Gamer Response Theory

If two people each play a certain game, then can they meaningfully be said to have played the same game? Or, if we want to tell the whole story, are we obligated further to mention how they played it, what they felt while playing it, and the various ways in which they reacted to their similar-but-separate experiences?

Whoa, let me back up just a tad there. I recently began working at a local grocery market, and it turns out that one of my coworkers is a big strategy games junkie, just as I am. I asked him what sorts of games he likes, and he mentioned the Civilization series, X-Com, Space Empires III, and a couple of other such titles. I immediately thought to myself, "Aha! I know the sort of gamer this person is; he is not unlike me." But can I be so certain that we have anything noteworthy in common? I propose not; for it is hardly noteworthy at all when any two people share an appreciation for the same object. If my coworker tells me, "I like Civ 2," and I say, "So do I!", we have exchanged as little information as had we agreed upon the creamy goodness of root beer (which, I might add, cannot be denied any more readily than the illustriousness of Civ 2). We should ask of both parties the further questions of why they like the things that they do; how their preferences are borne out in practice; and how their practice shapes their lives. I shall argue toward this point via an analogy between literature and games, with the underlying premise being that the rules that govern our interpretation of the one will apply to the other -- at least insofar as is necessary to support my thesis.

In literary circles, there is what is known as reader response theory, which holds that the meaning of a text is subjective, depending largely upon the attributes and attitudes of the person doing the reading. Quoting one of my own professors:

Reader response theory begins from the premise that the reader's role in bringing meaning to a literary work has traditionally been ignored. Traditionally, the text has been seen as containing some meaning or message (hidden or otherwise) that is objectively there for the reader to extract. While there are important differences among them, reader response theorists want to remove the myth of objective meaning from the reading process. Rather, they agree, meaning emerges from some relationship between text and reader, and from neither independently.

Response theory resists any kind of discussion broken down into categories of the reader, the text, and meaning since these three elements are woven together in the process called reading. [...] The reader does not merely internalize the various positions in the text, but rather is "induced to make them act upon and so transform each other as a result of which the aesthetic object begins to emerge." This makes literary text somewhat distinct from other aesthetic objects, which Iser labels "given" objects. Whereas one always stands outside the given object and experiences it qua object, a literary text requires the participation of the subject inside of the object in order to constitute the aesthetic experience.

(Jill Gordon. Turning Toward Philosophy: Literary Device and Dramatic Structure in Plato's Dialogues. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999; pages 44-45, footnotes and page references removed.)

I propose that what holds true of literature in regard to reader response theory must hold doubly true of games, since in many cases the "text" of the game is not even objectively identifiable! For example, every game of Civilization begins with a randomized world map, such that no two players are ever subjected to the same broadly deterministic framework (unless they play set scenarios or multiplayer games). Indeed, I can think of no greater confirmation of reader response theory (as it applies to narrative in general, and therefore games in particular) than the markedly different experiences that each gamer necessarily undergoes, even though they may be playing the same game. One gamer's Half-Life will be very different than any other's, depending even upon such seemingly minor factors as rate of ammo expenditure or whether or not the default key bindings are employed. And who can forget the incomparable Planescape: Torment, which, more than any other game to date, insists that every player devise their own meaning? If gamer response theory is undeniably (or even trivially) true, then reader response theory is likewise confirmed, at least insofar as games and literature have something important in common.

If Tom reads Shakespeare's Hamlet, and Jerry also reads Hamlet, then it will of course be correct to say that they have read the same work; their eyes crossed over precisely the same words, and their fingers turned the same pages. But as mentioned above, I am interested not only in what is true, but also in what happens to be noteworthy. If Tom detects certain instances of rhyme, meter, irony, metaphor, etc., and derives a meaning from the text, and emerges from the text changed in some fashion -- and Jerry detects different literary devices, derives a different meaning, and emerges in some other manner than Tom -- then it is clear that although the text is the same, the acts of reading are so significantly diversified that the continuity of the text between persons is completely overshadowed by the disparity of readings among them. Substitute "Fallout" for "Hamlet" and "play" for "read" above, and you'll see where I'm going with this.

Some critics of reader response theory -- and presumably, too, of its subset, gamer response theory -- argue that it is but post-modernism in a different guise. The response to this is twofold:

1. It is not necessarily true that reader response theorists are post-modernists. For as Gordon notes, "To reject objective meaning is not to reject the possibility of meaning altogether." (44)

2. Aesthetic criticism is the one area where the post-modernist approach retains traction in the face of counterarguments. Insofar as reader response theory and post-modernism are allies, their alliance is stable.

The critic may also respond, "So what? What's it matter if gamer response theory is right? Is anything changed?"

It matters a lot, although the meaning will vary significantly from person to person. (That was a lame attempt at a recursive joke, in case you missed it.) Seriously though, if gamers were to adopt the gamer response theorist's position as a matter of habit, the effect on the gaming landscape would be enormous. For example, the very idea of "reviewing" a game might come under threat, since the worth of any particular game would no longer be thought to be determined in whole by its developer, but also, and perhaps even moreso by the observer/customer/gamer. This seemingly straightforward notion flies in the face of the way we normally treat of games; think of the all-too typical review model, which seeks to determine only what the game itself contributes, and which ignores the things that the game permits, suggests, and even encourages the player to bring to bear. Game reviews would be reduced in stature to mere opinions of individuals -- which is in fact all that they are. I've noticed that many GWJ'ers already shy away from big-name reviews in favor of the personal testimony more in keeping with gamer response theory. Now imagine where IGN would be if everyone felt the same way. The GWJ'ers of whom I speak do not say to themselves, "Oh, that sounds like a neat game, I must have it!" Instead, they say "Wow, that sounds like a neat experience; I'd like to duplicate it!"

To illustrate the same point in a different manner: M.U.S.C.L.E. for the NES is by most accounts a terrible game. But it's one of my favorites, because DrunkenSleipnir and I have a great time drinking liquor and beating each other to death with our blocky little avatars while shouting obscenities at the screen. The non-gamer response theorist may say that M.U.S.C.L.E. is still a terrible game, but that I sometimes enjoy terrible games, depending on my level of inebriation and my proximity to DrunkenSleipnir. On the other hand, the gamer response theorist seeks to avoid the strange paradox of "enjoying terrible games" by saying that it is not games per se that are enjoyable or unenjoyable; rather, it is the experience of gameplay itself, which may vacillate wildly in quality depending upon the status of the gamer.

And should we be so lucky as to emerge from these dark ages of creative paucity and critical depravity within our lifetimes, we gamers will find that we are no longer concerned merely with the enjoyability of games, but also with their overt and covert significance in our lives. When that day comes, gamer response theory will prove an important means with which to assess the games that mold our culture anew.

Comments

In other words, Lobo, you have successfully pinpointed the causation of fanboyism.

Very thought provoking, and elegantly stated.

Think of the all-too typical review model, which seeks to determine only what the game itself contributes, and which ignores the things that the game permits, suggests, and even encourages the player to bring to bear.

