Online Adventure Games

The association of the comic with emotional detachment can be found in Bergson’s “anaesthesia of the heart” (1980, pp. 63-4; see also Critchley, 2002, p. 88), and suggests a distancing process similar to Brechtian techniques of “alienation”, which aim to achieve critical distance by discouraging empathy (Brecht, 1964, pp. 14, 78). This also suggests a route towards re-turning the joke onto the player. Where the player him/herself is implicated, this has usually been in the direction of additional awareness — of the limits on their control, and of the way their own expectations are shaped by convention. This awareness may also result in an effect of critical self-distancing. We could recall here the “se dédoublement” (self-doubling) that Baudelaire (1976, p. 192) suggests takes place to enable the target of the joke to share in the amusement, since as the comic object one does not partake in that laughter. The compelling quality of the self-awareness offered here through comic distancing is the feeling that one has been “let in” on a joke, given access to a usually-concealed mechanism.

The relationship between immersion and the comic could be further explored with reference to an adventure game which appears to break this mould. In spite of the meta-medial potential inherent in the notion of “worlds contained in books”, Myst (Cyan, 1993) strives after an immersive experience which goes hand-in-hand with a more earnest approach. This serves as a reminder that there are exceptions — in focusing on particular games and moments in games, my aim has been to identify tendencies within a genre, rather than attempt an exhaustive reading that posits thorough generic homogeneity. On the other hand, the observation regarding Myst does tend to reinforce the suggestion of a correlation between the comic and the interruption of immersion.

My reading has focused on moments which are not accommodated by notions of “immersion” and “recapture”. Though Harpold (2007) also deals with moments of increased visibility of medium which may threaten the “integrity” of the “gameworld”, self-reflexivity and humor may be alternative routes, taken where reinforcing consistency is not the primary concern. While the self-reflexivity of genre and meta-mediality also function here as part of the gameworld, interruptions becoming part of the gameplay, there is a resistance to complete and seamless reincorporation, highlighting the mediality on a level accessible to the player.

Within parameters, in both the graphic and text adventures considered here there is the possibility of wandering astray — even if this takes the form of exploring “uselessness”, or results in dead ends. Dead ends, digressions, and turnabouts may provide the opportunity for a “punch-line”, or a humorous metafictional parodic turn. Interaction in these moments — which suggest a derailment of seemingly intuitive response or action — manifests itself to the player as inter[rupting]action. The combined effect of nostalgia and parody is to introduce another intervening distance, and suggests another avenue for engagement through the comic. Such moments of disconnection or interruption, indeed, do not entail an absence of engagement, but rather an avenue towards reconsidering or shifting the means of that engagement. In drawing attention to and exploiting fractures in the coherence of the gameworld(s), these instances accentuate disjunction, and hence the comic pleasure derived from the teasing and diversionary “pleasure of the game” (Lyotard in Flieger, 1991, p. 191), prolonging and enhancing the games’ re-playability. Manipulation laid bare takes the form of “play” with the player, and the player’s [re]engagement occurs through sharing the joke, and re-considering her own expectations.

Once learned, conventions recede from awareness as habit takes over. This article has drawn attention to instances where both manipulation and the underlying mechanical-habitual nature of learned skills are deliberately exposed, with comic effect. Rather than being merely exceptional instances, it is suggested that these moments become intrinsic to the way we experience the games. They are “exceptional” in the sense that they work in contrast to expectations established in the course of play — yet, in so doing, they self-consciously reveal a “typical” aspect of the game and genre, making the player aware of their manipulation by the game, and her/his own expectations in relation to it. It is for this reason that Shklovsky calls the parodic novel Tristram Shandy “the most typical novel in world literature” (Shklovsky, 1990, p. 170). The interesting paradox implied here is that metafictional humor itself becomes a genre convention, associated with adventure games which — often self-referentially and intertextually — claim/situate themselves within a particular lineage.

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