Whenever I tell people about my FMP idea, many of them say it reminds them of a video game or the “Create Your Own Adventure” books they read as children. So I decided to look into this in more detail. Gamebook is the official term for the books in which you find your own way through by making choices. These are one of the earliest versions of interactivity within text. The first ever published book which falls into this category is The Roman Hat Mystery by Ellery Queen (Katz, 2017). This story breaks the fourth wall as the reader is informed that they have enough information and clues to solve the mystery in the book. Gamebooks usually follow a simple tree structure that allows the reader to navigate their way through the story (Aarseth, 2004). In a similar way, Lost Online will be following a tree like structure which will lead to a number of endings. The pictures of my drafts can be found below. Aarseth mentions that Gamebooks usually only have one acceptable path as the rest have negative endings and once the reader has found this path, there’s no need to play again. I believe that my first two drafts of Lost Online does not have one acceptable path, as sometimes the player can make a choice that will lead to a negative ending but later on it will come back round to a choice they didn’t pick earlier. However there is only one acceptable ending, as there would be in a Gamebook. Finding that my audience wouldn’t need to play again once they’ve found this ending is quite disheartening so I want to create another story plan which has a range of happy and sad endings.
Ergodic literature is a term created by Espen J. Aarseth, a word “that derives from the Greek words ergon and hodos, meaning “work” and “path”” (1997: 1). In ergodic literature, an effort is to be made in order for the reader to make their way through the story. Though this can easily be associated with Gamebooks, Aarseth chooses to focus on cybertext which can be defined as “a machine for the production of variety of expression” (1997: 3). Books and literature are different to cybertext, in that the reader of the literature has everything take place in their mind, whereas the player of the cybertext can literally explore the world that has been created.
All video games are a form of cybertext. But how do video games differ from conventional films? And where does Lost Online fit with all of this? For the rest of this blog, I shall be referring to The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006) when talking about video games and The Avengers (Whedon, 2012) when discussing films. I understand there are many different types of games and films out there that wouldn’t fit with what I’m going to talk about. But out of convenience and the amount of time I have on this module, I will be looking at two of some of the biggest products in their medium.
(Marvel Entertainment, 2011)
When generically comparing a cybertext to a linear text, there are many differences that can be found. Focusing on just one example, in a linear text the reader has to accept and believe everything that happens in the narrative. With a cybertext however, the player is reminded of the choices they didn’t make and can never know what they missed out on (Aarseth, 1997). This example can be applied to video games and traditional film narratives. In The Avengers the audience have to accept the narrative when they see cars blowing up in the trailer, as there is nothing that can be done; this is the story they have been given. With Twilight Princess on the other hand, the player is given a plethora of choices. From entering their own name, so the game can refer to them personally, to deciding whether they want to help herd the animals into a barn with their horse. However with this, once the player has made a decision it is possible for the whole of the narrative to be changed and as Aarseth has discussed, they can be reminded of this which can make them wonder what they missed out on. This isn’t something you have an opportunity to do with a film with a conventional narrative and as a result the audience are powerless.
A good narrative is everything in a film; without a narrative there is no film. Yet this is not true for video games, it is possible to have a great game with barely any narrative (although they are recently getting more narrative-heavy). Games can be inspired from stories, but it’s not the same as when a movie is adapted from a book (Aarseth, 2004). Aarseth discusses that a video game will not retell the story of The Hobbit, for example, whereas a film will be a visual version of the book. Instead of focusing on the narrative, games “place a central importance on the act of doing that goes beyond the kinetic and emotional responses that might be produced by a film.” (Advameg, Inc., 2017). Turning back to The Avengers, it is a film about a team of superheroes coming together, despite their differences to defeat the villain Loki. This is the basic plot and without it, the film wouldn’t have worked or been enjoyable. The film can take you on a roller coaster of emotions as the narrative comes together. On the other hand Twilight Princess’ narrative of Link trying to get out of the Twilight Realm with Midna’s help, while important isn’t the main focus of the game. The player doesn’t go through as many emotions, other than frustration when they can’t defeat a villain or excitement and happiness when they do. What’s more there are parts which you can skip, such as when some is talking to you, which indicates that it is more about the doing and the participation in the game than the feeling.
Jesper Juul suggests that films are usually about humans, or anthropomorphic beings as it gives the audiences something to identify with (2001). If we look at The Avengers, this is definitely true as all the main characters are humans. Even Thor, who is a God in the film, looks like a human being. In contrast, video games do not have to be centered around humans. However Link, the protagonist in Twilight Princess, does look like one even though he is not. But there are many games which do not include humans. Juul uses Tetris as an example saying that the game was hugely popular despite their being no humans in it. The reason for this is because it is not about identifying with something, rather it is about the player’s performance and actions as “games involve the player in a direct way” (Juul, 2001).
So will Lost Online be a game or a film? It will be a hybrid of both.
Lost Online will be taking place in a mixture of the real world and the online world. It’s not a world created by game developers, so in this sense it is not a game as there is no world to explore, like there is in Twilight Princess. What’s more, the narrative is one of the most important parts of the project, which is incredibly common in films but not in many video games, as already discussed. I feel that the audience need to a human to identify with in Lost Online, which is something that is frequent in films. Although the audience won’t see the human for the most part, it will be clear that everything is taking place on Earth in a human world.
All these points direct Lost Online towards the film category. But purely based on the fact that it has a level of interactivity that is vital to the project, it has the elements of a game. However because this is the only factor, as the viewer/player cannot explore the world around them, I don’t think it’s enough for it to be classified as a video game. If it is a game, it’s a very simple one.
Aarseth, E.J. (1997) Cybertext: Perspectives on ergodic literature. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Aarseth, E.J. (2004) ‘Quest Games as Post-Narrative Discourse’, in Ryan, M.-L. (ed.) Narrative across media: The languages of storytelling. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press
Advameg, Inc. (2017) Narrative and participation – video games – film, music, cinema, scene, role, story. Available at: http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Romantic-Comedy-Yugoslavia/Video-Games-NARRATIVE-AND-PARTICIPATION.html (Accessed: 25 January 2017).
Juul, J. (2001) ‘Games studies 0101: Games telling stories?’, the international journal of computer game research, 1(1) Available at: http://www.gamestudies.org/0101/juul-gts/ (Accessed: 24 January 2017)
Katz, D. (2017) Item – the Roman Hat mystery. Available at: https://gamebooks.org/Item/9490 (Accessed: 24 January 2017)
Marvel Entertainment (2011) Marvel’s the Avengers- trailer (OFFICIAL). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOrNdBpGMv8 (Accessed: 25 January 2017).
WatchTower (2013) The legend of Zelda: Twilight princess – Walkthrough – part 1 (Wii). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SH4k6i9weOE (Accessed: 25 January 2017).
Whedon, J. (2012) The Avengers. [DVD]. USA: Marvel Studios.