Below is an attempt at converging two of my main interests, metafiction and simulation, with Alternate Reality Games, my main focus. Many of the ideas are rough, and the seams are jagged, but it is a first attempt!
Narratives and games have enjoyed a close, if contentious, relationship over the past decade. With the increased adoption of digital technology into games—whether digital remediations of board games like checkers, chess, or Monopoly, or games developed solely for a digital platform, such as Asteroids, Pac-Man, or Grand Theft Auto 3—the convergence, as Henry Jenkins describes it, of what is more traditionally seen as narrative media (print, film, television, etc.) and interactive video games has led to many new possibilities. With the increase in computing speed and power, more and more complex narrative elements, such as photo-realistic animated “cut scenes” that serve as interstitial narrative guideposts between the “playable” segments of many digital games, are appearing in video games. Most recently, these cut scenes have been integrated into the playable interactive user interface. One such example is with Quantic Dream’s recent title Heavy Rain, which has been described in the New York Times as “a brilliantly engaging example of nonlinear storytelling” and compared, not unfavorably, to the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and David Lynch (Schiesel). With the increasing convergence of games and narrative, it is no wonder that narratology is a popular tool for the academic study of video games.
The 2004 critical essay collection First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game showcases many of the narratological approaches to video games. Janet Murray and Ken Perlin, in separate essays, situate interactive video games as an extension of narrative, applying the aesthetics of storytelling to games. In the same volume, however, Espen Aarseth passionately argues against the narratological colonization of games, stating that “games are not ‘textual’ or at least not primarily textual,” questioning “why aesthetics would be the most relevant perspective” for the study of games, and finally, plainly stating that “games are games”—with the strong implication that games are not stories (“Genre Trouble” 46-9). While this dialogue serves an important purpose for the foundation of video game studies as a distinct discipline, as well as a primer for constructive critical approaches to video games and storytelling in what Lev Manovich calls the “database logic” of new media in The Language of New Media, the particular question of whether games are narratives is not the central focus of this critical assessment. Rather, Gonzalo Frasca’s response to this debate provides a framework from which I explore narrative text in terms of a specific type of game, the simulation—an approach that is perhaps a reversal of what Aarseth finds so polemical about narratologists infringing upon the field of ludology. I will argue, that by considering the aesthetics of simulation and the shortcomings of hypertext, the metafiction of a group of Argentine writers—Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and, most importantly, Macedonio Fernandez—can be understood as offering readers an interactive, generative framework to realize the possibilities of narrative form. The aesthetics of this type of metafiction interrogate the distinction between the real and the fictional, a perspective that is increasingly relevant to an everyday life imbued with digital telecommunication technology.