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

Computer Games, Narrative, and Special Effects

Description | Abstracts

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Neo-Baroque Labyrinths and Computer Game Spaces
Angela Ndalianis

Dr. Angela Ndalianis is a senior lecturer in Cinema and New Media Studies
in the Cinema Studies Program, University of Melbourne.
E-mail: angelan@unimelb.edu.au

In this paper I will argue that entertainment media such as computer games are imbued with a neo-baroque poetics. Points of comparison will be made between C17th baroque art forms and games such as the Quake III, the Tomb Raider and Resident Evil series, and Black and White in order to establish the continuous and contiguous links between both eras. In suggesting parallels between the seventeenth and late twentieth/early twenty-first centuries it is not proposed that our current era stands as the mirror double of the seventeenth. Different historical and social conditions characterize and distinguish both periods. There are, however, numerous parallels that invite comparison in the treatment and function of formal features that include an emphasis on serial, multilinear narratives that rely on spectacle to unravel their story worlds. The term 'baroque', therefore, will not only be considered as a phenomenon of the seventeenth century (an era traditionally associated with the baroque), but, more broadly, as a transhistorical state that has had wider historical repercussions.

Martin Jay and Christine Buci-Glucksman understand the baroque as a formal system beholden to an order of vision (or what Buci-Glucksman refers to as a "madness of vision") that revels in the articulation of its spectacular spaces. The baroque, however, also embraces a madness in relation to its narrative formations. The dynamism and spatial complexity of baroque spectacle applies equally to the dynamism and expansive nature of the baroque narrative. In fact, the two are interwoven in that spectacle becomes the means to unraveling narrative formations that favour multilinearity, instability, and polydimensionality.

It will be argued that the neo-baroque combines the visual and textual in ways that parallel the dynamism of seventeenth century baroque form, but that this dynamism is expressed in technologically different forms. While engaging with theories of the hypertext, this paper will suggest the limitations in such an approach given its primary reliance on textual methods of analysis. Computer games acknowledge a baroque delight in spectacle and a complexity of narrative spaces. The spaces of games such as the Tomb Raider series and Black and White reflect a fluid, multilinear, open and dynamic form that is articulated in visual and auditory rather than textual terms. Drawing on the neo-baroque's reliance on multicursal, labyrinthine structures (and on Deleuze's articulation of the baroque fold) it will be suggested that narratives unravel through the player's engagement with an "architecture of vision" that is embodied in the visual form. This architecture of vision requires a traversal of multiple spaces which, in turn, unveil multiple story possibilities - some that converge, some that diverge, and some that lead the player to narrative dead-ends.

Unlike the enclosed and linear spaces associated with classical form, Henri Focillon (in The Life of Forms) understands baroque forms as being able to "pass into an undulating continuity where both beginning and end are carefully hidden". The baroque and neo-baroque reveal "'the system of the series' - a system composed of discontinuous elements sharply outlined, strongly rhythmical and… [that] eventually becomes 'the system of the labyrinth', which, by means of mobile synthesis, stretches itself out in a realm of glittering movement and color". It is the computer games' capacity to lure its player into the neo-baroque system of the labyrinth that will be the focus of this paper.