Quinn Norton asks the question, what is literature and where mediums like comics and games sit with this. Quinn explains that mechanics matter in there ability to change things.
Mechanics matter in literature. Apocalypse Now (and the arguably even better documentary Hearts of Darkness about the film Apocalypse Now) reached for the apotheosis of film. Joyce did the same for novels, e e cummings for poetry, Shakespeare for plays, 2pac for rap, and etc., insert your favorite author, or as we call them now, creators, here. Or maybe not your favorite. Maybe your least favorite, because they stick in your soul like a piece of gravel in your shoe, and you’re going to have to stop one day and change everything just to get them out.
That’s literature for you.
She gives the example of Portal 2. Its medium is essential to what it is. A part of this is the very nature of the author.
You couldn’t write a Portal book or make a Portal movie or ink a Portal comic, Portal could only be Portal.
For many people, the conceptual problem with Portal and other video games, as literature, is authorship. It can’t be literature without the auteur. How can a team of people be a singular creator of a literary work? But idea of the lone auteur creating from the depth of his singular soul was always a myth.
The ability to bring change comes through the interaction involved in reading and responding.
Literature is made in how it acts upon the world, not how it is pretended to be born fully formed from the head of a single man.
You can find literature at every level of the gaming world, from small indie games like Hollow Knight and Undertale, to multi-million dollar budget “AAA” games like Witcher, an open world game of vast detail where moral choices determine everything about the story, and most of the endings aren’t happy. Wide open, generative landscapes in games like Minecraft often let whole communities myth-make together, whether they’re chasing the Ender Dragon or not. What they all have in common is choices that matter, that they contain or build worlds that you make as much as consume, and that have the potential to make you.
It is interesting to consider this alongside Doug Belshaw’s work in regards to digital literacies and the importance of process. I am also left wondering about J. Hillis Miller’s ‘obligation to write’:
As we read we compose, without thinking about it, a kind of running commentary or marginal jotting that adds more words to the words on the page. There is always already writing as the accompaniment to reading.
Maybe when we play we compose?