An excellent point. I was getting sick of writing reviews even before I read your article, now the idea is really unappealing.

Seriously, though, your article causes me to ponder thusly: of what use is a review that simply provides a primarily value free, encyclopedic nuts-and-bolts description of the game's basic attributes? On the other hand, of what worth is a review that merely provides a description of the subjective personal experiences and feelings the game provides? Should a review provide both?

I've noticed that many GWJ'ers already shy away from big-name reviews in favor of the personal testimony more in keeping with gamer response theory. Now imagine where IGN would be if everyone felt the same way.

The type of game writing you're suggesting sounds a lot like you know what, which states that unlike reviews of games in the traditional sense, articles about games should be...

"...analogous to travel journalism, where the writer responds to experiences presented to them by the game world, as well as interactions with other players online, real-world events surrounding gameplay, and other personal experiences and anecdotes which create a unique story. This story is not necessarily indicative of the experience any other player will have with the game and will be unlikely to offer any value-judgements regarding the game's merits or failings."

Also:

"The worth of gaming lies in the gamer not the game."
The Fly wrote:

Seriously, though, your article causes me to ponder thusly: of what use is a review that simply provides a primarily value free, encyclopedic nuts-and-bolts description of the game's basic attributes? On the other hand, of what worth is a review that merely provides a description of the subjective personal experiences and feelings the game provides? Should a review provide both?

I'm not sure of the right answer to this question. Maybe the right answer is that a review should do neither. Maybe we shouldn't have reviews at all! (Just kidding. Sort of.)

The Fly wrote:

The type of game writing you're suggesting sounds a lot like you know what, which states that unlike reviews of games in the traditional sense, articles about games should be...

Good, I was hoping someone would mention this in the comments, since I decided not to do so in the article. I differ from the NGJ crowd on a couple of points:

1.) I'm trying not to articulate a new style of games writing directly; I'm more concerned with how we think about the relationship between games and our own agency as gamers. (Specifically: "game" and "gamer" are both subsumed in my mind by the more important "game-experience.") My concern is primarily with semantics and the pragmatic framework of reality itself (if you can believe that). Any discussion I made with respect to writing about games is merely a consequence of that effort, mentioned above only because it is more relevant to GWJ than a diversion into the grounds of metaphysics.

2.) Following from 1.), If traditional games reviews are a monotomy, and NGJ establishes a dichotomy, then I hope to show that that dichotomy is swallowed up by a trichotomous whole (the "game-experience" above). Quoting Peirce now (DIVERSION ALERT):

Charles Sanders Peirce wrote:

A thing considered in itself is a unit. A thing considered as a correlate or dependent, or as an effect, is second to something else. A thing which in any way brings one thing into relation with another is a third or medium between the two.

Charles Sanders Peirce wrote:

The First is that whose being is simply in itself, not referring to anything nor lying behind anything. The Second is that which is what it is by force of something to which it is second. The Third is that which is what it is owing to things between which it mediates and which it brings into relation to each other.

This concept of trichotomic, or thirdness, is central to Peirce's semantical epistemology. There is a peculiar concordance between the 1st-2nd-3rd pattern of reader/gamer response theory and Peirce's tripartite system of signs. I'm trying to figure out what it all means, and if there's some correlation between Peirce's logic of linguistic signs -- featuring (1) absolute, (2) relative, and (3) conjugative terms -- and the things I've described in the article.

(END DIVERSION; RESUME DISCUSSION)

But you're quite right to note that I share much of the sentiment of the NGJ manifesto. I even have lots in common with the semi-disowned movement that sprang from Gillen's careless fingertips.

Okay, bear with me; it has been twenty years since I had a philosophy class. I'm senile.

However, depending upon the finer points of your stance, vis-à-vis post modernism and post structuralism, we agree that there is no objective truth; it's all a subjective interaction of objects and observers, right? Particularly informed by language and knowledge structure. So there can be at best, only partial, imperfect understandings between "common" experiences shared by any group of individuals and a single, or multiple object(s).

So the very commonality associated with any understanding, say, of your article is imperfect and fundamentally flawed. We are all alone in our experiences and understandings, necessarily isolated and ALONE! ALL ALONE! NO ONE CAN EVER TRULY UNDERSTAND US!

I'm depressed now. I think I need a happy pill. And you wonder why big Pharma makes so much money.

Or in the words of the Shins:

"This modern thought can get the best of you"

Ah, screw it. I'm going pound a six pack of PBR and watch Jerry Springer.

EDIT: For bonus points, let's apply this theory to the viewing of porn. That should make the old head spin. Or something.

Thanks for clearing that up regarding GRT vs NGJ, Lobo. Great article. It's probably an odd way of looking at it, but I've always thought reader-response was similar to how DNA act. The book - or game in this case - act as the DNA, the instruction set, but the end product is always subject to mutations despite being derived from the same instructions.

If traditional games reviews are a monotomy, and NGJ establishes a dichotomy, then I hope to show that that dichotomy is swallowed up by a trichotomous whole (the "game-experience" above).

Am I the only one who thought this sounded cool but didn't know what it meant?

This concept of trichotomic, or thirdness, is central to Peirce's semantical epistemology. There is a peculiar concordance between the 1st-2nd-3rd pattern of reader/gamer response theory and Peirce's tripartite system of signs.

Lobo, truly you have a dizzying intellect.

In all seriousness, I don't have time to advance any detailed theories but I think there is a statistical aspect to this whole discussion. It makes sense to me that there would be some sort of bell curve distribution for what a gamers response is to a game. That would explain why certain games are popular and others aren't. There are games that appeal to a wider audience and generate a similar positive response, while other games generate a positive response only to a select audience. Never-the-less, it is possible to predict the a gamers response to a game based upon a number of factors such as the genre, the time spent developing the game, the reputation of the developer, the technology used, etc. This is why I don't generally base my purchasing decisions on a single review but prefer to take in multiple reviews so I can have a stastitically significant representation. Sites like Rotten Tomatoes get a lot of business from me as a result. I do think reviews are valuable and an understanding of Gamer Response Theory would, I guess, improve your processing of the information you get from each review.

I really think you should have included a discussion of Babe Response Theory as a part of this article. Maybe even included some pictures to illustrate the point. It probably would have resulted in an appeal to a wider audience and a significantly different reader response to the article.

Half of me wants to applaud this article and half of me wants to rebut parts of it, and the half that wants to applaud thinks that the virtue of this article is merely in pointing out things which are obvious and self-evident; if they are obvious and self-evident, then I don't see this as particularly daring or pioneering. It does give an idea a name, which may be something.

I mean to say that it is obvious and self-evident that gamers have different responses to the same game, and that their opinions are shaped by their own experiences. I agree that word of mouth is very important in making a purchasing decision, but disagree with the idea that reviews differ greatly from word of mouth - with both, I value the opinion given according to the trust I place in the giver of the opinion.

I'm also not sure I've ever read a review that wasn't subjective and didn't discuss the reviewer's individual experience with the game. I generally read GameSpy and EGM, and they seem to include as a matter of course one or two vignettes about their playtime.

