Well Read: Applying Close Reading Techniques to Gameplay Experiences
Jim Bizzocchi & Joshua Tanenbaum
Close reading is a technique from literary theory that has evolved over the years since its early formulations by John Crowe Ransom and the other “New Critics” in the late 1930s and early 1940s. A close reading is a detailed examination, deconstruction, and analysis of a media text. It is the quintessential humanist methodology, born in the study of literature, and adapted to other media forms such as cinema studies.
Sheldon describes the paradox of criticism: the tension that comes from turning a critical lens on a well loved work until it is impossible to see it with innocent eyes.
The purpose was to see beyond the entertainment value each film possessed, to see the seams, to see how all the elements came together to create a unified entertainment experience. If you can get to the point where your favourite game no longer entertains you, you will have taken a crucial step toward understanding how it worked its magic. It can be a sad moment and an exhilarating one all at the same time. (Sheldon, 2004)
In this sense, close reading is a way of laying bare the faults and inconsistencies of a media artifact. However, close reading is at the same time a celebration of the many ways in which a text can create meaning. Through the act of close interrogation and explication, a theorist may use close reading to excavate previously hidden qualities of a media artifact.
In this article we consider several of the unique challenges in reading digital texts and describe close reading methodologies that are compatible with gameplay experiences. These close reading methodologies are used to reveal insights into the design of games, and also into the variety of pleasures afforded by game experience, such as imagination, emotion, kinesthetic engagement, narrative immersion, and ludic flow.
Game and New Media studies have long drawn on interpretive and critical techniques from humanities scholarship, under the guises of textual analysis, structural analysis, autoethnography, and many other names. Aarseth drew on the vocabulary and techniques of literary theory for some of his early work on nonlinear texts (Aarseth, 1994), which in turn led to his seminal work on ergodic literature in Cybertext (Aarseth, 1997). Aarseth evaluated how traditional literary notions broke down when confronted with procedural and nonlinear texts, and proposed extending literary theory in ways that allowed it to account for new media texts. Van Looy and Baetens collected a number of close readings that analyzed various forms of electronic literature (Van Looy & Baetens, 2003). These readings address challenges of the mutable and multilinear text that also apply in the close reading of electronic games. James Gee turned to “New Literacy Studies” as part of his argument on games and learning, drawing on theories of reading and context to explicate gameplay experiences (Gee, 2007). Janet Murray drew on literary theory to construct her theoretical framework for participatory narratives in Hamelet on the Holodeck (Murray, 1997), and Brenda Laurel situated her work on interactive narrative in a context of dramatic theory in Computers as Theatre (Laurel, 1993). More recently, Ian Bogost proposed a theory of “unit operations” for games grounded in a convergence of literary theory and object-oriented programming theory
Interestingly, while the theories of game criticism draw broadly on literary theories, none of them undertake to closely explore the nuts and bolts of humanities practice and critical reading as they apply to games scholarship. Mia Consalvo and Nathan Dutton describe an analysis technique that is very similar to close reading, however they don’t situate it within a broader methodological tradition (Consalvo & Dutton, 2006). As a result, their “methodological toolkit for the qualitative study of games” does not present a comprehensive analytical technique for games researchers. However, the four areas of analysis they propose – Object Inventory, Interface Study, Interaction Map, and Gameplay Log – constitute a set of possible analytical lenses for studying games. This is an important outcome - we maintain that the construction of analytical lenses is a crucial component of a rigorous close
In one of the few games studies works to engage literary theory for games at the methodological level, Dianne Carr proposes an approach to game studies rooted in three distinct (but interlocking) forms of criticism: structural analysis, textual analysis, and inter-textual analysis (Carr, 2009). Of these techniques, she writes:
The point of using such models is that it allows for specificity. This is necessary given the confusion in the field as to what constitutes ‘textual analysis’ and hence its limitations. According to textual analysis as conceptualized here, meaning emerges when a text is actualized or practiced (read in the case of a novel; played in the case of a game) (Carr, 2009).
Carr’s formulation of textual analysis as it pertains to games parallels much of our own work on close reading, and yet, like the other writers applying literary theory to the study of games, she resists drawing directly on the theory surrounding close reading. We regard this lack of a suitably theorised close reading methodology as a critical gap in games criticism. In the first section of this chapter we consider close reading in a literary context, before exploring its utility as a technique for the analysis of games.
Theories of Reading
Within literary theory, the act of reading is a complex phenomenon—a gateway into a rich combination of experience, meaning making, and interpretation. Reading may be regarded as an epistemological act, in which new knowledge bubbles to the surface before being stirred back into the potentialities of future readings. Reading is a continuous process of creating contingent meaning from potential meaning. Discussions of the theory of reading often come across as mysticism and superstition, and not without cause: in a very real sense reading is a magical act of imagination and creation by which a human mind transforms symbolic and representational input into meaningful ideation. Julian Wolfreys uses the metaphor of the haruspex for the reader (haruspicy being the divinatory practice of interpreting the entrails of sacrificed animals in order to predict the future), thus treating the reading of a text as an act of precognition.
Reading, therefore, is always—always already—connected with some mystical or perhaps telepathic possibility, with the desire to translate in ways which are not reducible to matters of logic or rationality, so as to make sense of events or, in some other fashion, to make sense of events yet to occur...All subsequent acts of reading therefore seek to retrace the traceries of veins, arteries, vessels, and other means of communicative tissue in the form of textile, textured exegesis. And that we term this exegesis suggests, through its classical form, that we wish to rationalise and distance ourselves from the moment of psychic consumption. The grotesque, corporeal aspect of reading is cleaned up, the act aestheticised, given a refiguration in a clean light. Yet in reading there is still, always, regurgitation. In our acts of reading, research comes back via the bodily ruins we call citations.(Wolfreys, 2000)
The metaphors used by Wolfreys here invoke an understanding of reading as a destructive act as well as a creative one. Reading involves vivisecting texts, in order to trace their workings through a practice of “textured exegesis”. The notion of reading as exegesis is a potent and a relevant one: exegesis involves the critical explanation or interpretation of a text, and is often connected to the reading of a spiritual or theological work. Exegesis is connected to hermeneutics, which also deals with the methodological principles of the interpretation and reinterpretation of texts, and which arose initially in the study of religious texts. One place that this is perhaps best exemplified is in the practice of reading and interpreting the Torah in Jewish tradition. Judaism has developed a tradition of exegetical discourse surrounding the Torah known as the Talmud, in which Rabbis and scholars interpret and reinterpret the text in an ongoing discussion that is second only to the Torah itself in importance within the religion.
