Mark Bernsteinâ€™s blogÂ has been full of great content lately; heâ€™s been wrestling with lots of hypertext theory while working on the rebirth ofÂ StoryspaceÂ (an exciting prospect for eLit and Twine folks!).
In the process, he has written aÂ beautiful manifestoÂ for writing with links. Itâ€™s alternately funny, cerebral, and helpful. He writes:
Coffee may help you focus. More coffee may help you focus more intensely. You may consider decaf. Consider scotch, but not too closely.
Multivalence is not a vice. One word may mean many things. Wonâ€™t you stay just a little bit longer?
Thereâ€™s a lot going on here. Bernstein is always heavy on allusions, and he presumes youâ€™ll know all of the references. You may not, and thatâ€™s okay. There are layers here. Multivalence is not a vice.
â€śStand up; speak up.â€ť I said that before. I also told you to focus, to get comfortable, to close the door if you think that will help. Have you done as I asked? Donâ€™t keep the door closed, and donâ€™t keep your work in a drawer. The grave is another fine and private place.
Here Bernstein has cleverly woven that multivalence into a critique of rotting manuscripts, infusing a bit ofÂ MametÂ andÂ MarvellÂ along the way. It was enough to snap me out of my several-month-long writing hiatus, to remind me that writing is beautiful and worthwhile, and most importantly it reminded me that games can do better.
While the eLit community is well-versed in the art ofÂ allusion, few games really harness its power, and even fewerÂ to the degree that Bernstein does here. Sure, games often make casual reference to pop-culture in achievements, character names, and so forth, and they do occasionally reference other games, butÂ itâ€™s almost always done in a flippant, shallow way.
Thereâ€™s pleasure in the kind of humor that shows likeÂ Family GuyÂ hamfist, the â€śI recognize what thatâ€™s from!â€ť humor, but it neednâ€™t be a joke, and it neednâ€™t be hamfisted. Allusions representÂ a greater possibility for ambiguity, multivalence, and expressive depth. Remix and sampling cultures have long proven that we can make allusions toward our past with nods both subtle and meaningful;Â literature, visual arts, and music have gracefully done so for centuries.Â
By now game histories have grown to be storied and sophisticated, and those historiesÂ deserve to be acknowledged. DevelopersÂ mustÂ engage more deeply with theÂ ideologicalÂ arguments of our own works and those of our past if we hope to advance as a medium who values its histories and critically examines our incorporation of and departures from them. ThisÂ dialogue is critical to the examination of our field, but with few notable exceptionsâ€”mostly in the indie and altgames scenesâ€”few games respond to one-another in theme, rhetoric, or tone. Games are missing the kinds of allusions that put them in dialogue with one-another. Criticism and the meta-conversation that existsÂ aroundÂ gamesÂ is important, but game artifacts should contain their own conversations as well. Consider, for example, the conversations arising fromÂ T.S. Eliotâ€™s responsesÂ to the Marvell above.Â
Iâ€™d love to see more games reach for a mature use of allusion. Not just â€śHey that looks like Donkey Kong,â€ť but â€śThe similarities between this NPC and Braidâ€™s Tim evokes themes of regret and loss, but the NPC selling clandestine items in an attic reframes his presence in theÂ contextÂ of Liz Ryersonâ€™sÂ Problem Attic, perhaps as an implied act of violence or atonement, and the reference of the two together mirrors the tension ofÂ our protagonistâ€™s rejectionÂ of the evil scientistâ€™s wealth and educationâ€¦â€ť
We can do better.