I disagree, almost violently, that there is a "myth of objective meaning". To say that a text has a specific meaning is not at all to say that different readers will not respond differently to it. I almost feel that the whole idea of "reader response theory" as presented is some fuzzy-wuzzy, relativistic, ivory-tower theory that epitomizes academia at its most useless. It is, again, obvious and self-evident that I enjoy science fiction and some do not; further, some enjoy The Night's Dawn trilogy (or parts of it) for totally different reasons than myself. If I know a great deal about modern space flight (I don't, by the way), then obviously I will have a different reaction to a passage about faster-than-light travel than someone who knows nothing about it.

Art is very subjective, but it is not entirely so, and I suggest that the author's meaning should be valued very highly when considering an objective meaning to a text (game). I also suggest that there is a REASON, though it may be unknowable (or we may be unable to agree on it) that consensi tend to emerge regarding works of art (games). It seems to me that RRT and GRT ignore the tendency towards consensus, and cannot explain it away by claiming peer pressure, baised evaluations, etc. We could have a very interesting discussion about whether majority opinion creates de facto objective reality, but that's probably just mental masturbation (thanks, Sammy!). Actually, it may be that RRT and GRT are as well.

Sorry to be a hater. Mad props to Larsson for busting out the Shins.

@Copingsaw: shouldn't that be Babe-Viewer Response Theory?

Woot! I got Mad Props! That doesn't happen to 40-something accountants very often. Thanks Fedaykin98!

To a certain extent I agree with you and the whole mental masturbation thing. That's what people do in philosophy class. But particularly with more dense prose, you name it, Proust, Joyce, Faulkner, people will take different portions of the text with them, as it were, and leave other behind.

Me, I just smoke pot, watch porno and think about what Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein really, really meant. At the same time. See mental masturbation, above.

Well, not really, but it sounds good.

Larsson wrote:

However, depending upon the finer points of your stance, vis-à-vis post modernism and post structuralism, we agree that there is no objective truth; it's all a subjective interaction of objects and observers, right? Particularly informed by language and knowledge structure. So there can be at best, only partial, imperfect understandings between "common" experiences shared by any group of individuals and a single, or multiple object(s).

Well, that's what an epistemological post-modernist might argue. But I'm not one of them. On the contrary, I believe quite firmly in the notion of an objective truth, though I find very little of it in matters of aesthetic interpretation.

Fedaykin98 wrote:

Half of me wants to applaud this article and half of me wants to rebut parts of it, and the half that wants to applaud thinks that the virtue of this article is merely in pointing out things which are obvious and self-evident; if they are obvious and self-evident, then I don't see this as particularly daring or pioneering. It does give an idea a name, which may be something.

I actually agree with you in part. That's what I meant when I wrote "If gamer response theory is undeniably (or even trivially) true..." etc. Although, if what I say is trivially true, and if people yet disagree with me (and they do; orthodox New Critics would certainly disagree), then where exactly would that leave us?

Fedaykin98 wrote:

I'm also not sure I've ever read a review that wasn't subjective and didn't discuss the reviewer's individual experience with the game. I generally read GameSpy and EGM, and they seem to include as a matter of course one or two vignettes about their playtime.

Again, I agree. But I've also encountered reviews which pretend to some measure of ultimate objectivity, and, more importantly, I've encountered legions of people who fall into the trap of believing that a certain review is objective. That's one mindset that I'd like to correct. More here.

Fedaykin98 wrote:

I disagree, almost violently, that there is a "myth of objective meaning". To say that a text has a specific meaning is not at all to say that different readers will not respond differently to it.

Perhaps not. But it is to say that those who fail to interpret the "correct" meaning are objectively wrong, as provable by the text. Are you so certain that Hamlet has a correct meaning? Or that Fallout does?

Fedaykin98 wrote:

I almost feel that the whole idea of "reader response theory" as presented is some fuzzy-wuzzy, relativistic, ivory-tower theory that epitomizes academia at its most useless.

Are you sure you're not confusing reader response theorists with post-modernists, here? That type of sentiment is usually directed against post-modernists. And even post-modernists are best refuted through argumentation, not ad hominem attacks!

Fedaykin98 wrote:

It is, again, obvious and self-evident that I enjoy science fiction and some do not; further, some enjoy The Night's Dawn trilogy (or parts of it) for totally different reasons than myself. If I know a great deal about modern space flight (I don't, by the way), then obviously I will have a different reaction to a passage about faster-than-light travel than someone who knows nothing about it.

Reader response theorists aren't so much concerned with whether people enjoy things as they are with how it is that we derive meaning from the literature that we read. Is the meaning contained in the text itself, and somehow either unfailingly or failingly transmitted to the reader? Or is the meaning constructed out of the act of reading, and formed in part by the reader's own agency? These are some of the concerns of reader response theorists working in criticism today.

Fedaykin98 wrote:

Art is very subjective, but it is not entirely so, and I suggest that the author's meaning should be valued very highly when considering an objective meaning to a text (game).

Reader response theorists aren't talking about art in general; they're talking about reading in particular. As I quoted Gordon in the article, "This makes literary text somewhat distinct from other aesthetic objects, which Iser labels "given" objects. Whereas one always stands outside the given object and experiences it qua object, a literary text requires the participation of the subject inside of the object in order to constitute the aesthetic experience." I take the further step of arguing that games are like books, in that they require the gamer's participation in the construction of meaning.

A reader response theorist is quite likely to have an altogether different viewpoint on painting, sculpture, music, etc., and I'm sure that many of them would agree with you.

Fedaykin98 wrote:

I also suggest that there is a REASON, though it may be unknowable (or we may be unable to agree on it) that consensi tend to emerge regarding works of art (games). It seems to me that RRT and GRT ignore the tendency towards consensus, and cannot explain it away by claiming peer pressure, baised evaluations, etc.

Is consensus the final result in the consideration of all games? Or even most of them? I should think not. What is the consensus as to the meaning of Fallout? Is it widely thought of as a statement against nuclear weapons proliferation? Is it an allegory concerning the ways in which we may overcome (or succumb to) adversity? I certainly don't know! Once again, I feel you've become a bit hung up on the enjoyment aspect, at the expense of the meaning with which reader response theorists are concerned.

Moreover, why is the hypothetical establishment of a consensus of opinions relevant to this discussion? If the consensus happens to disagree with someone, is that person then wrong in some sense?

Fedaykin98 wrote:

Sorry to be a hater.

On the contrary, I find our discussion delightful! I'll take a hater over an apathetic any day of the week.

Lobo wrote:

I'll take a hater over an apathetic any day of the week. :-)

*zzzzz*

Wha'?

*zzzzz*

LupusUmbrus wrote:

Thanks for clearing that up regarding GRT vs NGJ, Lobo. Great article. It's probably an odd way of looking at it, but I've always thought reader-response was similar to how DNA act. The book - or game in this case - act as the DNA, the instruction set, but the end product is always subject to mutations despite being derived from the same instructions.

