Interprocedurality: Procedural Intertextuality in Digital Games

Interprocedurality: Procedural Intertextuality in Digital Games

Marcelo Simão de Vasconcellos (Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), Brazil), Flávia Garcia de Carvalho (Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), Brazil) and Inesita Soares de Araujo (Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), Brazil)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0477-1.ch013
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Intertextuality is present in most digital games since their beginnings. However, despite its importance for understanding games, research about the theme tends to be disproportionally rare and limited to representational aspects (text, images, audio, etc.), leaving out games' most distinctive characteristics, namely, their rules and mechanics. Since the classic concept of intertextuality does not account for this dimension, the authors propose a concept that is to games what intertextuality is for texts, combining principles of intertextuality with the theory of procedural rhetoric, which deals with the construction of meaning in digital games. This concept, interprocedurality, describes the explicit or implicit inclusion of other games' rules and mechanics in a given game. As a way to exemplify its presence in a specific game, this chapter presents a brief analysis of the interprocedurality occurring in the digital game Deus Ex: Human Revolution and the findings it generated.
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Digital games seem particularly related to intertextuality. Since their early beginnings, games have been incorporating themes, structures and other elements from previous media like literature, comics and movies. The creator of Spacewar! (1962), for example, clearly identifies Buck Rogers novels and comics as inspiration for the ship’s design in his game, while Galaxy Game (1971) and Computer Space (1971) were both based on spaceship travel and combat as depicted in many science fiction books (Kent, 2001). Science fiction was not the only influence in digital games, though. Fantasy also was a frequent source of references and inspiration to games. Colossal Cave Adventure (1976), Atari 2600’s Adventure (1979), Dungeons (1975), Telengard (1976) and Zork (1976), had magic, dragons and castles, assumedly taking inspiration from the pen and paper role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons (Jerz, 2007).

At first, this probably occurred due their technical limitations, since labeling an enemy as “alien” was an economic way to tap into a rich tradition of science fiction invasion stories, quickly giving players some narrative context about the crude pixels on the screen. Resorting to stereotypes made the apprehension of the new media by the public easier and at the same time, functioned as narrative shortcuts, saving computational resources from the duty of explaining the narrative for the players, in a similar fashion that genre-based authors make conscious use of intertextuality in order to weave complex narratives without having to include long explanations (Kaveney, 2005).

With the advancement of computers, games could store more information, present richer graphics and run complex simulations. Star Wars, Ghostbusters and other movies became games, even unofficially, as is the case of Metal Gear Solid taking many narrative elements from the movie Escape from New York (Good, 2015). Now, the links with other texts could be both more frequent and more sophisticated, creating a constant interplay between games and previous media.

However, intertextuality was never a frequent research theme in Game Studies. An inquiry on intertextuality in a number of journals related to Game Studies generates few results, revealing a field of research in need of more attention. Moreover, even the existing studies about intertextuality in digital games usually limit their analysis to games’ text, sounds and images (referred in this chapter as representation elements). While this has generated very interesting work, it does not adequately address the peculiarities of digital games. Besides representation elements, games have rules that structure their operations and are codified in procedures processed by a computer. This systemic dimension is also expressive in itself, conveying meaning through processes and algorithms. Moreover, games often copy, change and twist mechanics and rules of previous games. The authors argue that such phenomenon is very similar to intertextuality and, in this sense, looking at such rules and mechanics “migration” could be a useful way to complement intertextual approaches for understanding games.

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