Intertextuality & Reader-Response

I’m a lover of puns; this is an ability I attribute to having learned multiple languages and having been raised bilingual. Given this admission, I don’t believe it that hard to leap to the conclusion that I am also a fan of intertextuality, in its myriad forms.

Before starting this blog it would not be uncommon for me to have a discussion with friends over videogames and their function as entertainment versus a narrative text versus an artistic choice versus a simple interactive interface versus… you get the idea. However, the other intertextuality that is striking me more and more is that of emotional connection, which is not quite the same as immersion. I’ve been attached, emotionally, to many characters and situations in games when the games themselves made no draw on actually making me feel part of their world. This is hardly a surprise, as the fine arts have been able to do this for years.

Despite Brecht’s insistence that all of us become drugged with emotion when watching a play, I would argue that an audience is quite varied and many will surprise you with their reaction. This is where we begin walking down the path of a theory of criticism that is the rather looked down upon: reader-response (at least in the literary circles through which I circulate). If a particular videogame’s dialog, voice acting, or plot make me yawn, I am likely not to play them these days. When I was younger I felt a need to complete a list, or to notch my belt with my gamer status, so to speak. These days I’m swimming in games and often leave a game ignored in favor of another game that catches my interest.

Yet, there’s no denying there are titles that grab my interest from childhood which I am almost afraid to replay due to my more honed sense of what I like and dislike, my own reader response, and the intertextuality I have now to offer. I’ve avoided the Xeno– games because I am actually quite familiar with the literary, mythological, and operatic devices it uses and am afraid of how I may view how well or poorly they’ve been constructed together in the script. There’s almost a charm to that game I fear may not be there upon picking up the games again.

Most of those fears are foundless, actually. I began (and was quickly distracted away from) Fallout this summer and found it just as amusing and nuanced as I recalled it.

What occured to me the other day was the fact that this blog and the ensuing dialog in which I am engaging with other bloggers (even if reading their posts and never commenting) is that I am bringing a further toolset with me to bare in analyzing videogames I play in the future.

The other avenue in which this field amazes me is how it is influencing the world around us. Not only are videogames providing entertainment, but they are feeding back into our perception of the world. This can as simple as the dream I had before a fellow gamer’s birthday party where I imagined us playing human Tetris (this became disturbing when the dream allowed for us chopping off the rows that were complete), or a fellow coworker admitting she played the same game and envisioned stacking up objects around her to entertain an otherwise distracted mind. However, we’re also seeing them starting to infiltrate popular culture, art, and I imagine they’ll add to how we envision future inventions (much like science fiction, especially shows like Star Trek).

Take Owen Pallett, for example. For some he’s known as a violinist who’s supported Arcade Fire both live and in the studio. Otherwise, he’s the pretty much one-man band behind Final Fantasy. The name itself is rather obvious; however, his albums deal with more weighty topics through the lens of videogame metaphors and allusions. His second album, He Poos Clouds, had a running theme where eight of the ten songs were dedicated to a particular school of magic from Dungeons & Dragons. The song for illusion is the album-titled track:


(I wonder if he’s played Shadow of the Colossus.)
So there is no confusion for those who may wonder concerning the lyrics, yes, he is queer. Overtly, the song calls upon the listener to realize the narrator’s sometimes confusion of the world he inhabits and that of the boys he moves with his thumbs. This further breaks down into the rather desolate feeling of a gay man stuck in a world where everyone seems stricken with a dark past, so he identifies more with fantasy versions of the sex for which he pines.

The last stanza is one over which one is constantly tripping over references to the Legend of Zelda and Narnia series:

Gotta fulfill the seven prophecies!
Gotta be a friend to grandmother!
Gotta rescue Michael from the White Witch!
Gotta find and kill my shadow self.
Gotta dig up every secret seashell.
You may have been made for love–
But I’m just made.

Videogames, they’ll get you to thinking, they will. Much as with the case of intertextuality and how it is interpreted outside of literary theory and in terms of popular culture, these are references which will add to our appreciation and understanding of the song itself. Could one get the song without the above lyrics? Well, the question would then become whether the allusions to Link are really necessary to the song, or whether one can have an image in one’s head of various quests and tropes one would expect from a videogame.

These are things I’m questioning more because writing in this space is encouraging me to pool together my thoughts and examine how the various elements in my life connect. After all, if it initially fails, I’ll just cart it in front of me, examine it again, take a deep breath, let it out, and try again.

About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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One Response to Intertextuality & Reader-Response

  1. Donelle says:

    Thanks for writing this.

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