- “We Need Radical Gameplay, Not Just Radical Graphics”: Towards a Contemporary Minor Practice in Computer Gaming
A minor literature does not come from a minor language; it is rather that which a minority constructs within a major language. But the first characteristic of a minor literature in any case is that in it language is affected with a high coefficient of deterritorialization.
What do we look like from [game]space? What do we look like to [game]space? Surely we resemble a Beckettian assemblage of abstracted functions more than we do a holistic organism connected to a great chain of being. As games players, we are merely a set of directional impulses (up, down, left, right).
As Jesper Juul demonstrates in chapter 5 of Half-Real: Video Games Between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds (2005), in computer games there are always at least two stories going alongside each other.1 The story of the game, what could be called the “internal” narrative, might be wrapped in a layer of fiction in the manual or in the introduction, or on the back of the box, but is at the bottom line run within the game by its source code. Alongside this runs the story of the playing, a narrative that is pieced together out of action, experience, frustration, and imagining as the player makes his or her way through the game itself. When the player begins a game of Super Mario Bros.2 (1985) for the NES, they see a screen displaying the title and offering the [End Page 163] option to play one- or two-player mode. Upon selecting one of these options, the player is thrown straight into the world of blue sky, bricks and hostile mushrooms and turtles that makes up the game’s diegetic play space. One has to read the manual to learn the “plot” of the game:
One day the kingdom of the peaceful mushroom people was invaded by the Koopa, a tribe of turtles famous for their black magic. The quiet, peace-loving Mushroom People were turned into mere stones, bricks and even field horse-hair plants, and the Mushroom Kingdom fell into ruin.
The only one who can undo the magic spell on the Mushroom People and return them to their normal selves is the Princess Toadstool, the daughter of the Mushroom King. Unfortunately, she is presently in the hands of the great Koopa turtle king.
Mario, the hero of this story (maybe) hears about the Mushroom People’s plight and sets out on a quest to free the Mushroom Princess from the evil Koopa and restore the fallen kingdom of the Mushroom People.
You are Mario! It’s up to you to save the Mushroom People from the black magic of the Koopa!(Object of the Game/Game Description from the manual of Super Mario Bros.)
The diegetic narrative faced in completing a level of Super Mario Bros. relates not to this plot but to the positions and movements of the enemies and the length and pattern of movements. This formulation is central to Lev Manovich’s approach to games in The Language of New Media, the “narrative shell” concealing a simple algorithm that becomes, through play, “well familiar to the player” (2002, 222).
It is patterns, distances, and positions that make up the temporal progression of the game, and these aspects are defined by code. Galloway puts the distinct algorithmic narrative of games as opposed to films as follows:
what is so interesting about computer games is that they essentially invert film’s political conundrum, leading to almost exactly the opposite scenario. Video games don’t attempt to hide informatic control; they flaunt it…. To play the game means to play the code of the game. To win means to know the system. And thus to interpret a game means to interpret its algorithm.(2006, 90–91)
It is the learning of orders and the function of reflexes that underlie the motivation to continue playing; as such, to play a game in any way is to apprehend its underlying structures. We are never thinking about being Mario and...