Playing the Plot Agency and Embodiment in Reading, Watching and Playing Crime Fictions Kjetil Sandvik, PHD, associate professor, Dept. of Media, Cognition and Communication, University of Copenhagen
Main assumption: we read to uncover and reveal the crime fiction plot in a more radical way than is described by Peter Brooks:
When it comes to crime fictions the joy and excitement in reading (watching, playing) is fueled by our attempts to reveal and solve the crime (the core of the crime fiction’s plot) which are being carried out along side and in ‘competition’ with the with the protagonist (the detective, the investigator).
We do not just read for the plot on the level of the story unfolding, we also do it on the level of the characters of the story and thus we engaged ourselves in playing the plot.
We submit to an investigative reading in which the exploration of both events (the crime) and place (the crime scene) are core (and intertwined) elements.
In playable crime fictions – from murder walks to computer or mixed reality games – we gain agency over the crime plot/place-structure and the ability to get embodied into the crime fiction, not only on a cognitive level (the level of perception) but on a physical level as well.
Plotting: ”that which makes a plot ’move forward’, and makes us read forward, seeking in the unfolding of the narrative a line of intention and portent of design that hold the promise of progress toward meaning” (Peter Brooks, p.xii)’
” the temporal dynamics that shape narratives in our reading of them, the play of desire in time that makes us turn pages and strive toward narrative ends” (Brooks, p.xiii)
In playable fiction the process of plotting is – to some extent – handed over to the recipient (the player)
Plot: the principle by which a narrative organizes the relationship between story and discourse: dilation suspense proper closure
“ The desire of the text (the desire of reading) is hence desire for the end, but desire for the end reached only through the at least minimally complicated detour, the intentional deviance, in tension, which is the plot of narrative” (p.104)
A well-working crime fiction facilitates a double plot-reading by enabling a certain form of agency and embodiment:
- by putting out traces and clues and leaving possibilities for interpretations and solutions open to us, the structure of the crime fiction grants us the possibility of carrying out the tasks of investigation.
The crime fiction creates a structure and space for actions into which we not just project ourselves in the act of reading but in which we also may participate actively.
A classic ‘who-dunnit’ novel or TV series is an invitation to the reader/viewer to deliver the answer before Poirot, Marple, or Barnaby does it
Crime scenes are constituted by a convergence of a plot and a place in chronotopian way:
the blending or intertwined relation between time and space in narratives:
“ Those things that are static in space cannot be statically described, but must rather be incorporated into the temporal sequence of represented events and into the story’s own representational field” (Bakhtin)
Places (the crime scene as well as other sites connected to the crime) work both as routes for the persons conducting the investigation and as coordinates for the crime itself.
The places are as such not just settings for the plot; they generate the plot in that they have been embedded with narrative traces which may be read, (re)enacted and reconstructed.
By using this places as location for their crime stories, as their ’scene of the crime’ these authors (and the film and TV producers using the same locations), are plotting these places in ways that may be used also for more playable murder-plots such as murder tours/walks.
Crime scenes are constituted by a combination of a plot and a place.
The place that has been in a certain state at a certain moment in time, i.e. the moment at which the place constituted the scene for some kind of physical activity, which has changed its nature .
Thus the place carries a plot (a narrative), which at first is hidden and scattered and has to be revealed and pieced together through a process of investigation and exploration with the aid of different forensic methods, eye-witnesses and so on; - through reading and interpretation.
According to Brooks theories the plotting in this scene is of such character that it produces an anticipation of meaningful closure: the nature of the crime seems explained.
But handing out the end in the initial episode of the series would off course produce an unsatisfactory closure:
due to the principle of dilation and tension-building (holding back information, giving misleading information) this scene produces a sense that the suggested closure (ending) – that the murder have been committed by fundamentalists – is false.
The sense of agency, embodiment and spatial experience is working in various ways depending on the media format:
the novel, the movie, the tv-series,
various hybrid formats which make use of cross-mediatic strategies,
the introduction of a physical, tactile dimension when crime fiction migrates into the realm of games (whether they are situated in physical space, mediated through computers or using a mixed-reality format).
In these last examples it becomes clear that crime fictions not just invite us to read for the plot, but incorporate the reader’s body and agency in the experience of playing the plot.
performing together (with or against each other) in a conflict-based structure of actions and events
creating a story
about something (e.g. a murder case)
The dramaturgical engine: Agency Chief of Police Solving the crime The society: justice being served Assistants, csi-team Skills, knowledge, tech. The detective reader identification controlled by the player The villain(s), false evidences, clues
The character may be understood as a suite of characteristics or equipment utilized and em-bodied by the controlling player.
We do not play e.g. Lara Croft – we gain control over a certain set of ‘skills’ regarding the ability to act and which is implemented in the Lara-avatar: the avatar’s action become an extension of the player’s body.