Over at Backlog Crusader, an interesting question has been posed.
Students all over the world have to read certain classic literature in school such as: Hamlet, Lord of the Flies, The Great Gatsby, Homer’s Odyssey, etc. With that in mind…
Imagine it’s 2050 and you’re helping design a course for high school students called Video Game Literary Classics. You have been asked to suggest a culturally significant video game (or several) for students to academically analyze and discuss, as they would with classic literature. Which video game title(s) would you choose for literary study and why?
So funny story: I’ve actually already taken pretty much that exact course in real life! My degree involved a couple of unusual modules, put it that way.
That was a few years ago, though, so this seems a good time to reconsider what we might think of as a ‘literary’ video game. Angie (she of Backlog Crusader who has come up with this most interesting of questions) suggests that we’re looking at games which say something significant about humanity, however they might achieve that. I think there are probably a few criteria by which we might decide that a game is worthy of study, so let’s consider…
- No More Heroes
Perhaps Suda51’s strangest work, and that’s saying something, NMH is a game about what it means – what it really means – to embrace the sorts of values perhaps inadvertently promoted by mass media, gaming specifically. It’s a character study depicting (by taking to an extreme, as Suda usually does) desensitisation to violence and the idea of trying to live out the death-filled warrior-hero life that some gaming protagonists seem to take for granted.
- NieR: Automata
I don’t know of a game more literary in the sense of being aware of, referencing, and building upon other literature. There’s so much to say about this game, but I’ll leave it to Michael Saba to expound on how Automata is not only literature-minded but also literary on its own terms, developing its own philosophy which it communicates in ways only a game possibly could.
- Shadow of the Colossus
Continuing the theme of telling stories only possible in this unique medium, SotC is a phenomenal interactive tragedy. It exposes what we as players take for granted about games, and indeed our reactions to games, and turns everything on its head. It is as much about the player realising what a terrible mistake they’ve made as it is about the protagonist’s equal epiphany.
- Kingdom Hearts
I had to. I genuinely think, though, that KH is culturally significant, which is another reason for a work to find itself an object of study. If nothing else, its place in history as the bizarre coming-together of Disney and Final Fantasy makes it worth consideration.
- Final Fantasy XII
Another possible criterion for inclusion in the pantheon of literariness is reference to and awareness of a wider context. FFXII is laden with this kind of outward gaze, dependent for its effect on previous Final Fantasy titles as well as Star Wars and Shakespeare.
I’m including Skyrim specifically because I think it’s just a great game that everyone should get to play, but Elder Scrolls lore more widely touches on an absolute smorgasbord of topics that wouldn’t be out of place on any philosophy degree: you can use it as a launching point for discussion on McTaggart’s A and B series of time, Lewis’s deictic use of ‘actual’ to explain multiple universes as being only a problem of self-reference, Buddhist and Taoist conceptions of transcendence and the Way, and a whole host of other philosophical and lightly theological subjects.
There’s a lot more that could be said about each of these (and indeed I have said a lot more about several of these in a variety of places), but I think I’ll keep it snappy for now. It’s a super-interesting prompt, and perhaps you’ve got some ideas for games that deserve to be included on this course! If so, you’ve still got a couple of weeks to make your suggestions known.