Deciphering Physical Books
Things have changed much since the Victorian Press. Mainly in terms of what books are and how we handle them. Many still enjoy the feeling of bindings, and the look of expensive bindings are absolutely astonishing.
However, our focus has switched a bit. Instead of staring at covers and using that to determine richness of text, people have grown more and more used to the impact of the e-book, which includes a much more hardline look at the idea of the text, since the e-book can change it’s format at will (Price).
On a similar note to the e-book, I want to look at a video game as a contemporary medium. Not Video Games in general, of course, but the specific contemporary game of The Witcher 3, released in 2015 by CD Projekt.
Before continuing, I must talk about how a video game qualifies as text. Text, as most modern dictionaries will say, considers books specifically, with text being the content of the books. Now that a modern era has come, I believe it is important to note other media, such as scripts, screenplays, and video games, to have important textual elements that impact the experience of a media; the movie Mulan, for example, with completely different text, would not quite the same.
Angela R. Cox, in her article Teaching Play as Text, argues that video games should be “approached in the same ways we might encourage students to approach any historical media object, with a combination of close reading and contextualization.” She argues that video games have been as impactful to society as books in the modern era, and that they all have told a story, hidden behind new graphics.
As such, I’d like to explore games, with The Witcher 3 being my specific example.
A Look at The Witcher 3
The Witcher 3 is hardly something that the men of the Bodleian Club would offer each other at an auction for 200 dollars, (Chesnutt) but it is an important cultural artifact that should be handled as if it were one. As a video game for the PC and consoles, The Witcher 3 tends to be sold for around $60, a hefty price for one of the lower class to be paying, especially along with a console, which costs several hundred. As such, only those with disposable income can really afford to purchase both a contemporary console and a matching modern game. There are cheaper alternatives, such as “Plug-N-Play” consoles, but those are not quite as impressive technologically, nor grant quite as much leverage to text as their disk/download-based counterparts.
In order to traverse the text, the user needs to use a controller (or a keyboard for some games) and play through the game, interacting with it via a slightly more complex interface than that of a book. Depending on what system the game is being run through, the game can either be experienced on a television or a computer monitor, which slightly changes the experience, as televisions typically offer a more clear point of view for the user to experience the text through. The Witcher 3, as both a console and computer experience, can be seen on both media, and requires a powerful, expensive computer or a modern gaming console to run.
And expensive-looking, as a result. Jane Austen would have hated console gamers, in my opinion. Computers are so much more compact and efficient.
It would be difficult to pin similarities between a video game, especially one like The Witcher 3, and a 1800s print book. However, there are a couple of simularities. For example:
- Most computer and console games, like The Witcher 3, have content patches and new editions in order to fix mistakes. Similar to how Jedidiah Morse’s Geography Made Easy had quite a few editions that changed little things, like how the book looked, and taking out mistakes within it.
- Most games have similar engines that allow for specific environments and looks. The Witcher 3 has REDEngine, which is designed for open environments and many different inventory mechanics. This is similar to how we can see manuscripts having consistent designs, such as watermark placement and signatures, that work similarly across different formats.
- Demos for The Witcher 3 got people excited for it. Similar to how the sale editions of novels would get people excited for books that weren’t out yet, or that they didn’t know about.
However, as most bridges between media, The Witcher 3 has quite a few elements of physicality that do not quite function on the same vein as books.
- The interactive interface of The Witcher 3 - Playing the game with a controller - Is significantly different from the bindings.
- