Media Technology MSc

Postmodernism in Videogames (2005)

Postmodernism in Videogames Postmodernism questioned the way we see the world around us. This resulted in texts that tried to undermine this view of the world. In postmodernist novels, writers wanted to confront the reader with the fact that they were reading a book and did this with meta-reflections. In the text they told the reader that what they were reading now was just black ink on a white piece of paper. This is called a meta-reflection, a text reflecting on the fact that it’s a text. As a result of this the reader of a postmodern text is constantly wondering what he is reading. Is he reading some meta-reflective text, is he reading on the story level or maybe something in between?
Lost in the Funhouse: Postmodern Meta-Reflections in Videogames
In videogames you can easily find examples of meta-reflections. Just think of sentences like “game over”, or “round one fight” that appear in the screen of the player. The problem with these meta-reflections is that they stand outside the actual game. It seems strange that videogames haven’t made the to expressing a postmodern view of the world. It is a logical next step to create a more interesting videogame. To see if postmodern meta-reflections would add something to the videogame discourse student Jelle van der Ster built such a game as a case study. Jelle decided to base his game on Max Payne 2, because it is a textbook adventure game that clearly tells a story scripted by its creator. The postmodern meta-reflections implemented into the game were taken from John Barth’s novel Lost in the Funhouse, a typical postmodern meta-reflective story. For example, at some point the player is told by voice-over that the interface is kept to a bare minimum to enhance the feeling of reality in the game. Or when the player hears that the design of the game-level could have been changed to atmosphere that resembles the atmosphere in The Godfather. Jelle’s postmodern Max Payne level shows how with the help of postmodern meta reflections games can be made that not only tell a story but convey a postmodern world view through this story. Perhaps if videogames start expressing real thought about the world then they will be taken seriously as a genre. For this graduation project, Jelle worked in very close cooperation with Yasco Horsman, a literature scientist at Leiden University.