E-Literature Gaming

For most people, reading a book and playing a video game are two very separate activities.  In fact, more often than not we are encouraged to do the former in lieu of the latter.  While there is certainly merit in reading more tangible literature, I cannot help but question the value of books within games.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution contains many such essays, stories, emails, news articles, etc.

Yes, that’s right, I said books within games.  As strange as it may sound, game developers have for years integrated various forms of literature into the games they develop.  Starting with the days of text-based role-playing games to Doom, Deus Ex, The Elder Scrolls, and even Bioshock, many of the games we play today have a very literature-richhistory and foundation.  Perhaps the most recent (and by far the most notable) example of this is the recently released The Elder Scrolls V:  Skyrim, which came with over one-hundred different stories, journals, et cetera planted throughout the game world.  A link to a master list of these texts can be found here.

One example of Skyrim's many novels.

Certainly, Skyrim contains no Pulitzer Prize-winning literature, and in fact most of it is very short (no more than a couple pages worth of text at best).  Nevertheless, I believe it has value in what we have been discussing in class.  On the first day we met, we defined Electronic Literature as something that is “digital born”; requires the use of a computer or other digital reader in order to access.  Literature such as the many texts in Skyrim require not only such an electronic device, but access to the game as well (at least in order to read them in their original setting).

Doom 3 was one of the original games to use email correspondences as a story device.

I will admit, however, that this practice has declined significantly over the years.  Creating in-game literature is not cheap — especially when producing it in high quality and volume.  In addition, advances in 3D technology have decreased the cost of producing digital animation, allowing many developers to tell their story through CGI instead of text.  The art itself has become more an externality now than an auxiliary mechanic.

But what do you think?  Do you believe this constitutes as Electronic Literature?  And what about its use as a game mechanic?  For those who consider themselves hardened “gamers”, do you read the literary material / texts you come across while playing these games?  These are the questions game developers tend to ask themselves before beginning a new project.  You never know when game developer might find him or herself reading the input you provide below…

  2 comments for “E-Literature Gaming

  1. shannotated
    January 27, 2012 at 9:52 am

    I think it absolutely counts as Elit!

    I am a bit of a book collector in Skyrim. While I don’t read every word, I definitely skim them. I love finding hilarious inside jokes and anecdotes that the writers have included. It’s breaking the third wall in a very charming way and it makes me appreciate the game even more 🙂

  2. David Jalajel
    April 3, 2016 at 5:39 am

    “Skyrim contains no Pulitzer Prize-winning literature…” agreed. However, Skyrim as a whole, including its in-game literature and everything else that makes it a cohesive work of art, is actually superior to much Pulitzer Prize-winning literature. The in-game literature is part of the experience of the whole, in the way that T.S. Elliott’s notes on “The Wasteland” constitute part of the poem, or even more so. Therefore, though the in-game books fit the definition of e-lit given above, they are not intended to stand on their on, but constitute an indispensable part of a larger work of art whose literary merit is, in my opinion, unquestionable.

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