At the heart of these complementary philosophies of the act of reading is the notion of reading to make a momentary meaning, and then of reading again to make a new meaning, and then of reading again, to make another meaning, in a cycle that can not, and should not, be completed or closed. This hermeneutic circle denies the possibility of reaching a final “true” reading, which is indeed counter to the act of reading. Reading is present tense and continuous; to say something has been “read” is to suggest that it has been consumed and that the possibility of meaning creation has been exhausted.
The bad reader (whom Derrida admits to loving, by the way) is the one who rushes with indecent, even journalistic haste, to decision, to decide on a reading, and thereby have done with reading, once and for all. Bearing this in mind, and seeking all the while to avoid becoming the bad reader, to have the last word or to close the book on reading, how do we read so as to avoid having read? How do we learn to read patiently, rigorously, in such a manner that we know all the while that we have not yet read, we have not yet done (with) reading...all we can do is practise acts of strong reading which will be, inevitably, misreading. (Wolfreys, 2000)
One example of this process of knowledge creation may be read in Roland Barthes’ 1970 reading of Honore de Balzac’s Sarrazine. In S/Z Barthes treats the original short story as a terrain to be traversed in explicit detail, resulting in what has been described as the “most sustained yet pulverized meditation on reading...in all of Western critical literature” (Barthes, 1970) In S/Z, Barthes identifies five distinct codes, or groupings, of textual signifiers, the Hermeneutic, Semantic, Proairetic, Cultural, and Symbolic.
Each code is one of the forces that can take over the text (of which the text is the network), one of the voices out of which the text is woven. Alongside each utterance, one might say that off-stage voices can be heard: they are the codes: in their interweaving, these voices (whose origin is “lost” in the vast perspective of the already-written) de-originate the utterance: the convergence of the voices (of the codes) becomes writing, a sterographic space where the five codes, the five voices, intersect... (Barthes, 1970)
Barthes is arguing for an understanding of a text as a multi-voice, interpreted experience, where denotational meaning is continually fracturing under the lens of connotational meaning. Diane Carr draws on Barthes’ codes in her critique of Resident Evil 4, summarizing them as:
Hermeneutic code – which relates to narrative enigma, questions posed, and truths revealed
Proairectic code – the code of actions, logical sequence, causality
Semic code – connotations, themes
Symbolic code – mythic antitheses and binaries
Referential code – cultural codes, values (Carr, 2009)
We can understand each of Barthes’ codes as a distinct “analytical lens” which allows the reader to partially isolate a particular facet of a text. We return to this notion of analytical lenses in section 5.3. Perhaps more importantly, Barthes demonstrates in S/Z how a close reading of a text can reveal important details, not only about that specific text, but about the poetics of a medium writ large. Carr acknowledges that applying these codes to games in not without its difficulty. She asks:
Would the code of enigma relate to mysteries presented in the back-story, as well as the enigmas (challenges, puzzles, delays, and obstructions) presented by the game’s ludic elements? What of the enigmas that are the result of player error, such as getting lost? Would the proairectic code refer to the actions in the back-story, the actions called for by the game, or the actions taken by the player – or all of these? Would accidental or unsuccessful actions differ from deliberate actions? (Carr, 2009)
To help to grapple with the issues raised by the associative context in which a game in played, and in particular the relationship between the connotations embedded in the text of the games, and the associations made by the player, Carr turns to Bennet and Woollacott’s work on inter-textuality. Inter-textuality, in this case, refers to “the social organizations of the relations between texts within specific conditions of reading” Bennet and Woollacott, as cited in (Carr, 2009). Of their work, she writes:
The authors argue that texts cannot be understood in isolation, but rather than proposing a straight switch to audience studies on that basis, they consider aspects of the relationship between text and user, finding that the reading or viewing subject arrives at a text with a set of ‘reading formations’ in place, and these will influence if (or which) aspects of that text will have resonance for that subject (Carr, 2009).
This notion of reading formations is a valuable bridge between theories of textuality that focus solely on the text or solely on the reader. Close reading, thus, is a process-driven practice rather than a product-driven one. Knowledge which emerges through this methodology is situated within the particulars of each reading, in context of all other readings. Interestingly, the need to understand a reading within its own context did not extend to a need to understand the text which was being read within its authorial and cultural context, at least not at the methodology’s onset. New Criticism introduced a form of reading that placed all critical emphasis on the text itself, rather than contextual elements of the text, such as historical context and authorial intent. As James Inman writes:
Although the concept of close reading may be said to have broad historical roots, its rise to prominence clearly came in the mid-20th century American academy with the emergence of the New Critical school of textual interpretation...The New Critical approach suggests more or less that text may be analyzed as an object itself and, thus, that it is best understood in terms of its central elements, like symbol and image—these are, so the thinking goes, what holds any text together. The identification of these elements, then, is close reading, and the implicit suggestion is that history, economy, and other human conditions are less important in any interpretive transaction. (Inman, 2003)
The technique of close reading changed as literary theory grew and evolved. In more recent times, close reading has been turned back towards an investigation of the text in context, with approaches that draw on feminist theory, Marxist criticism, and post-colonialism. These approaches take a particular perspective or filter and apply it to a text, looking at specific themes within the text such as the treatment of women or of ethnic minorities.
With the additional incorporation of the techniques of deconstructionism, developed by Jacques Derrida, close reading once again becomes hermeneutic exegesis, but a secularised hermeneutics.
In essence, deconstructionists practice close reading by searching for and locating moments at which a text appears to contradict itself; many times, this questioning and dismantling involves the problematizing of binaries, such as the man-nature and self-other, or even something more seemingly simplistic like large-small and outside-inside.(Inman, 2003)
This perspective on close reading returns us to Lee Sheldon’s observation that achieving a critical awareness of a media object can be both “sad and exhilarating.”(Sheldon, 2004) Sheldon’s remark describes how he was trained to perform close readings, and is indicative of a further broadening of the methodology into a technique for the analysis and critique of film. We believe that anyone who has undertaken a close reading of a work is familiar with this feeling of expansive loss that we encounter when delving into a loved work. The sadness that Sheldon describes comes from a change in the relationship to the text, and from a loss of innocence that prevents it from working its magic in the same way that it did before it was laid bare through the close reading process. However, even as the naive pleasure of the unexamined text recedes, there is an exhilaration that comes from learning how a text casts its spell. In section 6.2 we will discuss in greater detail how this occurred in our process of close reading Oblivion.
