative widens to include computer games, the premises of hypertext theory continue to echo loudly through the field even though many narrative-based computer games seem to have little to do with reading verbal text. Like hypertext fiction, computer games can provide open and flexible narrative spaces in which players must exercise participatory, directional influence over narrative potentialities. Yet, while hypertext fiction and narrative-based computer games may both provide environments for variable, user-driven narrative trajectories, they are often very different forms of digital culture. Michael Joyce's afternoon, a story and Bioware's Balder's Gate both require users to participate in the unfolding of their narrative potentialities, but Baldur's Gate relies much more heavily upon non- or extra-literary elements, such as sound and image. In many computer games, visual and auditory special effects can interrupt narrative development so strikingly that they might be thought of as anti-narrative elements. At the same time, special effects are integral to what makes playing computer games fun for most game players.

This MLA special session features four papers that address the intersections between narrative and anti-narrative in computer games. Some overarching questions that these papers directly and indirectly raise include: Can a linguistics-based approach to computer games explain the non-linguistic elements of visual and auditory effects? Are computer games interactive narratives? Or is narrative a secondary prop upon which to arrange interactivity and special effect?

Session Chairs

Andrew Mactavish
McMaster University

Geoffrey Rockwell
McMaster University