This warrants further consideration. Thank you!

Poppinfresh wrote:

*zzzzz*

Wha'?

*zzzzz*

;)

Do it again and I'll touch your belly! Squirm, little biscuit man, squirm!

Wow, and I thought my posts (here and elsewhere) were long. Okay:

Lobo wrote:

Again, I agree. But I've also encountered reviews which pretend to some measure of ultimate objectivity, and, more importantly, I've encountered legions of people who fall into the trap of believing that a certain review is objective. That's one mindset that I'd like to correct.

Well perhaps we are finding more to agree with than disagree with, because I thoroughly doubt the ability of human beings to be truly objective. On the contrary, I think it is evident that all of our views are colored by our biases, experiences, etc.

Lobo wrote:

But it is to say that those who fail to interpret the "correct" meaning are objectively wrong, as provable by the text. Are you so certain that Hamlet has a correct meaning? Or that Fallout does?

Well, I don't want to pull a William Jefferson Clinton here, but it may be that some of our differences are due to a lack of defining the term "meaning." In any use of the word "meaning" I have not meant underlying theme, metaphor, allegory, etc. I have only thus far meant the explicit details of the narrative.

What I AM certain of is that Hamlet is not a statement against nuclear weapons proliferation, and that Fallout is not about a combination regicide/fratricide. I speak as though in jest, but I am merely marking my allegiance to the concept of objective meaning.

Lobo wrote:

Are you sure you're not confusing reader response theorists with post-modernists, here? That type of sentiment is usually directed against post-modernists. And even post-modernists are best refuted through argumentation, not ad hominem attacks! :-)

Touche', although if I find a post-modernist I shall refute him through argumentation as well. I think you'll agree that most of my post was such, and merely seasoned to taste with base ad-hominem attacks.

Lobo wrote:

Reader response theorists aren't so much concerned with whether people enjoy things as they are with how it is that we derive meaning from the literature that we read. Is the meaning contained in the text itself, and somehow either unfailingly or failingly transmitted to the reader? Or is the meaning constructed out of the act of reading itself, and formed in part by the reader's own agency? These are some of the concerns of reader response theorists working in criticism today.

Yeah, you're gonna have to go ahead and define "meaning" according to Lobo, RRTs, GRTs, etc.

By the by I agree with you wholeheartedly that reading is active, whereas watching a movie or listening to music is more passive, and that playing a game is likewise active. I have actually made these points myself to friends.

Lobo wrote:

Is consensus the final result in the consideration of all games? Or even most of them? I should think not. What is the consensus as to the meaning of Fallout? Is it widely thought of as a statement against nuclear weapons proliferation? Is it an allegory concerning the ways in which we may overcome (or succumb to) adversity? I certainly don't know!

See, we have a total communication breakdown over the term "meaning". Using your context here, I find it impossible to divorce said concept from the author's intent, although (believe it or not) I am open to the idea that a work may have an objective meaning that the author was unaware of when he created it. And while I often find ironies and metaphors to "naturally" occur in everyday experiences, books and games are not naturally occurring.

I also consider that the primary (if not sole) purpose of art is to communicate, and so I have a hard time not giving great weight to what the artist (author, coder) was attempting to communicate (communication being difficult in general).

Lobo wrote:

Once again, I feel you've become a bit hung up on the enjoyment aspect, at the expense of the meaning with which reader response theorists are concerned.

Must be because of what this guy here was saying:

Lobo wrote:

To illustrate the same point in a different manner: M.U.S.C.L.E. for the NES is by most accounts a terrible game. But it's one of my favorites, because DrunkenSleipnir and I have a great time drinking liquor and beating each other to death with our blocky little avatars while shouting obscenities at the screen. The non-gamer response theorist may say that M.U.S.C.L.E. is still a terrible game, but that I sometimes enjoy terrible games, depending on my level of inebriation and my proximity to DrunkenSleipnir. On the other hand, the gamer response theorist seeks to avoid the strange paradox of "enjoying terrible games" by saying that it is not games per se that are enjoyable or unenjoyable; rather, it is the experience of gameplay itself, which may vacillate wildly in quality depending upon the status of the gamer.

And I daresay that he also spoke of reviews of games, which universally deal with how enjoyable a game is, and only very seldom discuss intellectual topics such as "meaning". Your article did begin with a discussion of whether a gamer's individual approach to a game made it a different de facto game than that which another experienced, but it got heavily into enjoyment towards the end, which, like dessert, was the part freshest in my mind afterwards.

Lobo wrote:

Moreover, why is the hypothetical establishment of a consensus of opinions relevant to this discussion? If the consensus happens to disagree with someone, is that person then wrong in some sense?

No, I merely suggested that one might debate whether consensus=objective fact. Actually, that's a terribly relativistic thought now that I consider it. I definitely believe that the few, "or the one", may be correct.

If in your view I have mixed too much the ideas of RRT and GRT, then please mentally replace any mention of books in my statements with hypothetical games. As I think about all of this, it seems to me that my take on the concept of "meaning" is based heavily on the idea of communication, and I would like to hear the RRT/GRT take on communication (as I said, I believe it to be the purpose of art). Good art, anyway, from my totally subjective point of view. There are some books whose prime purpose may be entertainment rather than communication, but I doubt their quality. Also, I feel it is not unfair to gaming to suggest that the prime purpose of games is to entertain, rather than communicate. Hence, perhaps, my emphasis on enjoyment.

Fedaykin98 wrote:

Yeah, you're gonna have to go ahead and define "meaning" according to Lobo, RRTs, GRTs, etc.

As far as I am aware, reader response theorists and their critics both agree as to the definition of meaning; they simply disagree as to where that meaning is to be found (in the text vs. in the act of reading). Oxford puts "meaning" as "a. That which is or is intended to be expressed or indicated by a sentence, word, dream, symbol, action, etc.; a signification, a sense; an equivalent in another language; (in interrog. contexts) a motive, a justification. b. Significance, importance." That definition sits well with me, except for in the context of games and literature, where I would remove the "or is intended to be." I also think that we should qualify meaning as a relative term; for a thing is not meaningful in and of itself, but only in relation to some person or persons. Without the presence of minds, nothing at all in the world would be meaningful.

Fedaykin98 wrote:

Must be because of what this guy here was saying: [...] And I daresay that he also spoke of reviews of games, which universally deal with how enjoyable a game is, and only very seldom discuss intellectual topics such as "meaning". Your article did begin with a discussion of whether a gamer's individual approach to a game made it a different de facto game than that which another experienced, but it got heavily into enjoyment towards the end, which, like dessert, was the part freshest in my mind afterwards.

