Video Games: Postmodernist Texts?

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A common feature of postmodern narratives is transforming our position from passive readers/viewers unquestioningly receiving the narrative to more active participants with a degree of control over the text. For instance, postmodern narratives often have ambiguous conclusions or present us with multiple endings thereby granting us the power to choose how the story ends. In Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods we are presented with variations of the same incident and it is up to the reader to decide which one actually occurred in the narrative while R. L. Stine’s Give Yourself Goosebumps series literally offers readers the choice to turn to particular pages for different outcomes.

A similar trend occurs in postmodernist cinema. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, for example, prompts us to interpret the film by offering the viewer a series of incongruous scenes we are meant to piece together while films with ambiguous endings like Ghost World are actually ordering the viewer to decide what happens in it. In this sense then, we can see video games as postmodernist texts. They take this idea of audience participation further in that the player literally controls the narrative. Video games involve a combination of both narrative and gameplay as the player alternates between viewing cutscenes/reading text and controlling the character’s actions/solving puzzles. This is apparent in games such as The Last of Us in particular. This game appears to deliberately blur the boundaries between literature and gaming. Indeed, the experience of playing it feels very similar to watching a film. For example, after a prologue, the game opens with credits similar to those of a film. Also, the quality of graphics in the gameplay is identical to that of the cutscenes so there is a seamless transition between watching what is happening on your television screen and controlling it.

Moreover, some games oblige the player to make moral choices and the decisions you make during the game will have a direct impact on the narrative and its outcome. In Bioshock for example, the player can decide whether to kill or save certain characters in the game and the ending will differ depending on which you choose.

Because of the level of participation in narrative involved in video games, they can therefore be seen as postmodernist texts.

Here is the opening scene/minutes of gameplay of The Last of Us. As we can see, it looks more like a film than a game. It is often difficult to distinguish between when the player is controlling the characters or watching cutscenes:

Once this scene ends, the opening credits roll, furthering the game’s resemblance to film:

Here is an article about moral choices in games and identification with game protagonists:

For further information on postmodernism, metafiction and audience participation, see here:

Bioshock. Ken Levine and Alyssa Finley. 2k Games, 2007. Game.

Ghost World. Terry Zwigoff. United Artists, 2001. Film.

O’Brien, Tim. In the Lake of the Woods. London: Flamingo, 1995. Print.

Stine, R. L. Give Yourself Goosebumps. New York: Scholastic, 1995. Print.

The Last of Us. Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann. Naughty Dog, 2013. Game.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Dir. David Lynch. New Line Cinema, 1992. Film.

Van Der Ster, Jelle. ‘Lost in the Funhouse: Postmodern meta-reflections in videogames.’ Uni>ersia, 24 Sept. 2009. 10 Mar. 2015. Web.


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