Textuality and Digital Media
As games and new media become more prominent in our culture we are presented with an opportunity to further expand close reading as a methodology, which first requires expanding our notion of what constitutes a text. A text, in the most traditional sense, is written words on a page. In theatre studies, the term text is often used to refer to the scripted and spoken dialogue, as distinct from the performances of the actors, or the movements of the camera. In order to perform a close reading of a digital media artifact such as a game or a piece of new media art we must first consider how these forms might be considered texts to be read, and what—if any—differences exist between novelistic and filmic texts and interactive digital texts.
Medium, message, and poetics
Each medium privileges certain types of communication, as observed by Harold Innis in the 1950s, and extended by his student Marshal McLuhan in the famous, or perhaps infamous, phrase, “the medium is the message”. (Innis, 1991; McLuhan, 1995) This is consistent with that facet of literary theory that has been concerned with the formal aspects of a text.
If we approach media from a formalist perspective, then it seems that new digital media technologies must be treated differently from old media technologies, in the sense that the form varies wildly with the introduction of computational mediation. However, work has been done that supports the possibility of extending the notion of textuality to media technology, even if the narrative content of some digital media never manifests as literal, written words on a page or as dialogue in the mouth of actors.
When close readings are performed, they are not performed in an observational vacuum. The scholar-reader brings her own set of theoretical issues and observational lenses to bear in the analytical process. These lenses were originally based in literary traditions, but later came to include the traditions of other media, as well as concerns drawn from the broad tide of cultural studies. As discussed above, close readings were used in the analysis of texts drawn from a variety of media, and the analytical perspectives were broadened to include feminist theory, Marxist criticism, and post-colonialist analysis—among others.
This broadening was—and still is—critically important, but the perspective in our work has a narrower focus. Our interest lies in understanding the development of form—the poetics—in emergent media. According to Bertens, narrative formalism focuses on structure (form) over content (meaning), and is thus consistent with the media scholarship advanced by McLuhan and Innis. (Bertens, 2008)
Winthrop-Young has a more nuanced argument, claiming that there is a relationship between meaning and form that he frames as a relationship between narrative and media technology. Where McLuhan argues for the primacy of medium over content, Winthrop-Young suggests that both exist in a reciprocal relationship, arguing that:
Narrative is a media technology;
Narratives depend on media technology;
Narratives deal with media technology, particularly their own. (Winthrop-Young, 1997)
Winthrop-Young uses media technology as a broad term that positions narrative as a cultural tool, one that is instantiated and inflected across a range of “hardware” from cuneiform tablets to computer screens. We suggest that his use of the word “narrative” in this argument can also be understood as a shorthand for the broader notion of “content” or “message”. His positioning of narrative (message) in an overlapping relationship with a specific media technology (medium) pushes against a binary division of form from content. McLuhan holds that the medium is as salient to the experience as the message which it communicates, if not more so. Winthrop-Young leads us to see the dynamic relationship that binds the two.
What does it mean for something to be a text, then, from this perspective? To describe a text as words on a page or as the lines spoken by characters in a film is to describe the medium of communication only. If medium and message are so entangled, then textuality must be likewise entangled, not just in the apparatus for communication but also within the message which is being communicated. Thus, a text might be understood as a gestalt of medium and message.
Our claim is that the nexus for this reciprocal relationship is found in the design of each work. A creator’s design decisions instantiate her content within the form of a particular medium in order to afford the user experience that she intends. This specific engagement with the form, design, content, and experience of an individual work is at the same time an engagement with the general form and the overall design dynamics of the chosen medium. Aristotle’s seminal work “Poetics” bears witness to this connection. In modern terms, Aristotle “reverse engineered” the poetics—the design principles—of Greek tragedies though his own close readings of its classic works (Aristotle, 1951).
This process of understanding poetics and form through deep reading and analysis is particularly useful during moments of media transition and emergence. Cavell argues that a medium begins to exist when it is instantiated by concrete works, and that it has no existence that is independent of these works (Cavell, 1979). In order to fully understand a medium, we need to have a deep understanding of how it functions in praxis. Henry Jenkins argues that for new media such as video games, serious critical and scholarly analysis is a vehicle for the maturation of the medium, for the training of its practitioners, and for the education of its audience
Winthrop-Young’s contributions to the broadening of the notion of textuality coincided with a growing scholarly interest in digital media, in particular Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck (Murray, 1997) and Bolter and Grusin’s Remediation (Bolter & Grusin, 1999), and is indicative of a movement to adapt traditional humanities methodologies for use in the study of new media. In his essay on Electronic Texts and Close Reading, Inman proposes several key consequences of the close reading of digital media, which he derives from a set of collaborative close readings of web pages, held in an online chat room among fellow scholars and other participants. He writes:
Access matters, both in the way readers physically encounter electronic texts and in how they function within various discourse evident.
Close readings are social in nature.
Reading is as much about the “shape of the page” as it is about any individual elements in a page.
Multimedia, like graphics and audio files, may draw significant attention from close readers, whether intended for such scrutinization or not. (Inman, 2003)
By performing readings in a collaborative environment, he explores the ways in which the methodology of close reading may be shared across multiple participants and perspectives. He also highlights some of the particularities of reading a digital artifact—in this case web pages. His assumptions about the textuality of the sites extend to the tangible presence of “multimedia” artifacts as well as less tangible aspects of the site design such as layout and colour. Inman proffers the following explication of the relationship between close reading of traditional texts, and close reading of electronic media:
The brief conclusion I offer is to remind readers that the contemporary close analysis of electronic texts intersects with print-based close reading practices, giving the two a rich and diverse shared tradition, not erasing either from disciplinary consciousness or memory. More, the two are mutually informing. An individual who has performed close analyses of both print and electronic texts will be a much different reader than some who has only done one or the other; I strongly advocate that everyone finds value in both (Inman, 2003).
