Thursday, March 24, 2011

The First Post of the Rest of this Blog

I'll keep this foreword short: I've finished, defended, and deposited my dissertation. As of just over a month ago, I am a doctorated veteran of grad school. I say this by way of explaining my near non-presence on Twitter—as if I used to be so great at Twitter!—and the actual inactivity of this blog for the past six months. It wasn't my intention to abandon the blog, but my calendar's been full with writing, editing, defending, revising, formatting, and all the other stuff that goes along with this process, as well as preparing job applications for three different kinds of teaching positions and doing my usual stay-at-home father thing.

Anyway, I have a little free time now, and so back to the blog.

I thought it might be a good idea to go back to the beginning of this whole thing for me and explain exactly why I think games criticism is an interesting and worthwhile field, or whatever it is. Unlike a lot of things, I can remember just about exactly when I decided that there was something to video games: there's an old episode of Retronauts¹ where Jeremy Parish, talking about a certain game, described how that game caught his imagination for a moment with its manner of characterizing a peculiar group of NPCs.

I've always been interested in genre, and some of the academic work I've done has focused on how genre or even medium determines message—how, for instance, the demands and history of the epic genre affect a poet's chosen narrative, and how she can encode her intentions for her particular treatment of that story into her poem by taking advantage of the genre's conventions. It's an old vein of criticism; these are basically the kinds of questions Aristotle was trying to answer when he wrote about literature, and some epics—the Aeneid in particular—are practically masterclasses in doing this kind of thing.

However, I realized when Parish was talking about this game that the exact kinds of questions I liked to ask about epic, like why write epic? and what happens when you adapt this story to the epic idiom?, could be asked about video games, too. So that's what I've been trying to do here, sometimes, to ask what are the possibilities of video games as a medium? and how do narrative, sound, images, and gameplay combine to create a particular experience? and once, how does one specific console enable a set of experiences? It's the basic question common to every blog or book that examines video games from a critical (and not just a commercial) angle. I guess it's the basic question of every work of criticism focused on cultural artifacts.

So if I seem to be wasting an awful lot of time and space talking about playing Super Mario Bros. or Castlevania, chalk it up to this: I'm trying to work out just how it is that video games, moving images on a stationary screen, take us into an experience and give us the impression that we've been somewhere or done something.

Maybe not the most exciting way to start up a new era on this blog, but at least it's short, n'est-ce pas? I'll have another, more substantial post very soon. Much, much sooner, this time!

¹Imagine that, a Retronauts reference on this blog.

The image above is Jose Emroca Flores' painting The M.K. from the inaugural I Am 8-Bit exhibit.