Video game

Super Mario Brothers Karamazov: literature is starting to take the game seriously | Books

EAt the start of Demain, et Demain, et Demain by Gabrielle Zevin, one of the three main characters gives a fictional interview to a very real video game publication. Samson Mazur, troubled but passionate, tells the interviewer: “There is no more intimate act than play, even sex.” It’s a bombshell statement, but perfect in the context of a novel that cherishes the act of play and holds it sacred. In some ways, it’s a thesis statement for Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow itself: the novel that opens its heart and shows you what it’s really about.

Video games are rarely treated in literature as a site of emotion, but in Zevin’s work they are the very landscape in which the full spectrum of relationships, heartbreak and love unfolds. The world of video games is a surprisingly rare place for the modern world. commercial or literary novel, despite the fact that they have long since passed from children’s toy or technological curiosity to such a mainstream form of entertainment as is ordinary.

In Stephen Sexton’s award-winning collection of poetry, If All the World and Love Were Young, the structure is a direct reflection of the narrative and physical journey through the Super Nintendo System classic, Super Mario World. Each piece of the work is named after and directly in conversation with a level of the game. The emotional core of the work is that it is an elegy for his mother: reading the poems, we are immediately placed in the strange and pixelated world of the game, on Yoshi’s Island, in Donut Plains: but above all, we are also in Sexton’s childhood, in front of his television, in the landscape of his youth. The discussion of video game terms such as “infinite lives” becomes richer and deeper when we take this language and place it back into our own navigation of loss. It forces readers to allow a technical term in video gaming to become poetic, transfer meaning, and develop depth.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow also address this dissonance: in video games, death is simply part of the game. When you die, you start over. Over the metaphors, this very standard video game mechanic becomes deeply confronting.

Video games are much younger than books, and we’re only at the beginning of what they could become. When asked about her thoughts on the relationship between video games and literature as mediums, Zevin said, “Video games are incredibly young. form – obviously much younger than the books, and we’re only at the beginning of what they could become”.

She’s right: the relative newness of video games versus the novel is what really separates them, making their intersections all the more special and rare. The first video games appeared in the 1950s, long before the black and white home consoles that brought Pong to living rooms in the 1970s. From that captivating single screen to the superficial psychedelic touch of Candy Crush, or the rolling, emotive landscapes of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or the delicate artistry and literary merit of Disco Elysium, video games have come an extraordinary distance both technologically and artistically in the 50 years that have passed since Pong. In contrast, the first Greek and Latin texts that can be considered prose romances date from the first century. Fifty years is a point, a pixel, compared to the history of the book.

Arguably, video games have much more in common with cinema, in terms of their growth as an art form: some 50 years after the birth of the moving image in 1895, in 1941, audiences met Citizen Kane. As early as 2017, The Hollywood Reporter noted that the video game industry earned almost three times more than the film industry.

We now see video games more regularly intersect with television and cinema, but here again, literature and poetry are on the other side of an abyss. Bridging writers like Zevin and Sexton blaze an important trail. Ernest Cline’s popular but hugely controversial Ready Player One certainly crossed that gap in 2011, but Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow takes a more humane and elegant path through video game culture than the fairly literal, dated feel. from Cline’s book. Tomorrow is a work about people who play games to survive, and who make games to live: it does not use the language of video games as a setting. On the contrary, the world of video games and video game development is just the landscape in which life takes place. This job doesn’t punish you for not knowing who Solid Snake is or for never playing a farming simulator. Tomorrow is above all love, and if you miss a reference, you will not feel it.

Waterstones Head of Fiction Bea Carvalho notes Tomorrow’s accessibility: “The game’s story here is fascinating and the nostalgia is staggering: it will be an instant classic for any game fan, and will surely encourage many readers. to dust off old consoles. But Zevin’s talent is such that prior fandom is by no means a prerequisite, as she uses the art form as a prism through which to understand the political and technological landscape of the time and explore identity. , grief, mental health, success and failure, among many others. other subjects.

The works of Sexton, Zevin, and Cline are by no means the only books on video games, nor the only works of art in which video games are central to the emotional arc. Alan Butler’s On Exactitude in Science, shown at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in 2017, featured Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi in a cinematic diptych with his own mirroring work: a frame-by-frame recreation of the original shot from Reggio into the world of Grand Theft Auto 5. Even further back in 1979, long before Charlie Brooker’s Bandersnatch brought the interactive story into modern homes via Netflix, Lynn Hershman Leeson’s installation Lorna invited viewers to participate in an interactive narrative using a remote control, television and laser disc system to choose their path through a harrowing story about agoraphobia.

In non-fiction, Boss Fight Books has been publishing slim, thoughtful volumes of personal essays and in-depth game studies since 2013, and is arguably on its way to becoming a Rough Trade Books of the medium. Each Boss Fight Book focuses on a single video game, and the author’s perspective on it, as well as the story of the work, from Earthbound to Goldeneye, closely reading not only the game but often the life of the writer whom the game has touched, too.

Video games have teetered on the fringes of other art forms for almost as long as they’ve existed, and to see them become the heart of novels such as Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow Brings Hope. Games are an intimate experience, just like the experience of reading literature and witnessing art – and that intimacy is what can connect and bring them together. Their pasts may be misaligned, but their future is full of promise.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin is published by Chatto & Windus. To support the Guardian and the Observer, order your copy from guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.
On July 20, Waterstones Piccadilly will host an event with Gabrielle Zevin in conversation with Anna James.