Within the canonical work of Interactive Narrative studies and New Media theory there is plenty of evidence of hybrid readings that draw on more traditional narrative texts in order to explicate digital media. For instance, Janet Murray, author of Hamlet on the Holodeck, has a background in Victorian era literature. Lev Manovich, author of The Language of New Media, is a scholar of film in addition to being a classically trained artist and graphics programmer. Both of these authors use previous media as touchstones for their discussion of the emergent digital forms. Murray uses the metaphor of the Holodeck from the TV show Star Trek as her prototypical future media experience, but she also often turns to her roots in literature to describe her vision of the future, dedicating lengthy discussions to the implications of the lives and writings of the Bronte siblings. (Murray, 1997) Manovich uses Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov’s Man with the Movie Camera to guide his discussion of new media forms. (Manovich, 2001) Marie-Laure Ryan structures her book Narrative as Virtual Reality with framing examples from both traditional linear fiction, and more recent procedural texts including Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age and Baudelaire’s Artificial Paradises (Ryan, 2001).While these works do not devote very much discussion to the epistemological stance of the authors, the practice of close reading can be observed at the heart of their analyses.
Challenges for Reading Digital Media
The close-reading of even a simple non-digital work is a highly interpretative process. Careful attention to fine details can cause the analysis of relatively small texts to seem cumbersome and unwieldy. Audiovisual media and digital media like film and video games add a complexity to the close reading process because of the necessity to simultaneously read across several modalities of communication. Interactive digital media, such as games, further complexify this process due to three medium specific factors that must be grappled with in any reading. Interactive digital media in general, and digital games in particular, are challenging to read due to their indeterminate and shifting natures, their size, and the inherent difficulties of engaging with the medium which are built into them. In this section we consider each of these challenges to reading digital media.
New media and games suffer from a certain degree of indeterminacy: one cannot guarantee that two readers will encounter the same media assets while interacting with a game, or that they will experience them in the same order. Nor can one guarantee that they will observe and attend to the same details of the experience. In traditional literary discourse, the text is a fixed point to which the critic may safely refer.59 Digitally mediated texts, on the other hand, have the potential to shift aspects of their form, making it problematic to refer back to any element of a reading as representative of a singular, unified text. This may take the form of changing the ordering of a reading, as is the case in hypertext fiction, or it might take the form of traversing a virtual environment in a different way on different readings. In a digital text, the reading must be able to account for the indeterminate nature of the experience. This is further exacerbated in games where players are often forced to choose between multiple exclusive paths without the option of backtracking to see the other potential outcome. This indeterminacy is a different phenomenon from the notion of shifting interpretations and readings of the same content discussed in the above section. Rather, the instability of digital texts is rooted in an explicit and literal restructuring of the content and presentation of the experience in conjunction with a shifting set of reader interpretations.
The procedural nature of digital environments, coupled with the unpredictability of the reader conspires to transform digital texts into “moving targets”. In single-player games, the emergence of new experiences occurs within the relationship of the player and the simulation. In multi-player games this is extended by the relationship of the players to each-other. In Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) such as World of Warcraft the presence of other people within the digital environment introduces the potential for emergent social dynamics far beyond what any author might have anticipated. In more open ended Virtual Worlds (VWs) this is even more pronounced, especially in environments such as Second Life where user created content is constantly reshaping the environment and its inhabitants. Close reading of these digital spaces enters into a difficult gray area in which “text” and “world” intertwine, perhaps because these worlds exist at an intersection of Humanities and Social Sciences. In VWs close readings become more like autoethnography or participant observation.
As if this were not already problematic enough, the very size of many of these texts often defies rigorous explication, with some computer Role Playing Games (RPGs) requiring upwards of 400 hours of gameplay time to traverse the narrative from beginning to end (compared to the time it takes to watch a film or read a novel). In RPGs, one of the measures of a game’s quality is the number of hours of play afforded. One of the best examples this can be found in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (GTA:SA). GTA:SA is one of a growing genre known as “sandbox” games, in which the player is deposited in a large seamless environment with only a loose mission framework to govern her actions – a framework which she may disregard entirely if so inclined. In a sandbox game, the size of the world substantially impacts the game experience, and thus as these games have evolved, so too has the scope of their environments. GTA:SA takes place in an environment that is 6km by 6km, or 36 million square meters – a measurement that excludes the interior environments in the game (GameSpot 2005). GTA:SA doesn’t just include a single urban environment, like its predecessors: it includes three distinct “cities” separated by rural environments and small towns, bordered on one side by miles of ocean. In a physical environment of this size, it can take a reader many weeks of play to begin to feel as if she has fully apprehended it.
Often in games it is possible and even necessary to replay the game several times in order to experience all of the possible available content (such as variations to playstyles across different character types, or variations to the game narrative that are contingent upon different player choices). Replayability is also one of the ways that games measure success: many games often intentionally limit the player’s ability to experience everything the first time through in order to encourage multiple playings. Furthermore, many games provide only minimal “bookmarking” ability, which limits the reader’s ability to return to previous points in the gameplay and explore them fully. Some games, such as Fable II, maintain only a single, automatically updating, savegame of the player’s progress, thus preventing players from backtracking to previous points in the game’s story. By contrast, it is relatively easy to return to a section of interest in a novel or film and examine it closely. All of these factors add up to an artifact that requires a substantially larger time commitment in order to read and which problematizes the process of reading closely.
The final factor that sets digital artifacts apart from older media is the skill level of the reader, and the difficulty of the experience. Games require highly specialized skills ranging from hand-eye coordination in order to manipulate the controller to complex modelling of the interrelated dynamics of a game system in order to understand the impact of player actions in the game world. A player who is busy struggling with the controls and mechanics of a game is likely to attend to very different details than a player for whom the interaction has become automatic. Similarly, a player who is immersed in the interplay of challenge and success in a game (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) will attend to different details than a player who has grown so skilled as to render the challenges of the game trivial.
One game where this is particularly evident is Rock Band. In Rock Band players must develop a different set of reflexes and muscle memory than those needed to succeed at many other games, due to the novelty of the three different instrument controllers. While first grappling with these new controllers, it is difficult to pay attention to other aspects of the game, such as the performances of the digital band in the background. As a player grows more and more comfortable with the interface, and with the routines, more and more attention is freed up to attend to the other visuals on the screen, as well as the performative embodiment of the musician that the game supports outside of the screen. At conferences and parties we have observed players grow more physically engaged in their performance as they get better at the basic interactions, jumping up and down and dancing to the music: as the skill levels of the players changes, so too does the core experience.
