BY A.A. BENJAMIN
I might be digitally illiterate.
I’ve already admitted that my values of perseverance in video games is shamefully low. The mobile Zork app has kicked my butt. Trying to play this new age Zork has given me a new appreciation for the gamers of old. After watching King of Kong, reading Ready Player One and being schooled by Professor Clayton, I realize how much more dedication the games of the past demanded.
While working on The Stanley Parable I wanted to analyze it as an evolution of the Text-Based Game. It followed narrative as if it were a written story, and like TBGs it gave open-ended game play. I thought I’d love it because of its writerly aspects, but I quickly learned that the gaming methods I’d picked up over the years wouldn’t fly in the Zork world. I ran into dead ends, I had no idea what to do with all my fragmented inventory items, and I felt like there was some inside knowledge going on that was miles away from me. We talked about how The Stanley Parable relies on endings for its appeal…and the fact that Zork felt endless made me stop the game many times without getting much further past the introductory mailbox scene.
The mechanics of the game also stumped me. You have to think of EVERYTHING ahead of time, otherwise you’re screwed. I made the overly excited mistake of going down a trap door without first taking the lantern described in the previous scene. I spent the next twenty minutes being eaten by grues and then repeatedly being told that I couldn’t escape or defend myself because it was too dark to see.
Would I have jumped down a dark trap door in real life without taking the obviously placed lantern?
It was then I learned to appreciate the game’s lack of forgiveness. It forced me to think harder, rather than throwing the rules of real life to the wind. While I doubt I would have lasted a second in previous gaming culture, this reproduced Zork invited me in as well as challenged the way I think about writing.
My theory about The Stanley Parable as a Text-Based Game is vaguely wrong. The Stanley Parable is not on par with the mechanisms used in TBGs, or at least in Zork. However, the fact that TBGs are making a comeback under the guise of “interactive fiction” shows that arts and methodologies are once again merging, now into the virtual and digital world. As books become more outdated we use Kindles and Nooks. Building off of Ernest Cline’s model of free knowledge in Ready Player One, so too could the digitization of literature spark dreams of accessibility and appeal to younger and more diverse generations.
It was for this reason that I was so eager to label The Stanley Parable as text. In other aspects, it is literature. It even tells you so directly in a certain “Window Ending”. But it is not quite a TBG. Zork reminded me that some things don’t fit in boxes so easily. (Ironically, the entire Zork adventure happens in a text box. Things you forget.) Even still I can’t help but feel that because of these waves of interaction between old arts and new something explosive could happen to literature. I want to know that literature can still be at the head of modern advancement, and not the archaic tail.
Until then I’ll be walking around taking unwanted grammar lessons from an old game.