The story is full of twists and turns. I actually cried when Ezio, the narrator for much of the story, had to watch his family hang in the middle of Firenze. I love the plot, I love the framed narrative, I love seeing Italy during the Renaissance. I was consistently surprised throughout my first reading of the piece and I truly recommend that you pick it up.
The story is from Assassin’s Creed II. A video game.
Can I find any important literary aspects in Pong? No. Because it’s digital tennis. But I can absolutely find literary devices in more modern games, Assassin’s Creed and BioShock among those.
Consider that the assassinations, the gun shots, the knife fights, the murder, death, and fighting which are prevalent in today’s games are just symptoms of it being a game in the same way that turning a page is a symptom of the book as a medium. Take them out of the equation and look at the stories.
Characterization, Plot, Metaphor, Personification, and Point of View are all present in modern day games.
Let’s look back at Assassin’s Creed II for characters and characterization. There are actually two protagonists, Ezio and Desmond, through which the narration of the story is framed and they each have their own antagonists. Ezio is battling against the Templar family the Borgia’s while Desmond is fighting the Templar Company Abstergo. Minor characters abound and you-the-player must help them—or ignore them if that’s your prerogative.
But characters don't make the plot.
Foreshadowing, suspense, conflict, rising action, crisis, even sometimes flat out exposition in the cut scenes also occur in modern video games. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, you play as the Inquisitor as you look for rebellious mages and templars across the land who are waging a war that is catching innocent victims in the crossfire. In the opening scene, your character runs through the realm of the dead and through a portal into the world of the living. Then she, or he, passes out. The first chance you have for interaction is when you are questioned about your involvement in the explosion that caused the very demons you were just running from to fall from the sky.
The game starts in crisis. Many games actually begin this way, with a war, or a haunting, or a string of murders already in progress. A low level of suspense is then elevated as the situation worsens and reaches a climax. Just like you might find in a book.
In BioShock, a first person shooter, you play as Jack, who just crash landed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and happened upon the underwater city of Rapture. Obviously designed to be utopia away from the prying eyes of the government and their laws, Rapture is now crumbling as seen not only from its drug addicted residents but also from the many leaks around pathways.
You are guided by Atlas who asks you to hijack a series of rooms and items on your descent through Rapture. Each time he asks you to do something required for the story to move forward he states “would you kindly.”
When you pick up your first syringe of EVE, the substance used to power your new super powers, at the beginning of the game, you do it without being told.
Many players take this, and other instances of already knowing how things work, as foreshadowing. Jack already knows why he needs the syringe because Jack was already in Rapture.
As you follow Atlas’s suggestions, watching as Andrew Ryan destroys everything in your path in an attempt to kill you, you find out that Jack is actually Jack Ryan, and that he was brainwashed as a child so that he could kill Atlas, aka Frank Fontaine. Oh, and Jack has a trigger phrase, that when said he’ll do anything, even kill a puppy as you-the-player get to listen to on your journey of discovery.
“Would you kindly kill Andrew Ryan?”
Andrew Ryan’s dying words have a lot of meaning in them. As you beat him to death, because you literally have no choice, Andrew Ryan screams at you “A man chooses; a slave obeys.”
When you hear “A man chooses; a slave obeys” you-the-reader should wonder who he’s talking to. In the grand scheme of the game, you-the-player control Jack and he is a symbol of your choices. So is Jack the slave? Or are you?
Again, it’s just a game. Certainly no deeper meaning here.
Setting changes from game to game. Not just the when, where, and what but also the level of interactivity. Sure, there are plenty of towns and forests to choose from when talking about setting in games, but the best ones, just like the best ones in literature, make an impact on the story and the gameplay.
In BioShock, all that lovely water comes in handy if you want to electrocute your foes. It’s not just there for symbolism.
In the second half of its definition of electronic literature, the ELO states that it has to “take advantage of the capabilities and context provided by the stand-alone or networked computer.”
Stop thinking of games as games that children play with monotonous and repetitious game play and start thinking about games as electronic choose your own adventure literature.
The meanings we can glean from video games depend on the interactions of the player as opposed to non-electronic literature in which we can only bring our own experiences and prejudices. If you play more, you discover more. If you read more, you can only discover what the author left for you.
So, would you kindly consider video games a form of electronic literature?