Readings of games must contend with the changing skill level of a player over time. Careful repeated play, such as that practiced in a close reading of a game, has an inherent danger of distancing the player from the pleasures of the game. In order to address this, a reader of games must learn to oscillate between a position of critical distance and one of immediate pleasure.
Successful Oscillation: Techniques for Reading Games
A final, and more subtle, complication to the technique of close reading in games is the stance of the scholar with respect to her own reception of the work. Close-reading traditionally entails a deep immersion into the experience of a work. From an epistemological standpoint, it relies on the highly idiosyncratic insights of the individual theorist in order to explicate nuances of the work that might not be apparent to the average reader. In the context of game studies, the strength of the method is that the analysis can be deeply grounded in the defining core of the medium—the experience of gameplay. We propose that for this reading to remain true to this play experience there must be room for the theorist to engage the game in an authentic manner, while still generating close observations and insights. By “authentic manner” we mean that it is not sufficient for a scholar to engage a game solely as a critic: he must also engage the game as a player or a “gamer” playing the game on its own terms.
In order to undertake a close reading, then, the scholar assumes a specific dual stance in relationship to the play. This type of reading involves a form of role-play on the part of the scholar, who must maintain two different levels of cognitive attention.
On one level, the scholar enacts the play of a naïve gameplayer—one who is encountering the game as a fresh participant. This perspective is open to all nuances of the experience and ready to absorb the game without preconceptions. In Bolter and Grusin’s terms, she must commit to a complete state of immediacy—unconditional surrender to the experience (Bolter & Grusin, 1999).
At the same time, the scholar is—and must be—distanced from the experience. She must bring an objectivity to the observation of her own experience and faithfully remember and record a wide range of critical details. From this perspective, she plays the game in a state of hypermediation—an awareness of the fact of mediation.
The close-reading scholar must successfully oscillate between these two states in order to build the necessary data set of reliable, consistent, and comprehensive observations. This paper outlines examples of specific observational strategies that make this dialectical process more effective for the identification and collection of relevant gameplay data.
The Imagined Naïve Reader
Current methodological trends in game studies often emphasize empirical observation of game playing situations. (Gardner, 2003) While this approach can provide much information about the situation in which people play games, it does not have much traction in the analysis of the games themselves. The observational approach treats the game experience as a series of social and mechanical interactions to be observed and measured, rather than as a meaningful experience to be interpreted. While this approach may have the advantage of being more scientifically verifiable, it is only able to evaluate the surface layer of the play experience. In our approach to close reading, we are able to generate much more nuanced and deep observations, but at the potential cost of empirical objectivity. One of the strengths of this method is a reliance on interpretation; however our ultimate goal is to create a play experience that is authentic enough to give rise to valuable insight and interpretation. One approach to this issue is for the theorist to construct a phenomenological study of an imaginary reader or interactor. Bizzocchi describes his process of reading as role-play in his analysis of Ceremony of Innocence, a “lost masterpiece” of multimedia art.
My observations form the basis for the Close Reading sections that follow. The observations can be treated as a data set built through multiple reviews of the books and the puzzles, constant referencing and modification of my notes, and repeated screenings of a videotape of the cut sequences. Despite the considerable amount of information I had at my disposal, I tried to write the descriptive sequences of the close reading sections as if they represented the perspective of a naïve interactor. The naïve interactor whose voice I created is someone who has not read the books, and is playing the game for the first time. These descriptive sequences therefore represent a constructed phenomenology. It is completely based on my own experience, but it approximates the experience of a different and theoretical interactor. This theoretical interactor is far less informed than I was, but has considerable power to observe and comment in detail on his own reactions to the event. (Bizzocchi, 2001)
By creating an imagined reader, a theorist is able to address issues of variability and of perspective in a close reading of a digital text. This theoretical interactor is imagined as an individual who has not yet encountered the text, and who is interacting with the digital environment as someone exploring a new experience. This naïve interactor has the freedom to shift his perspective from a broad evaluation of the experience to a narrow look at details that compel him. By imagining the reading from the point of view of a naïve interactor, theorists can avoid the temptation to shift perspective away from the experience of reading and toward mechanical details of the medium, except where they are of relevance to the experience.
There is a close connection between this notion of the imagined naïve reader and Janet Murray’s criteria for immersion in media experiences. Murray constructs immersion as a cognitive act in which the reader not only suspends her disbelief, but in fact actively creates belief in the fiction of the experience. (Murray, 1997) This active creation of belief permits the readers to build a relationship with media experiences which is immediate while remaining firmly within a fictional reality. Murray’s notion of immersion does not propose that the reader forget that she is engaged in a fictional experience, but instead allows for this knowledge to be safely held to one side. In other words, the process of genuine immersion is supported by the exercise of a powerful imaginative and creative faculty. In this way it is quite similar to the process of role-playing that we advocate for the close-reading
Close reading using this approach remains a phenomenological investigation of the critic’s reading process, but as Bizzocchi points out, it is a constructed phenomenology; it is a reading of a performative experience. It represents a single reader’s experience of an artifact that can conceivably generate an infinitely varied set of possible experiences and readings.
A Performed Player Stereotype
In addition to the generic stance of the imagined naïve reader, we have also found it valuable to construct more specific fictional readings, as seen through the eyes of imagined player types. Close reading has grown and changed much in the years since its original formulation. One thing that distinguishes its current form from previous incarnations is the post-modern emphasis on the explication of the bias of the reader. Close readings are no longer performed solely under the guise of presenting a neutral, objective view of a work. Instead, practitioners of close reading often select a particular perspective from which to read; thus we see feminist readings or Marxist readings of texts. Similarly, when reading games closely, it is advantageous to explicate the particular play style or bias being brought to bear.
