University of Central Florida
University of Central Florida
Citation: Salter, Anastasia and John Murray. “Blocked In.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 21, 2019. doi:10.20415/hyp/021.g05
Abstract: Anastasia Salter and John Murray’s Blocked In combines a Twine-style hypertext with a platformer in order to disrupt the genre expectations, particularly the division between play and progress, text and image, and form and content.
Keywords: game, criticism, Twine, art, platformer, game studies.
Roger Ebert launched hundreds of op-eds and thesis writers with his repeated statement: “Video games can never be art.” But before we can even begin to ask (much less answer) the question of whether games are “art,” we first have to decide what games are. Academics, game critics, gamers, and game designers have all thrown in their hats on this intense debate, with boundaries continually being drawn to cut out “games” that are declared too literary, too passive, or simply too weird—all qualities that can also add to our understanding of games as an art form.
In Blocked In we represent this debate through the fusion of two competing aesthetic genres: the hypertextual Twine game, and the traditional arcade platformer. We’ve melded these two very different game forms together at the level of code, as the player must move forward in the platformer to advance in Twine. Both are genres with a legacy of metagaming and commentary, as game designers have used their mechanisms to comment on the games industry and its direction. As the player moves through the pits and platforms of the arcade mechanics, they will also advance in a text that asks the player to rethink their own expectations of games and play. The legacy of the overblown yet still-influential ludology versus narratology debate lives on in this game: the play-focused arcade mechanisms blend and push at the narrative-heavy text, which in turn exposes a conflict underneath the entwined games. The minimalist style of the game likewise asks the player to reconsider a question addressed by Janet Murray: can a game like Tetris primarily be understood as an “abstract pattern of counters, rules, and player action,” or is there more to these patterns? Do the blocks and platforms of games have stories to tell us? Stephen Beirne suggests that when we focus on those aspects of a game, we’re being “ludo-centric” – we care most about the parts of the work we can recognize as a game. This approach that can lead to “ludo-fundamentalism,” or the inflation of the parts we play while ignoring the non-playable parts, like this game’s integrated texts.
Throughout Blocked In, the player cannot move forward in reading without making it past simple platformer puzzles – thus, the act of interpreting and engaging with text demands participation, and even frustration for those not comfortable navigating the jumping and hazards. Blocked In ends with a call to players to think about the games they play—and don’t play—even as they are invited to participate in redefining the boundaries of the medium by picking up free tools and diving in to game design.
- Roger Ebert, “Video Games Can Never Be Art,” April 16, 2010, accessed April 1, 2016, rogerebert.com/rogers-journal/video-games-can-never-be-art
- For an overview, see Espen Aarseth, “A Narrative Theory of Games,” Foundation of Digital Games Proceedings 2012, dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2282365
- Janet Murray, “The Last Word on Ludology v Narratalogy,” 2005, accessed April 1, 2016, inventingthemedium.com/2013/06/28/the-last-word-on-ludology-v-narratology-2005/
- Stephen Beirne, “Why I Said Ludo-fundamentalism and not something else,” January 13, 2015, accessed October 3, 2016, normallyrascal.com/2015/01/13/why-i-said-ludo-fundamentalism/