Ok, I see where you're coming from now. I had partly intended the M.U.S.C.L.E. example to to serve as an illustration that "game" and "gamer" are, as a pair, subsumed by the "game-experience" (to use the lingo of an earlier post in this thread) in the formation (as opposed to derivation) of meaning. That's not to say that I don't stand by my claims regarding the enjoyability of games and the viability of our review methods; but I did not mean for a discussion of enjoyability to replace the discussion of meaning. Keep in mind that the discussion on reviews was an example of a consequence of my thesis, and not an articulation of the thesis itself or its supporting premises. In my mind, the very last paragraph of the article was designed to steer us back on course in this regard:

Lobo wrote:

And should we be so lucky as to emerge from these dark ages of creative paucity and critical depravity within our lifetimes, we gamers will find that we are no longer concerned merely with the enjoyability of games, but also with their overt and covert significance in our lives. When that day comes, gamer response theory will prove an important means with which to assess the games that mold our culture anew.

Incontrovertibly though, you have formed quite a different meaning than I! I apologize for not making myself clear in this matter.

I'm not sure if the games can be applied to RRT and result in a GRT. I don't buy it. If I remember correctly, RRT was a response to a rigid interpretation of New Criticism, which glorified an author's words to the point that it forgot people actually need to read a book for it to have any meaning. RRT reminds us that a reader interprets words unique to his background, education, mood, etc. Hence, you conclusion that we all see games differently, even the crappy ones. One man's trash is another man's treasure.

However, literature is fundamentally different than other artforms, because it is formed of words, which are merely formalized abstract concepts. If I write "bat" do you imagine an animal or a piece of wood? If I write "green" what shade do you visualize? Because writing essentially bypasses the senses and goes directly into the mind, as a reader you have an extra responsibility to "create" your own experience when you read. Literature can and has taken itself to places that no other art form can go, can discuss things that cannot be experienced by the senses.

Not so in a video game. Like movies or paintings, if I see an elf, then I see an elf. If you are watching me play over my shoulder, you see the same elf. We might interpret the meaning of the elf differently, we might have a different emotional response to the elf, but if we see that elf again, we both gonna say "Yep, that's the Night Elf whose ass you kicked."

Both New Criticism and RRT in response to New Crit were referring to this level of interpretation and creation, unique to literature. The general concept serves the purpose but there might be a better model, although I am at a loss to suggest what that would be. I have in my mind a Monty Python-like moment where Neitzsche and Heidegger are playing Halo in their underwear, batting the controllers out of each others hand and screaming insults in some bad John Cleese german-speak. THAT should be your model

As far as game reviews are concerned, games are built on technology, and that is very easy to review objectively. I hated the keybinding in Battlefield 1942, so FiringSquad let me know I'm gonna hate it in BF2 too. I need XYZ video card to get ABC visual effects to work, or GTA is a console port, do I need a controller to enjoy the game on my PC? That kinda thing.

souldaddy wrote:

Hence, you conclusion that we all see games differently, even the crappy ones. One man's trash is another man's treasure.

That's not the conclusion I am arguing toward, although I see no reason to deny what you say. Quoting from the article:

Lobo wrote:

We should ask of both parties the further questions of why they like the things that they do; how their preferences are borne out in practice; and how their practice shapes their lives. I shall argue toward this point via an analogy between literature and games, with the underlying premise being that the rules that govern our interpretation of the one will apply to the other -- at least insofar as is necessary to support my thesis.

In other words, I feel it contributes virtually nothing to discussion to say things like "I like game X" or "Game X is enjoyable" without taking the extra, laborious step to declare why the game is/was enjoyable, the circumstances under which prior enjoyment took place, and the effect that the game-having-been-enjoyed has had upon the gamer's future experience. And gamer response theory is one way to come to grips with the effects that games have on our lives.

souldaddy wrote:

However, literature is fundamentally different than other artforms, because it is formed of words, which are merely formalized abstract concepts. [...] Not so in a video game.

Really? How about all those words in games like Planescape: Torment?

I don't think that reader response theorists are interested in literature because it is formed of words. They are interested in literature because it requires a kind of participation from the reader that is very uncommon to other works of art. But games require that we participate in the aesthetic experience in much the same manner as literature, and at times, far moreso than any literary work. For do we not mentally put ourselves in the place of our on-screen avatars when we play an RPG, or an adventure game, or even the occasional action game?

Wow, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that you would cite a definition for meaning that so clearly focuses on the communicator's intent! Your intellectual honesty is up there with your intellect, although I must say I find it challenging to the integrity of your thought process that you want to remove the first, presumably most fundamental part of the definition (definitions are generally listed in dictionaries by order of commonality/importance). I also consider that when one uses the verb "to mean" it universally describes intent, never interpretation. One may make a false statement about what the intent is, or misunderstand it (I might read a sign in a language I am not adept in and tell my friend that it "means" something other than it actually does). As someone who is very word/verbal oriented, I find it odd that "meaning" as you see it can wander so far from "to mean".

I think we can perhaps find more common ground and, perhaps to your chagrin, put a stake in the heart of RRT and GRT by again focusing on this idea of communication. "Meaning" (according to me) indicates the intention of the person communicating. But we communicate through imperfect media. I'm sure you're aware that, in order to communicate a mental idea (which may even be abstract), we encode it in a medium that is meant to represent that idea, but generally does so imperfectly. In our current debate, this would be the creation of a book or game. Assuming perfect transmission of the coded information (the book has no typos, etc.), it is then decoded by the recipient (reader, gamer).

I imagine we can all agree that the idea resultant in the recipient's mind is not perfectly equal to the idea (the meaning) of the originator (author, coder). So in my opinion, RRT at least simply states that the meaning inferred by the reader will be colored by his point of view, bias, experiences, what he had for lunch, etc. To which I say: Duh.

I confess that I must have sped through your final paragraph about games' overt and covert significances to our lives. I don't feel that your article really focused on that, though, at least where it touches games. If what you "mean" is that we should consider not merely whether we enjoyed the game but also why we did so and what we took away from it thematically and emotionally, then I agree that is worthwhile, and I think that myself and probably many GWJers do that even now. Part of the beauty of this community, really.

Also I just want to say that upon further consideration that I don't consider what I said earlier about RRT to be an ad hominem attack. Wikipedia defines an ad hominem argument thusly:

Wikipedia wrote:

An ad hominem argument, also known as argumentum ad hominem (Latin, literally "argument to the man"), is a logical fallacy that involves replying to an argument or assertion by addressing the person presenting the argument or assertion rather than the argument itself.

By this definition, I think you'll agree that there is no ad hominem attack present. I have further considered that ridiculous ideas are rightly subjected to ridicule, and I think the entire history of satire bears this out (whether one agrees that RRT/GRT is a ridiculous idea).

Fedaykin98 wrote:

Wow, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that you would cite a definition for meaning that so clearly focuses on the communicator's intent! Your intellectual honesty is up there with your intellect, although I must say I find it challenging to the integrity of your thought process that you want to remove the first, presumably most fundamental part of the definition (definitions are generally listed in dictionaries by order of commonality/importance).