While it is possible to imagine a player who has never encountered the game and is approaching it from a naive or neutral perspective, research in game studies has long acknowledged that different players have different preferred ways of playing the same games. This notion of player types, or play styles, has been formalized in a number of different systems. Richard Bartle divided players into four primary types—killers, socializers, explorers, and achievers—by observing common player behaviours in text based MUDs. (Bartle, 1996) Batemen and Boon used Meyers Briggs typologies from psychology to identify a number of different playstyle preferences in game players. (Bateman & Boon, 2006) Craig Lindley surveys a number of player typologies, including one from vernacular theory for Live Action Role Playing games which divides players into dramatists, gamists, and simulationists. (Kim, 1998; Lindley, 2005)
To a theorist performing a close reading of games, what this means is that a neutral reading may not always capture the variety of possible play experiences. This is especially true for games which are targeted at specific gamer demographics. Much like the act of performing an imagined naive reader, reading with player stereotypes in mind requires theorists to role-play a particular type of imagined player. However, unlike the above technique, the goal is not to construct a neutral unbiased experience, but instead to construct a particular bias in order to discover a specific thing about the game play. This might mean subverting the ways in which the game is intended to be played, or it might mean acting within carefully constructed play constraints in order to experience a specific facet of the
Focusing Readings with Analytical Lenses
So far we have described techniques for reading games during the play experience, emphasising the shifting nature of the scholar’s attention during play. After the play ends it falls to researchers to make sense of the reading. In the subsequent analytical phase, the scholar steps back from immersion in the experience, instead becoming immersed in the data set of observational notes and the memory of the gameplay. The scholar is now a sleuth, sifting through the observational data in order to unriddle the salient facts and insights that best inform a deeper understanding of the game. In effect the close reading now becomes a process of using the experience to reverse-engineer the mechanisms and dynamics of the design. This often means having to sift through an unwieldy collect of notes, recordings, and observations, which can quickly threaten to overwhelm the researcher. One way to make this process more manageable is to use carefully constructed analytical lenses to constrain and direct the interpretations of the data.
Dianne Carr arrived at this notion, in her argument for textual analysis in games, writing:
It would be a mistake to categorize in-game elements as either structural or textual depending on their particular properties. It is more productive to regard each element in the game as potentially viewed through analytical lenses. Their interpretation will depend on the analytical lens employed (structural, textual, or inter-textual, for example). There is no reason to assume that one of these meanings would be definitive or dominant, although particular interpretations might be more or less likely or appropriate in different contexts. (Carr, 2009)
As discussed above, readers of games must grapple with media experiences that are often comprised of many hours of playtime. In order to make sense of the often vast amounts of data gathered during a close reading, it is often necessary to identify a specific aspect of the play to focus on. Isolating specific phenomena to read allows theorists to limit claims about the contribution of the reading. In the same way that a literary theorist might focus on the use of metaphor or imagery in a text, a game scholar may choose to focus on the dynamics of reward and motivation, or the believability of the game’s non-player-characters. This constrains the types of analyses that any one reading may accomplish, allowing game scholars to fruitfully explicate smaller sections of gameplay experiences, rather than attempting to catalogue and evaluate the entirety of a game.
Choice of lens is idiosyncratic, often resulting from some combination of researcher expertise, preliminary early-stage insights, specific qualities of the game, and intended goal of the reading. The nature of the lens can and often does evolve during the process of the reading. As the scholar examines the work, fresh insights inform the process of analysis and modify the analytical tools. The dynamic between the reader, text and methodology is therefore an evolutionary process. Because of this, it is impractical - and perhaps counter-producutive - to attempt any exhaustive survey of the possible analytical lenses available to game scholars. In the following examples we will consider some of the different lenses and perspectives used in our own work, to focus close readings of games.
Close Readings in Game Studies
Close reading is a methodology that is gaining traction in the game studies community. The first volume of Well Played provides a sampling of close playings of games, in which many of our reading strategies are evident. Drew Davidson writes that “this book is full of in-depth close readings of video games that parse out the various meanings to be found in the experience of playing a game...Video games are a complex medium that merits careful interpretation and insightful analysis”. (Davidson, 2009) Davidson proposes the concept of “well played” which he uses in two senses: to be skilled in the playing of and interpretation of games and to be skilled in the design and execution of games. Thus, Davidson’s book takes us to both playing experience and poetics. In keeping with this tradition we present two examples of close reading from our own work. In our first example, Bizzocchi describes his process of close reading in Ceremony of Innocence. In our second example, Tanenbaum describes his close reading of the video game Oblivion.
Bizzocchi’s Account: Close Reading in Ceremony of Innocence
I relied on close reading as the heart of my analysis of the design of Ceremony of Innocence. (Real World Multimedia, 1997) Ceremony of Innocence is a lost masterpiece—an interactive CD-Rom adaptation of Nick Bantock’s Griffin & Sabine Trilogy. The books are a love story told in a series of fifty-eight post cards and letters exchanged between the protagonists. Each book is an interactive experience in its own right, with pull-out letters and rich graphics, penmanship, and font choices that reflect the characters of the lovers, both of whom are graphic artists with visual styles as distinctive as their personalities. The interactive work retains the entire narrative structur, and all component media of the books. It adapts the visuals of the postcard graphics into fifty-eight separate interactive puzzles, each of which must be solved in order to hear the text on the reverse side.
I framed my scholarly engagement as a quest, the heart of which is the close reading of Ceremony of Innocence. For a close reading, the traveler becomes a hunter, a tracker seeking clues and signs in the details of the work. Based on his sharp look at the territory, the hunter sketches a map that echoes the journey. All of the paths in the map share a similar approach. Each looks for the trace of narrative concerns as instantiated in the work: plot, story, character, emotion, theme. Each concentrates on the nature of the instantiation: what is actually happening, what does it feel like, what is its role in the complete work? Finally, each looks for the relationship between interactive craft and narrative. These close readings become data, which forms the background and provides the raw material for the theoretical work of the thesis. (Bizzocchi, 2001)
I began my examination with a general idea of my starting direction. I knew I was interested in the relationship between gameplay and narrative, and I was determined to discover if there were substantive relationships between the interactive design—the poetics of the gameplay—and my experience of significant story variables. As I played the puzzles, I kept notes on my gameplay. The notes were organized into categories, so my notetaking took the form of populating a database. The database design was an active and iterative process; as my understanding of the game design grew stronger, I would add categories and subcategories. Where it seemed critical, I would return to earlier puzzles in order to add notes within the new database categories. I didn’t fill every category for every puzzle, but my notes were reasonably inclusive and complete. My final database had the following four major categories: narrative, theme, gameplay, and media. I had between three and nine subcategories within each of these four major categories. In the process of compiling the data, I played the game through a number of complete and
My analysis addressed the question of a possible disjuncture between suspension of disbelief and the pleasure of story on the one hand, and the interactive media on the other hand. Active participation in the decision-making required for most interactive narrative experiences has the potential to interfere with the pleasure of surrendering one’s self to deep immersion within a rich narrative storyworld. I identified two design directions in Ceremony of Innocence that helped to suture this disconnection. The first was a consistent attention to a pervasive “narrative texture” distributed across all the component media of the experience: graphics, font choice, music, sound effects, voice, and animations. Innumerable creative decision across these media components all helped to develop significant aspects of the overall narrative experience: character, storyworld, emotional context, or narrative theme.
