Through the looking glass


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Canonical conceptions of narrative might find such a story-game equation problematic but the borders between the narrative and the ludic have always been fluid and allowed varying degrees of overlap between the two. With older games, this might not have been as obvious but with the sophisticated machinic narratives developing within and through computer games, it is clear that current conceptions about narrative have to take into account the ludic and the machinic nature of stories to be able to explain the functioning of problematic forms, like the narratives created within computer games. Such changing conceptions of narrative also need to address the participatory and constructive role that the reader has in the development of the narrative. In computer games, the narratives are formed within the game system (i.e. a base narrative) but through a complex identification with the in-game protagonists whose actions (and therefore the player’s) play the story into existence, thus establishing a constant interplay between playing and reading. Keeping the above in view, this paper will try to analyse the workings of narratives with reference to computer games and other new media as well as by identifying how older media also incorporate similar characteristics, hitherto ignored. It will therefore try to re-examine some key issues that inform essential conceptions of narratives and also show how Alice, in both kinds of texts, plays a videogame.

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  • Tweedledum tweedledee
  • Narrative and Technicity are not prosthetic to the play-element in general. Games are bound by rules, which in themselves add a technical dimension to the play-element. Furthermore, most games have various levels of meta-narrative. Like Chess, for example. The best approach to computer games is to use Derridean concepts of supplementarity and demonstrate that the three elements have an originary presence in each other.
  • Through the looking glass

    1. 2. Trailers of Frank Beddor’s The Looking-Glass Wars & American McGee’s Alice
    2. 3. Through the Looking-Glass, Darkly Reading Alice in the Computer Game
    3. 4. “ there were a number of tiny little brooks running straight across it from side to side, and the ground between was divided up into squares by a number of little green hedges, that reached from brook to brook. “I declare it’s marked out just like a large chessboard!” Alice said at last.” 1.Alice meets R.Q. R.Q. to K.R's 4th 2.Alice through Q's 3d ( by railway ) to Q's 4th Tweedledum and Tweedledee W.Q. to Q.B's 4th ( after shawl ) 3Alice meets W.Q. (with shawl) W.Q. to Q. B's 5th ( becomes sheep ) 4Alice to Q's 5th ( shop, river, shop ) W.Q. to K. B's 8th ( leaves egg on shelf ) 5Alice to Q's 6th ( Humpty Dumpty ) W.Q. to Q.B's 8th ( flying from R. Kt. ) 6Alice to Q's 7th ( forest ) W. Kt. takes R. Kt.R. Kt. to K's 2nd (ch.) 7W. Kt. takes R. Kt. W. Kt. to K. B's 5th 8Alice to Q's 8th (coronation) R. Q. to K's sq. ( examination ) 9Alice becomes QueenQueens castle 10Alice castles (feast) W.Q. to Q. R's 6th ( soup ) 11Alice takes R. Q. & wins 
    4. 5. A Simple Game Tree for Noughts and Crosses
    5. 6. Narrative structures
    6. 8. <ul><li>‘ … growing , dizzying net of divergent, convergent and parallel times. This network of times which approached one another forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time. We do not exist in the majority of these times; in some you exist, and not I; in others I, and not you; in others both of us. In the present one you have arrived at my house; in another you find me dead ...’ - J L Borges, ‘ The Garden of the Forking Paths </li></ul>
    7. 9. Rhizome (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, ) : artist’s impression
    8. 11. American McGee’s Alice : Two instances of gameplay
    9. 12. Quake iii Arena
    10. 13. Alice <ul><li>  By Robert Graves </li></ul><ul><li> She set herself, with truly British pride </li></ul><ul><li>In being a pawn and playing for her side, </li></ul><ul><li>And simple faith in simple stratagem, </li></ul><ul><li>To learn the rules and moves and perfect them. </li></ul>
    11. 14. From Play, Sports and Games by Kathleen Blake <ul><li>In spite of all the purposiveness displayed by the players ( a displaced purposiveness as has been pointed out) the game does not literally get anyone anywhere . Or, to qualify, the only place a game gets you is in front of your opponent except this one doesn't because, like so many in Wonderland, it is not quite a proper game , after all. </li></ul><ul><li>Alice's movement through Wonderland and Looking-Glass land cannot be conceived as following a connected line, in spite of the linear continuity one might expect to find in narratives apparently organized upon parlour games. Rather, Alice bounces from universe to universe, each one moving in its own insulated round. </li></ul><ul><li>Wonderland croquet and cards and Looking-Glass chess remain recognizable as games because enough terms and rules are in evidence to suggest that if just a few more could be ascertained, they must make up comfortable logical systems (and novels). </li></ul>
    12. 15. <ul><li>“ the classical game model is no longer all there is to games. With the appearance of role-playing games, where a game can have rules interpreted by a game master, and with the appearance of video games, the game model is modified in many ways.” (Jesper Juul, Half Real, The MIT Press, 2005) </li></ul>
    13. 16. <ul><li>“ A game’s gameplay is the degree and nature of the interactivity that the game includes, i.e., how the player is able to interact with the game-world and how that game-world reacts to the choices the player makes . ” </li></ul><ul><li>(Richard Rouse, Game Design: Theory and Practice, Wordware Publishing, 2002) </li></ul>
    14. 17. Derrida’s concept of Supplementarity Beyond the Debate : A Different Approach to Computer Games Rules Play Narrative
    15. 18. Alice: Sims Scenario Conway’s Game of Life Sims 2: University
    16. 19. Configuration (player) Response (machine)
    17. 20. The Cat and the Hand kerchief <ul><li>It was terribly hot. I lay in the shade of a tree, feeling quite limp. I had put down my handkerchief on the grass: I reached out for it to fan myself, when suddenly it called out ‘Miaouw!’ </li></ul><ul><li>Here was a pretty puzzle. I looked and found that it wasn’t a handkerchief any longer. It had become a plump ginger cat with bushy whiskers, staring at me in the boldest way. </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Bother!’ I said. ‘My handkerchief’s turned into a cat.’‘What’s bothering you? answered the Cat. ‘Now you have an egg and then suddenly it turns into a quacky duck. It’s happening all the time.’I thought for a while and said, ‘But what should I call you now? You aren’t really a cat, you’re a handkerchief.’‘Please yourself’ he said. ‘You can call me a cat, or a handkerchief, or even a semi-colon.’ </li></ul><ul><li>From A Topsy-Turvy Tale by Sukumar Ray (trans from Bengali by Prof Sukanta Chaudhuri) </li></ul>
    18. 22. Which dreamt it?
    19. 23. Thank you