Eh? A dictionary is a descriptive, not a prescriptive, tool. You asked me what I meant when I used the word "meaning" and I indicated as much, making distinctions where necessary. And strictly speaking, the first sense of the Oxford definition is the one that I focused on: "That which is or is intended to be expressed or indicated by a sentence, word, dream, symbol, action, etc." Note the "or" there. I have not ever denied that the word "meaning" may take on the sense of "intent" in other contexts; nor did I choose to focus on the first part of the definition by a flip of the coin, or in some desperate effort to support my argument, but rather because that is the sense that is relevant to my article, and because (as explained in the article and in the comments) there is good reason to believe that literature and games are not quite like other, "given" works of art. However, if you prefer I'll relinquish part a. of the definition entirely, and choose instead part b.

I do feel that you're barking up the wrong tree here, though. As far as I'm aware, even the critics of reader response theory concede that words take on different definitions at different times to suit different purposes, and they understand what the reader response theorist means by "means." They simply disagree as to the veracity of other, further claims.

Fedaykin98 wrote:

I also consider that when one uses the verb "to mean" it universally describes intent, never interpretation.

Never, you say? So, if a person suffers a slip of the tongue and utters a sentence which is not what she actually intended to say, then are we to say that the meaning of her sentence is contained in her rightful intent, and not in her wrongful words? It would seem more straightforward to me to simply say that she was in error, and that her sentence means something that is not true. Do you deny that in order for a thing to be meaningful, it must be meaningful to a conscious interpreter?

Fedaykin98 wrote:

I imagine we can all agree that the idea resultant in the recipient's mind is not perfectly equal to the idea (the meaning) of the originator (author, coder). So in my opinion, RRT at least simply states that the meaning inferred by the reader will be colored by his point of view, bias, experiences, what he had for lunch, etc. To which I say: Duh.

Well good, that means you're on the right side! However, it's a bit more nuanced than that. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that the reader is like a stained-glass window, and when the white light of the text strikes them only certain wavelengths pass through, owing to the person's unique features, and the final light represents the meaning inferred by the reader. To use the same metaphor, reader response theorists claim that, with respect to literature, the idea of a meaning independent of agency -- the idea of the pure white light of the text -- is untenable, and resembles an idea of an invisible unicorn that nobody can detect.

I wish that more people could agree that reader response theory says something very simple and very easy to accept, but people in many fields stubbornly argue for the New Criticism position that a work of fiction has a meaning, and you either get it right or you don't. Most notably in my mind are Plato scholars, the majority of whom seem blind to the fact that Plato wrote fictional dialogues.

Fedaykin98 wrote:

I confess that I must have sped through your final paragraph about games' overt and covert significances to our lives. I don't feel that your article really focused on that, though, at least where it touches games. If what you "mean" is that we should consider not merely whether we enjoyed the game but also why we did so and what we took away from it thematically and emotionally, then I agree that is worthwhile, and I think that myself and probably many GWJers do that even now. Part of the beauty of this community, really.

Agreed. And that is indeed what I mean. I think that perhaps we are not so very different from each other on this matter at all.

As for that ad-hominem business: a person is guilty of an ad hominem attack whenever they argue toward the opponent, and not the opponent's argument. It strikes me that the description of reader response theory as "[epitomizing] academia at its most useless" says quite a lot about the persons in favor of it; namely, that they are useless, insofar as they are reader response theorists. Does something like that really contribute to discourse? Ought we not to be considerate of and generous to one another, in hopes of cooperating in our efforts to find out the truth of the matter? No hard feelings here though, since it's clear that that's not how you intended yourself to be read.

Yeah, Planetscape had words, but is it representative of your average game? More likely M.U.S.C.L.E is. Where is the "game" in all that PS:Torment dialog? That's the real question here. What is the difference between Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the novel, and HGTG the Infocom game? It's the choices you make. Literature has no such choices.

Reader Response Theory is referring specifically to word meaning, words being the back-bone of literature (whereas in games they are usually only dressing). For example, "football movie" means something very different to americans and the english. Here's a better example, please bare with me.

not-a-quote-but-a-long-f*cking-example wrote:

There is the saying "It is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle to enter the gates of heaven." If you take that sentence literally, you would think it all but impossible for a rich man to enter heaven. However, in fortified middle eastern towns of 2000 years ago (when Jesus is said to have spoken this), there was usually only 1 entrance/exit, often (generically) called the "Eye of the Needle" because it was so hard for invaders to pass through. This passage was quite small compared to european castles.

Now, nomadic traders in the desert packed their goods on the backs of camels. The richer a merchant was, the more sh*t he had on the back of his camels, and a very rich man would have to stop his camel and unload everything off its back in order to get it through the city entrance. (i believe this is also why arab archways are shaped the way they are)

So you can see how this statement had a very definite double meaning that would be obvious to most people living in Isreal at the time. A rich man needs to unload his possessions and walk through the gates of heaven naked, that kind of thing. This meaning is mostly lost on a modern westerner. Once you know what the words mean, then you can extract additional emotional and personal meaning from it.

This difference in meaning is exactly what RRT was referring to.

Now, if this were a game, then you would blow up the gate, or shoot all the people coming out of the city, or jump the camel over the walls, or maybe even run the camel into a corner, hoping some bug in the code would allow you to pass through a "solid wall" without losing all the phat loot. And you'd probably have fun doing it. If the game forced you to take all that sh*t off the camel and enter without it, you'd probably be pissed and maybe a little bored.

Maybe we should call it Gamer Action-Response Theory.

Lobo wrote:

Eh? A dictionary is a descriptive, not a prescriptive, tool. You asked me what I meant when I used the word "meaning" and I indicated as much, making distinctions where necessary.

DUDE, you just used the word "meant" to indicate your intention! And we're in the medium of written words! Just sayin'.

Lobo wrote:

I do feel that you're barking up the wrong tree here, though. As far as I'm aware, even the critics of reader response theory concede that words take on different definitions at different times to suit different purposes, and they understand what the reader response theorist means by "means." They simply disagree as to the veracity of other, further claims.

I agree with the part about words taking on different definitions to suit different purposes; whose purposes (intent) might that be? Gotta be the author.

Lobo wrote:

Never, you say? So, if a person suffers a slip of the tongue and utters a sentence which is not what she actually intended to say, then are we to say that the meaning of her sentence is contained in her rightful intent, and not in her wrongful words?

Exactly. Have you never heard someone say "What he MEANT to say was...." Although I will give you that someone may derive something (I'm not going to say a meaning, exactly) from a mis-statement. For example, a Freudian slip. In which case her mis-statement may "mean" something that IS true. Fun stuff.

Lobo wrote:

Do you deny that in order for a thing to be meaningful, it must be meaningful to a conscious interpreter?

I do, in that a tree falling in a forest makes a sound regardless of whether it has an audience. Since I see meaning as intent, and I think you'll agree that is a usual definition of the word, if not an exclusive one perhaps, then there is always intent in communication/art...there is not always understanding on the part of an audience. I don't think that necessarily lessens the meaning, although there is certainly virtue in being easily understood.