The second direction I identified was the incorporation of narrative sensibility within the heart of the interactive experience—the game’s interface. I identified two aspects of interface design directions that reinforced the experience of character. The first concerned the look of the interface. The cursor’s visual design is transformed relatively frequently in Ceremony: sixteen cards/letters out of fifty-eight change the look of the cursor. I identified systematic differences in the look of the cursors associated with the two protagonists—Griffin and Sabine. Griffin’s cursor iconography tends to be relatively prosaic: mammals, things, people. Sabine’s are less grounded, more other-worldly: birds, insects, angels, familiars, a ghostly paintbrush. I argued that these design decisions reflected and amplified differences in character. Griffin’s cursor designs evoked the ordinary, the mechanical, the limited. Sabine’s visuals manifest an ethereal quality, such as the lightness of flight, as well as an exotic attraction. The graphic re-designs of the various cursors supported the respective character directions within the main narrative.
I then examined a more significant direction for the incorporation of narrative within the interface design. I reviewed the re-design, often to the point of subversion, of interface functionality. The standard conventions of the desktop GUI are based on a clear and transparent relationship between the hand on the mouse and the cursor on the screen. However, in many of the puzzles in Ceremony of Innocence, this transparent and reliable functionality has been subverted. In these cases, understanding the new relationship between the mouse and the cursor is part of the process of solving the interactive puzzle. The puzzles associated with Griffin tended to have more substantive and numerous subversions of the interface functionality than those associated with Sabine. I argued the resultant difficult and indirect nature of user action within these puzzles reflected the emotionally crippled, indecisive, and indirect nature of Griffin’s own personality. This is a critical extension of narrative expression. Diegesis and mimesis are augmented with a third narrative mode – that of praxis. Story is developed not just in the telling, or the showing, but also in the doing.
My close reading revealed specific strategies for addressing and reducing disconnection between narrative pleasure and interactive decision-making: the infusion of “narrative texture” across all media channels of the interactive work and the incorporation of narrative sensibilities within both the look and the functionality of the interface design. In the next section we will see how Tanenbaum extended my work on narrative and interactivity in his own close reading of Oblivion.
Tanenbaum’s Account: Close Reading in Oblivion
I performed a triad of interconnected close readings in the RPG computer game Oblivion. (Tanenbaum, 2008) The qualities that made Oblivion successful and groundbreaking—an enormous virtual world and a sophisticated AI system for controlling the behaviours of the NPCs—are also responsible for making the game extremely difficult to read. Prior to beginning my analysis, Oblivion had been one of my favourite games: I logged hundreds of hours of playtime in the fictional world of Tamriel prior to attempting to study it formally without feeling like I had experienced even a small portion of what the game had to offer. In order to render the reading manageable it was first necessary to construct a set of useful analytical lenses. I began with a list of ten lenses, addressing various aspects of the game. As the research progressed I narrowed this to the three analytical lenses which best allowed me to explicate some of the unique phenomena particular to Oblivion: Believability, Adaptivity, and Performativity. (Tanenbaum, 2008)
Each of these lenses required a slightly different approach to close reading. In assessing the game’s believability I took a broad look at the behaviours of the NPCs in the world, breaking believability down into several sub-lenses, which were derived from a survey of the theories of believability in psychology, artificial intelligence, and animation. This analytical lens allowed me to consider a wide range of ways in which the characters and world of Oblivion were believable (and unbelievable). The lens broke believability into three different dimensions, each of which was further decomposed into three sub-dimensions for a total of nine different aspects of believability. These included lenses that addressed the gameworld in ontological terms (such as the extent to which the characters and environments had material, conceptual and temporal realness), lenses that addressed the extent to which the game satisfied the internal expectations created by the fiction and the simulation as well as the external expectations I brought to the game as a player. I also looked at believability in terms of the causal consistency of phenomena within the world, such as character personalities, emotional responses, and response to changes in the world’s internal model of the player character and narrative events over time. (Tanenbaum, 2008)
I alternated between time spent within the game world playing and exploring and time spent reflecting and writing on my experience of the game using my sub-lenses to isolate and identify these different aspects of character and storyworld believability in the game. For this reading, the act of oscillation happened between play and analysis: while playing I endeavoured to suspend my critical self seeking to engage the game from a place of observant immediacy. I processed these observations in the time immediately following play, writing out a narrative account of my time in the game world, much like an ethnographer reflecting on a day of observations. My experience of believability in Oblivion was a mixed one. On the one hand, there were plenty of brilliant and nuanced details in the gameworld’s response to the actions that I took during my play: NPCs spread rumours of my exploits, regarding me with fear or awe depending on my choices, and the history of the world had a materiality that pervaded the experience from the design of the environments to the packaging of the game. On the other hand, there was an inescapable tension between the dynamic and emergent systems in the game world and the static embedded quests and stories which structured much of the play. The game’s inability to reconcile my actions and choices with the various narrative threads running though the world was jarring, ultimately undermining my ability to suspend my disbelief.
For my reading of adaptivity in Oblivion I took a very different approach. In a sense the entire game is a large adaptive system, which slowly transforms itself in response to the actions of the player. However, I was interested in looking at a particular instance of adaptation in the game. In the very beginning of the game, players are taken through an introductory dungeon which serves to train them in the basic skills needed for play, and to introduce the core narrative of the game. At the same time that this is happening, the game is also assisting the player in the creation of the character that she will play for the rest of the game. Some of this character creation process is conventionally transparent: the player creates and customizes her avatar and selects some special abilities. Where Oblivion’s opening sequence becomes interesting is in the selection of a character “class”, which will govern the playstyle of the character for the entire game. Oblivion’s primary adaptive conceit is that the game “observes” the actions of the player during the introductory dungeon and at the end recommends a character class based on its interpretation of her preferences. The first time I played the game I was blown away by this mechanic. “How does the game know I am a bard?” I thought. As I became more interested in player modelling techniques, I knew I wanted to open the “black box” of the opening sequence.
