December 18, 2003

Close Readings

by Andrew Stern · , 11:57 pm

Word Circuits (now added to our resource links list) has published a collection of seven short papers that “eschew general musings on the nature of electronic literature and instead dive right into a detailed close reading, filled with examples and quotations, perhaps even screen shots, of the text at hand.” The readings are polished versions of student papers from Matthew Kirschenbaum’s Digital Studies graduate course at the University of Maryland. The works dissected include ones by mez, geniwate, Diane Greco and GTxA’s own Scott Rettberg (who has his own blog by the way, with extra goodies he doesn’t post on this group blog).

From the growing field of game studies we’re beginning to see close readings of games as well. For example, at the LevelUp conference we heard a 90-minute tagteam dissection of Super Monkey Ball. But most impressive is Ludologica, a new series of books in which “distinguished game critics, scholars, and novelists explore the production and reception of their chosen video games in the context of an argument about the games social, cultural, and aesthetic importance. Each book presents the author’s insights into a game and its creator selected from a list of the most enduring and influential titles of the last 40 years. These innovative readings are not conventional game reviews or game guides. Rather, they situate the games in terms of the broader cultural debate that they informed.” The close readings include The Sims, Final Fantasy, Ultima, Metal Gear Solid 2, GTA, Doom, Ico, Sim City and more. The series is organized by Matteo Bittanti.

4 Responses to “Close Readings”

  1. scott Says:

    Andrew — now you’re starting to make me feel guilty about posting goodies on my site. I promise to share more of them on GTA. A couple posts before Christmas, I swear. I just figure that getting all excited about online scrabble is better noted on my site than over here.

  2. andrew Says:

    Scott — sorry, didn’t mean to make you feel guilty — just trying to direct some traffic your way.

    Just to warn you, I play a pretty mean game of Scrabble. Played my Dad over Thanksgiving break — my opening move was a 7 letter word on a triple word score, and followed it later with another 7 letter word. Trounced him. I do love the holidays.

    Lemme know if you want to play sometime.

  3. van Helsing Says:

    Close readings of games are nothing new; see Mary Ann Buckles’ 1985 dissertation on Adventure – an oft-forgotten pioneering theory of interactive fiction.

    (ah, scholarship, who has time for it?)

  4. scott Says:

    Close readings may be nothing new, but I do think that Kirschenbaum’s assignment is a pretty good one — there’s a tendency for students exposed to new media art and literature to either a) write in generalities of how a given genre is different from (or better or worse than) print or b) ignore the word bits of a given work and focus exclusively on a given work’s media-specific qualities (interface, multimedia enhancements, etc.) or c) try to engage in still more grand theorizing. It’s refreshing to see people writing about works of electronic literature, with the work’s digital nature in mind, but focused on content rather than just interface and computational properties. That is to say that the majority of these things are literature first and electronic second. So read them attentively, and you’ll likely produce useful scholarship.

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