Lobo wrote:

Well good, that means you're on the right side! However, it's a bit more nuanced than that. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that the reader is like a stained-glass window, and when the white light of the text strikes them only certain wavelengths pass through, owing to the person's unique features, and the final light represents the meaning inferred by the reader. To use the same metaphor, reader response theorists claim that, with respect to literature, the idea of a meaning independent of agency -- the idea of the pure white light of the text -- is untenable, and resembles an idea of an invisible unicorn that nobody can detect.

No, actually I agree that the medium (book) is imperfect, and imperfectly communicates, but I still hold that the "meaning" basically refers to the author's intent. So I wouldn't describe the text as pure white light.

Lobo wrote:

I wish that more people could agree that reader response theory says something very simple and very easy to accept, but people in many fields stubbornly argue for the New Criticism position that a work of fiction has a meaning, and you either get it right or you don't. Most notably in my mind are Plato scholars, the majority of whom seem blind to the fact that Plato wrote fictional dialogues.

You know, after all this talk I feel like RRT is ALMOST saying something very simple and very easy to accept - they are almost saying my "Duh" bit from above. But you yourself said that it was more nuanced than that. Actually, on re-reading it, I might be able to totally accept your RRT light metaphor, but then fail to accept the actual thesis of RRT. I agree totally that mediums are imperfect and the resulting idea in the mind of the audience is greatly dependent upon themselves, almost certainly not exactly equal to the original idea of the author. I may, if I understand correctly, simply feel that RRT errs (greatly) by devaluing the author's intent and throwing the door open to rampant relativism by exalting the interpretation of the audience, and saying that everyone's view of the work is equally valid. Someone whose view is that The Waste Land (interestingly 3 words, not 2, eh?) is about dinosaurs has a view that is not only inferior to the standard interpretation, but is nearly worthless. I say nearly because they still may derive pleasure and value from their flawed interpretation. And that's cool.

It may be that the difference between RRTs and whatever I am is merely whether they exalt the author's intent or the reader's interpretation. Obviously we're big enough geeks to think that's an important difference, though.

Lobo wrote:

Agreed. And that is indeed what I mean.

There you go again!

Lobo wrote:

I think that perhaps we are not so very different from each other on this matter at all.

S***, we both cared enough to write novellas about this cr**, how different can we be? I'm surprised Duffman never showed up...

Lobo wrote:

As for that ad-hominem business: a person is guilty of an ad hominem attack whenever they argue toward the opponent, and not the opponent's argument. It strikes me that the description of reader response theory as "[epitomizing] academia at its most useless" says quite a lot about the persons in favor of it; namely, that they are useless, insofar as they are reader response theorists.

Insofar as they are RRTs, you may be right. I mean, if I say that (whoops, almost confirmed Godwin's Law) extreme chauvanism is a base idea that is idiotic and without virtue, it obviously reflects on the holder of that view. But that's life, your views reflect on you, period. If you don't like it, get better views. All that being said, I was insulting an idea and saying that academia (not academics - I did look it up online and only the last definition actually applied to the people; I know from your above statement that you are cool with giving me the benefit of the doubt when there are multiple definitions.) can, at times, be useless. If it seemed that I was dissing academia as a whole and saying that education is useless, all I can say in my defense is that my name is not Kanye West.

Lobo wrote:

Does something like that really contribute to discourse? Ought we not to be considerate of and generous to one another, in hopes of cooperating in our efforts to find out the truth of the matter?

Yeah, WE should, but screw those non-GWJer RRTs!

Ah, all this much ado about nothing intellectual masturbation (which I am engaging in, too, obviously) reminds me of the time I met a girl named Cassandra at a happy hour. I asked, "So, what's it like knowing the future and not being able to do anything about it?" She said it sucked, and nothing more. When I asked her if she wasn't impressed, she said "No, I get that from pseudo-intellectuals all the time." Doh! 'Course, she slipped her number into my pocket sometime during the night. Point is, we are getting high on our own smarts right now, always dangerous. I suggest we wrap it up. I think I've said my peace (or piece? Both get used, both make sense). Come, give me your parting thoughts, and let us see each other later in various threads.

PS William Shakespeare pwns.

Fedaykin98 wrote:

DUDE, you just used the word "meant" to indicate your intention! And we're in the medium of written words! Just sayin'.

Fedaykin98 wrote:

There you go again! ;-)

Oh! I think I now see one source of confusion between us. When I offered that definition of meaning, I was attempting to narrow in on how reader response theorists define "meaning" when they refer to the meaning (or moral, or import, or significance, etc.) of a piece of literature, as you had requested. But I'm not talking about meaning as it applies to ANY and ALL written documents! Just novels, short stories, and games -- although I suppose epic poetry would work, too. Nor am I referring to the meaning of any individual sentences in the work, but rather to the meaning that people carry away with them after reading it (or playing it, as the case may be). These works generally constitute the extent of the concern of reader response theorists. Reader response theorists are not (necessarily) interested in the way our language functions; they are interested in how our written stories and fictions shape our culture and our lives.

When I've used the term "means" or its cognates in these forum posts, I've done so in the usual way, with the context serving to indicate whether "means" equates to "intends" or "signifies" or "implies" or what have you. The attempt to define "meaning" with respect to the discussion on reader response theory is wholly subsequent to the establishment of "means" as a valid term; unless you would like to question the definition of "means" in a more broad sense than that (though I would wonder to what end).

If it helps you to see the distinction, pretend that I'm talking about the "shmeaning" of a work of literature, and not the meaning. Let "shmeaning" refer to the significance of a work of literature in the opinion of the reader, the effect of which will be borne out in the course of the reader's future experience. Like when someone reads Julius Caesar and decides that the meaning of the play is that pride comes before a fall, and decides not to be so prideful as Caesar. Does that help?

Fedaykin98 wrote:
Lobo wrote:

I do feel that you're barking up the wrong tree here, though. As far as I'm aware, even the critics of reader response theory concede that words take on different definitions at different times to suit different purposes, and they understand what the reader response theorist means by "means." They simply disagree as to the veracity of other, further claims.

I agree with the part about words taking on different definitions to suit different purposes; whose purposes (intent) might that be? Gotta be the author.

I'm not sure that I understand. Are you trying to say that the fact that we actively decide when to differentiate among definitions is somehow related to the proper origin of the meaning of a work of literature in the mind of a reader? I hope that you clarify.

If you agree that words may have different meanings under different circumstances, then why do you yet maintain that the word "meaning" always equates to "intent"? Is there something in particular about that word which prevents it from being deployed in other ways than that one?

Furthermore, you have already said that it seems bluntly obvious to you that different readers will derive different meanings from a work, given their individual predispositions. In the absence of any reliable means by which to demonstrate which reader is right and which is wrong, I wonder, how is this view compatible with the notion that it's "gotta be the author" who supplies the meaning?

I feel like I've missed something important in your argument; please help me determine what it may be.

Fedaykin98 wrote:
Lobo wrote:

Never, you say? So, if a person suffers a slip of the tongue and utters a sentence which is not what she actually intended to say, then are we to say that the meaning of her sentence is contained in her rightful intent, and not in her wrongful words?

