My upcoming MA Thesis involves devising a new theoretical framework for analyzing video games. This work comes from the plethora of genres into which games are broken down. Game theorists get hung up on analyzing and breaking down and devising new genres. This is an attempt to sidestep genre and analyze games through categories that are present in all games, without the need for genre-like categorization.
It comprises three broad categories that are intentionally not broken down further. The ideas come from Mikhael Bakhtin’s work on the novel, as well as much more recent game studies.
In Bakhtin’s essay, “The Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse”, he outlines how the novel, as a genre, is made up of older genres, saying “What was created was a new and large multi-genred genre, one which included in itself various types of dialogues, lyrical songs, letters, speeches, descriptions of countries and cities, short stories and so forth. It was an encyclopedia of genres. (Bakhtin, p. 65).
This idea works equally well for video games, at least to trace their history. A given game will be made up of aspects of other media (film, literature, comics, etc.) as well as older games. This is helpful to consider first when analyzing a game because it situates the game within the video game form.
Michael Holquist, editor of the English version of Bakhtin’s book, “The Dialogic Imagination”, describes the chronotope as “a unit of analysis for studying texts according to the ratio and nature of the temporal and spatial categories represented.” (Bakhtin, p.425) This concept can be applied directly to video games. All games have representations of space and time that are related and, after the dialogic history of a game, the chronotope shapes the game for the player.
Video games are fundamentally different from other forms of media and while dialogic history and the chronotope can be supplanted from Bakhtin and used to analyze games effectively, interactivity is what sets games apart and must be considered. I’ve chosen to use “perspective” for this analysis and the perspective is the top level of interactivity, how the player sees themselves and the interactive world. Perspective is last in the three categories because it is informed both by the dialogic history and to a greater degree by the chronotope.
Bakhtin, M. (2008). The dialogic imagination : four essays (17th ed.). Austin: University of Texas Press.