For this reading I needed a different approach. Instead of a broad and immediate playing of the game, I instead engaged in a series of performative playings of the opening sequence. Each playing represented a performance of a different “player type”, covering the three primary playstyles in the game (Warrior, Thief, and Mage) as well as a number of more hybrid and idiosyncratic performances. My goal was to reverse-engineer the game’s adaptive system within this carefully bounded opening sequence. For these readings I was in perpetual oscillation between the imagined player perspective which I was enacting and the analytical perspective that was constantly surfacing in order to record the details of the play as data. Not knowing which choices were being measured by the system I established a rigorous coding system for tracking every action that was evident and measurable to me as a player. These included what I termed as “Major Choices” such as the selection of race, gender, and special abilities, and also more “Minor Choices” such as fighting with a sword instead of an axe, using magic or stealth, and selecting different options in conversations. I also created a high-level narrative account of each of my play-sessions, describing the character that I had created, and the broad strokes of how I had conceived of that play/performance. For example, for my warrior run, I picked the Orc race for their strength, and endeavoured to charge headlong into danger, swinging the heaviest weapons I could find. For my Mage run I selected the magic-using Elf race, only used magic, and only wore the cloth robes. I used the game’s internal feedback to track some quantitative data, such as skill point increases, tracking everything in a large spreadsheet, (Tanenbaum, 2008)
I was surprised by what I discovered. Certain choices, such as race and gender, had no impact on the class which the system recommended. In other cases, my actions were mismapped to the responses of the system (in the most extreme of these, playing the game in stealth mode prevented the system from being able to recommend any of the thief or rogue classes). The system also contained several playstyle biases which made playing the opening as a non-warrior an exercise in frustration. In opening the black box for my adaptivity reading I discovered only broken parts, and none of the magic that I had experienced during my naïve playthrough of the game.
My final interest in the game was to explore the play experience through the lens of performativity. My understanding of performativity in this context was as an intersubjective emergent process that arose from my first person experience of the world and its responses. For this reading I needed a system for understanding the game experience as a dialogue between myself as a performer-player and the game artefact as a co-performer. To do this I adopted a framework from improvisational theatre which broke performative knowledge into five different types including communication, playfulness, sedimentation, sensuality, and vulnerability (Lockford & Pelias, 2004). For this reading I neither role-played specific playstyles, nor did I attempt to play the game in a purely immediate space. Instead, I approached the game the way I would approach an actor in an improvisational scene, making dramatic offers (via actions within the game world) and accepting the offers made by the game. The first thing that made this problematic was the very limited means of communication which were available to me as a performer within the game: I could engage in a wide variety of violent actions, but had only a limited palette of non-violent options available, such as re-arranging objects in the world, or interrogating the inhabitants of the cities about quest related information. Of these options, only the violent actions elicited any meaningful response from the game world and the NPCs. In improvisational theatre terms, the game was “blocking” most of my dramatic offers.
While each of these readings was performed in a different way, using a different analytical lens, each one uncovered specific aspects of the game that provided insight into the other two phenomena, which in turn pointed to bigger issues in the game’s design. For example, the breakdown of believability across the emergent and the embedded content in Oblivion could be framed as a conflict between adaptive and non-adaptive components of the game. Likewise, the failure of the adaptive system to accurately incorporate player action into its player model could be seen as undermining the game’s believability both by violating the player’s external expectations, and through internal causal inconsistency. Finally, the game’s limited affordances for performative play arise from both the limitations of the game’s adaptive mechanisms and the tension between simulation and hard-coded content which underlie the issues with the game’s believability.
Close reading is an effective humanities-based methodology with a long pedigree. It is a versatile approach which has been applied under a variety of labels against a number of works across a variety of media. It can incorporate a range of analytical perspectives, and yield results in various conceptual directions. The close reading of the poetics of an individual work will reveal insights into its design and experience. More substantively, close reading of the poetics of an exemplary work will yield deeper and more focused understandings of the nature of the medium itself. This is particularly useful in moments of media emergence and transition. Close reading of poetics can also directly align digital media scholarship with two cognate domains: artistic practice and engineering research. Bizzocchi’s close reading of slow-motion in experimental cinema and video art informed his own art practice in the creation of ambient video art. This in turn revealed the need for engineering research in slow-motion video algorithms, carried out by his colleague Ben Youssef (Bizzocchi & Youssef, 2009; Youssef & Bizzocchi, 2008). In a technologically based medium, both creative insights and technical innovations are revealed by the focused attention to media design inherent in the practice of close reading poetics. Close reading is also methodologically versatile. It can be applied loosely and informally, or in a more careful and systematic fashion. Any of these variations can be useful in the service of a particular argument. However, we are particularly impressed with results that may be achieved through a more complete commitment to a rigorous and systematic use of this methodology.
In this chapter we have outlined a number of techniques for adapting close reading to games and interactive experiences. These include the construction of analytical lenses to focus and guide the reading, the performance of an imagined naive reader, and the construction of performative player stereotypes. Each of these techniques provides the scholar with a different tool for engaging in the oscillation needed to simultaneously read critically and authentically. We believe that our approach demonstrates the value of a rigorous formalized system for reflective practice in games.
We do not pretend to have closed the book on close reading in games with this chapter. There will be important new directions for this work which we believe will further expand the effectiveness and the utility of this technique. One example is the pedagogical applications of close reading. In particular, close readings that focus on the design of exemplary games will reveal the poetics of the emergent medium to the students who will soon become the scholars and lead practitioners of the maturing medium. Bizzocchi has engaged his undergraduate students in the close readings of video games as part of his courses in both Narrative and Game Design for ten years. The process of close reading has served to objectify the mediated experience, and in the process to reveal the design decisions of the individual game and the design parameters of the medium. In another example, while attending a recent conference we learned that a colleague has been using collective close reading in the classroom to conduct shared group critiques of games (Boluk, 2009). Students would take turns playing the game in front of the class, while everyone participated in picking apart the game using a variety of lenses. This form of collaborative social reading is perhaps uniquely suited to games, due to their performative dimension. It is possible to utilize a direct and reciprocal loop between the audience and the player that is not possible in the analysis of other media, such as literature. By collectively reading, it is also possible to simultaneously develop a multitude of potential readings in dialogue with each other, thus collapsing much individual iteration into a single reading cycle. We believe this has utility as a pedagogical tool, and as an alternative method for better understanding the increasing sophistication of game design and the corresponding complexities of game experience. This example also highlights the versatility of the close reading methodology, and the importance of sharing its many variations within the scholarly and pedagogical discourses of game studies.
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