Exactly. Have you never heard someone say "What he MEANT to say was...." Although I will give you that someone may derive something (I'm not going to say a meaning, exactly) from a mis-statement. For example, a Freudian slip. In which case her mis-statement may "mean" something that IS true. Fun stuff.

Let's work with an example. If Sandra says "All ravens are brown," when she actually had hoped to say "All ravens are black," then we should mention to Sandra that there is a disconnect between the intent of her statement and the significance of her statement. For "All ravens are brown" certainly does not equate to "All ravens are black." The significance of her statement is quite independent of who uttered it, or for what reason, or with what intent. That is what allows us to say that Sandra spoke incorrectly. If Sandra were then to replace the erroneous statement by saying that she had meant to say something else all along, she has not corrected or elucidated her previous statement's meaning; she has only offered a second, seperate statement in its stead, which happens to be correct.

Keep in mind also that reader response theorists do not deny that an author of a work of literature may have intended for the work to be interpreted in a certain way. But they do deny that the author's intent is the ONLY factor which contributes to the significance of the work.

Fedaykin98 wrote:
Lobo wrote:

Do you deny that in order for a thing to be meaningful, it must be meaningful to a conscious interpreter?

I do, in that a tree falling in a forest makes a sound regardless of whether it has an audience.

Good response! As Thomas Gray wrote,

"Thomas Gray, "Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard," stanza 14 wrote:

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark, unfathomed caves of ocean bear;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Thus provoking Peirce to write,

Charles Sanders Peirce wrote:

Do these things not really exist because they are hopelessly beyond the reach of our knowledge? And then, after the universe is dead (according to the prediction of some scientists), and all life has ceased forever, will not the shock of atoms continue though there will be no mind to know it? To this I reply that, though in no possible state of knowledge can any number be great enough to express the relation between the amount of what rests unknown to the amount of the known, yet it is unphilosophical to suppose that, with regard to any given question (which has any clear meaning), investigation would not bring forth a solution of it, if it were carried far enough. Who would have said, a few years ago, that we could ever know of what substances stars are made whose light may have been longer in reaching us than the human race existed? Who can be sure of what we shall not know in a few hundred years? Who can guess what would be the result of continuing the pursuit of continuing the pursuit of science for ten thousand years, with the activity of the last hundred? And if it were to go on for a million, or a billion, or any number of years you please, how is it possible to say that there is any question which might ultimately be solved?

But it may be objected. "Why make so much of these remote considerations, especially when it is your principle that only practical distinctions have a meaning?" Well, I must confess that it makes very little difference whether we say that a stone on the bottom of the ocean, in complete darkness, is brilliant or not -- that is to say, that it probably makes no difference, remembering always that the stone may be fished up to-morrow. But that there are gems at the bottom of the sea, flowers in the untraveled desert, etc., are propositions which, like that about a diamond being hard when it is not pressed, concern much more the arrangement of our language than they do the meaning of our ideas.

In other words, your objection that events which (by definition) cannot affect us may yet have significance points to an interesting feature of our language, but it is substantially no different at all than the pragmatist's position. The pragmatist concedes that a stone is much the same, in and of itself, whether it is on the surface or at the bottom of the sea; and the non-pragmatist concedes that a stone cannot be brilliant in the absence of light. It is as though they both occupy the same middle ground, though facing outward in opposite directions.

Fedaykin98 wrote:

You know, after all this talk I feel like RRT is ALMOST saying something very simple and very easy to accept - they are almost saying my "Duh" bit from above. But you yourself said that it was more nuanced than that. Actually, on re-reading it, I might be able to totally accept your RRT light metaphor, but then fail to accept the actual thesis of RRT. I agree totally that mediums are imperfect and the resulting idea in the mind of the audience is greatly dependent upon themselves, almost certainly not exactly equal to the original idea of the author. I may, if I understand correctly, simply feel that RRT errs (greatly) by devaluing the author's intent and throwing the door open to rampant relativism by exalting the interpretation of the audience, and saying that everyone's view of the work is equally valid. Someone whose view is that The Waste Land (interestingly 3 words, not 2, eh?) is about dinosaurs has a view that is not only inferior to the standard interpretation, but is nearly worthless. I say nearly because they still may derive pleasure and value from their flawed interpretation. And that's cool.

I think it would be a mistake to equate reader response theorists with radical relativists, although I am sure there is some overlap between these groups. Reader response theorists are not directly interested in whose opinion is more valid, or in showing that everyone's opinion is equally valid, etc.; they're interested in how it is people create their opinions in the first place.

However, while we're on the subject of relativism in aesthetic interpretation, by what rule do you differentiate between the correct and the inferior interpretations of a work of literature? Appeal to the majority? Do you see the words of the author in one of her characters? Do you think that those whose opinions are extremely far removed from your own are necessarily in error? I daresay that if you could establish some reliable means of arbitration in this matter, you would be famous forevermore!

Fedaykin98 wrote:

Point is, we are getting high on our own smarts right now, always dangerous. I suggest we wrap it up.

I fail to see the danger (obviously -- this is the lengthiest post yet!) If you do choose to let the discussion end though, know that it has been fun, and that this is precisely the sort of thing that I hope happens whenever I sit down and spew out those front-page pieces.

souldaddy wrote:

Yeah, Planetscape had words, but is it representative of your average game? More likely M.U.S.C.L.E is. Where is the "game" in all that PS:Torment dialog? That's the real question here. What is the difference between Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the novel, and HGTG the Infocom game? It's the choices you make. Literature has no such choices.

There's plenty of "game" in the Planescape: Torment dialogue! The player is always considering whether certain actions will affect their alignment; how to respond in conversation; whether to accept or refuse a quest, etc. Nevermind the fact that the player is very personally involved in the text of the game, owing to the RPG mechanic of assuming the role of The Nameless One. But that's all far beside the point. Gamer response theorists need not be able to treat of M.U.S.C.L.E. in the same way they treat of Torment, any more than reader response theorists need treat of a simple child's book in the same manner as Hamlet. If reader response theorists have little of interest to say about a child's introductory book to the alphabet, do you suppose that this disproves their claims? I think it is only right that gamer response theorists should be concerned predominantly with certain kinds of games, i.e., those with a strongly developed narrative element.

And literature is *brimming* with choices! When I read, I am constantly choosing with whom to identify, and for whom to root; who to despise, and who to embrace; what to think, and what not to think; and what I would say, do, or feel, if I were in X's place. The difference is that literature does not supply the reader with an avatar, as a game does. Unless you were to count 2nd-person, choose-your-own-adventure books, that is.

souldaddy wrote:

Now, if this were a game, then you would blow up the gate, or shoot all the people coming out of the city, or jump the camel over the walls, or maybe even run the camel into a corner, hoping some bug in the code would allow you to pass through a "solid wall" without losing all the phat loot.

I think what you mean to say is "if this were most games". There's no necessary reason why games as a medium cannot be used to present an enormous variety of player experiences. They have been put to such uses in the past -- with varying degrees of success, of course -- and it makes me sad that most of the games published these days are just as you describe.