The main purpose of this blog is to analyze video games as one would analyze a book or a film. After all, isn’t a video game simply an interactive novel or movie? That, my friends, is where we must begin:
What is the definition of literature?
Literature, one would think, should be easy to define. People spend their lives analyzing it, discussing it, and writing it, therefore, its definition must be obvious. And upon browsing several different online and print dictionary sources, they all seem to agree upon a similar definition:
“Writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays.” – Dictionary.com
Some definitions, however, go a step further and add a qualifier; Merriam-Webster defines the word as “writing having excellence of form or expression.” And the American Heritage Dictionary echoes this view in saying that literature is, “imaginative or creative writing, especially of recognized artistic value.” It is clear that by the very definition of the word, the abstract idea of literature is subjective; not all writing is literature. The American Heritage Dictionary seems to claim that it is more apt to call a work a piece of literature if it has ‘recognized artistic value.’ This suggests that in order to become literature a piece must first be subject to critical analysis – after all, analysis is how artistic merit is measured, to an extent.
But who, then, is the pioneer that picks up a piece of writing, analyzes it and, thus, promotes it to the status of literature? And, to further the idea, what sort of writing is excluded, if any, from this pedestal? If I were to find a random WordPress blog written by some 16 year-old girl complaining about her life, using the internet as her private journal, and then I were to analyze it, does it then become literature? The answer is no. But it is not the fault of the teenage author, it is the fault of the analyzer – in this hypothetical scenario, me. While I believe myself to be an expert on all things relating to teenage girls (please do note that this is sarcasm), I am not a major enough part of the elite, per se; I do not have an influential enough voice. However, if several accomplished scholars were to take to this fictitious girl’s journal and analyze it (assuming they find merit in the writing and it isn’t completely valley girl, like, talk), then it could become literature.
So, if the definition of literature is so subjective and, at times, seemingly nonsensical – placing such a broad label upon such different works – then what is to stop all writings from becoming literature? If I had two books, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, are both literature? Stoker’s writing is labeled a ‘classic’ and has been analyzed a countless number of times, I’m sure. Meyer’s, however, is not a ‘classic’ – as it is not included in the canon, as of yet – but, it has been analyzed. I believe there is actually a course at Eastern Michigan University dedicated to the analysis of her series. If not Meyer’s series, I know for certain there is a course dedicated to the analysis of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. If they are being analyzed then are they literature?
The definition of literature, then, is not quite so straightforward. And we haven’t even begun to explore the depths and recesses of the whole. What I think we can all agree on, however, is that literature deals with written language (barring oral literature, which, as the name modifier suggests, is a completely different ball game). Using this definition for literature, all written language is included. While this broad of a definition obviously dilutes the potency of the word greatly, the ever expanding genres considered for analysis begs for such a leniency.
This overtness has been long in the making or has always existed. Literature, having its beginnings in orality, has always been a broad category. Because most ancient tales and texts began in the oral tradition it seems irrational to confine literature to only things written. However, language changes and the definition of literature has surly changed as well. When one considers the word’s etymology, it is clear that literature is a construct which was to, initially, help delimit the humanities. Literature comes to English through Latin, where it was neologized. As such, the oral tradition and the written tradition were in contact with each other, prompting the separation of the two linguistically.
Today, the study of literature is a mélange of genres, of which, some are intended to be oral. For example, most High School kids will spend some amount of time studying Shakespeare. But Shakespeare didn’t write short stories or novels (that I am aware of – and I’ve been wrong before), he wrote plays and poetry. Both forms are supposed to be performed orally. And yet, scholars have analyzed, and will continue to analyze, these pieces as if they were a written text (certainly they take in to account that it is an oral presentation but they are nonetheless analyzing the text). This type of analysis was then easy to translate in to the study of screenplays. And from the study of the screenplay it was just a quick hop, skip, and, a jump to filmology, or the study of the film as it is presented on screen.
If a screenplay or a play can be considered literature, then why not a video game. It is, as I said at the beginning of this post, simply an interactive film or novel. After all, a game could easily be transformed into a play or the screenplay of a movie. In fact – keep in mind that I don’t know everything, or even a lot, about the making of a real video game – I imagine that the games with voice actors have scripts which would look an awful lot like a play in written form.
So, if we look at the analysis of literature in the most basic of constructs we can see that it is simply the analysis (breaking down) of written language. Using this as a definition it is a wonder as to how more people don’t analyze video games. And I’m not talking about the ‘reviews’ posted on gaming sites. Those are, like literary reviews, not an analysis as much as it is an opinion based on personal preferences. An analysis is supported by evidence presented in the text.