Why we need the death of the author in video games

Hey everyone! I published a few days ago about why we need “the death of the author” in video games, largely as a response to the Internet’s response about “Ubisoft and political statements.” You can check out the full video here -> https://youtu.be/en9msCx58Os

But the short summary of it is… “death of the author” was an idea proposed by Roland Barthes in the 1960s that critics (of literature) need to stop caring about authorial intent and using the author to critique the text. Instead, you should just disentangle the text to find your own meaning.

I tried to suggest that this is what we need in video games. If you look at the truckload of content that got created in the wake of all those “Ubisoft and politics” gags, a lot of it stemmed around authorial intent rather than video game analysis. People would blather on about politics in The Division 2 but only use what UBISOFT was saying, rather than what the game was saying. So I tried to assert the idea that if we used death of the author, we’d cut out all of this and focus on what really matters - what we (gamers) think about games. Based off our experiences and interpretations.

Do you agree? Disagree? Idk. I always look for feedback on this kind of thing!

Anyways, cheers!

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I’m very split on the concept. Understanding intent, circumstances, and time period in which a work takes is important. I believe that without context Citizen Kane would not be regarded anywhere near as well as it is. The same can be said for anything pioneering. Almost any concept in media considered revolutionary a few decades ago is seen as commonplace today. Star Wars for example was hailed as a new level of sci-fi when it came out. If you viewed it today for the first time however after watching many of the works it inspired, not much about it seems that inventive. It wouldn’t make sense to criticize Star Wars for feeling commonplace when it’s what helped to create those tropes and themes in the first place.

I like the idea of trying to analyze something without existing analysis affecting what you see, but even this fails outside of an academic or enthusiast setting. The average person can be absolutely horrible at picking up on things like subtlety or satire. I think of the Parks and Rec quote “I hate metaphors. That’s why my favorite movie is Moby Dick. No frou-frou symbolism. Just a good, simple tale about a man who hates an animal.” I understand that in the show it’s a joke, but I’ve seen similar sentiments from many people about movies and books.

In short, I like the concept, but too many people see what they want to see and fit that narrative over other things. I think looking at works without preconceived ideas is a good idea on paper, but that’s not what humans do. The idea would only serve to replace what the author meant with what the reader wants it to mean most of the time.

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I think there’s definite worth in criticism where author’s intent is completely left out of the picture. But, it’s not the be-all end-all of criticism. Knowing who the author is can either reveal layers, or add layers of complexity to a work that might have been too subtle otherwise. Though certainly, the dangers of looking at everything with the preconception that it must relate to the author makes for huge pitfalls. There must always be room for both, because both have value, and both have their flaws. Many great authors have praised unintended interpretations of texts they created.

When it comes to games, there are a few things that should be taken into consideration when translating this concept from literary criticism. Many games are created primarily as pieces of entertainment, and those are generally not really a good subject for in-depth criticism. The author, while clear in a piece of literature, is not always clear in a game. There are often simply too many pieces on the board to narrow it back down to one ‘author’. Is it the lead writer? The director? The CEO of the developing company? (which opens up an entire can of worms in itself with commercialism etc) “Ubisoft” is just far too many people to hold them all to a single answer, which I think fueled a lot of the mess that followed.

Besides all that, there is a difference between criticising something ‘with’ the author in mind, or criticising ‘only’ what the author said. You don’t need to completely erase the author from the picture to actually look at the content.

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Hmm, I’ve never heard of this concept until you mentioned it. Authorial intent is a form of context though, and context is quite relevant when it comes to making inquiries into any kind of media. examples are:

Transcription of religious texts
HP Lovecrafts choice of names for pets (particularly in the settings stories are depicted in)
Movies made before and after the Weimar Republic (Germany)
Depiction of Gangsters in American Cinema.

You could ascribe Authorial Intent to these examples and it would provide a bit of context to understanding it. Authorial intent is also quite relevent i think when the media is either from another period of history or another culture.

NOW, one BIG difference between games and other/previous forms of media is its dubious to attribute meaning to a single solitary source of origin (author). It’s also a bit dubious to look for messages or assert that that it was inspired art cause games are just formulaic type things for people to buy, and they are produced at rapid rates. Still, you do see some associative context as games often are inspired by real world events, pop culture and other things like that. And often a person can have an idea and stick it in the game and more or less that person’s vision is retained if the rest of the team likes it.

I think maybe the best example of this is Bethesda and what they’ve done with fallout. Originally, the game was inspired and arguably had quite a bit of authrial intent, but by the time bethesda got hold of it, lore checks became inconsistent, the writing became a mashup, and Todd Howard would say a lot of things ‘about it’ that would seem to make him out to be the author, and people will ask him about his ‘intent’ all of which he clearly is not, lol.

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Funny thing that you use as example Ubisoft’s “our games don’t have politics” because, well, they’re lying and know that the audience know that they’re lying.

The thematic intent that goes beyond ‘fun’ in games like The Division 2 and Watch_Dogs: Legion is pretty clear and the authors of it know it. They also know that we will discuss about it even if they’re forced to deny those themes are there.

So… that’s not much ‘death of the author’ as ‘the author would like us to pretend he’s dead’.

I mean, video games are art. You can look at one in any way that you want, whether it be about the graphics, the time of release, how many people were working on it, etc. Even if you told every reviewer out there that they can’t mention authorial intent, someone in the world is gonna look at that game with some amount of knowledge about how it was made, or whatever, and start sharing opinions that can affect people’s feelings on the game itself. Finding answers is just human nature.

I think the main talking point is that a critics’s strength resides in the consistency of their voice. If they normally review a game based off of challenge, longevity, and polish, and then suddenly come out with this scathing review about The Division 2 that explains how the author made the game for this and this reason and then score it based on that, then it’s up to the reader to figure out what they take from it. Do they lose interest in the reviewer because they deviated from their original style? Do they look at it as a learning experience where you’re finding out more of what’s important to the reviewer when they play a game?

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