of Harlequin Romances about their craft, it would signal a crisis
in the world of literature. Cheap success in the mainstream
is by no means unique to computer gaming culture. The same pre-chewed
food abounds in music, literature, painting, and for that matter fine
dining. But with these forms, a history and criticism are already
established and breakthrough artists are widely known by name.
Establishing a lasting aesthetic culture takes time and the critic
may function as the second hand on that timepiece, but it is an important
function. Reflection on what works, what doesn't, and
what has not yet been attempted is vital to the development of digital
culture. But the critic must be aware of the hours and minutes,
the history of the form, and even develop unhealthy interests in what
some would call ephemera but that he or she recognizes as the foundations
of humanistic computing and digital art. There is work to be
done, and the first
notes of that history are indeed beginning to be sung.
Spiegleman's article on Interactive Fiction argues that the form
first had to escape the technological cutting edge in order to find
relief from financial pressures that curb creative gestation and experimentation.
Text-based adventures, he suggests, are in the creative cat-bird seat
right now whereas graphically intensive games still require large
budgets and large production staff that tend either to edit or overindulge
the creative impulse. Spiegleman quickly denies, however, that
games have to stop being fun in order to start being art. It
made me think that memory constraints of wireless handhelds may (for
awhile) afford a little time to explore this notion in earnest: whether
fun really is synonymous with Nvidia GeForce particle shading.
The reviews of Interactive Fiction at http://bang.dhs.org/if/library/criticism/
don't ignore technical creativity, but they position it alongside
"plot, prose, and puzzles" as if all of these determine
the merit, the fun and the meaning of the game. Joe
Mason's fan review of "So Far" is widely referred to
as an important example of IF criticism because it genuinely relishes
minute details in "So Far" and there finds connection with
experiences outside the game, you know, sort of like people do with
art. While marketing-speak makes it difficult to speak calmly
about graphics cards, the larger problem may be in finding story lines
that require any creative interpretation (please note, the preceding
word is not interaction).
Criticism is by no means all that is needed to sustain the lively
arts of digital gaming. We need to attend to historic precedent
and acknowledge the importance of our childhood experiences and investments
in the forms of digital gaming. The digital "ancients" are
not even forgotten yet, not quite unfamiliar eveb, but they already
resist our categorical understanding to a surprising degree.
They cannot be grouped according to their use of text or graphics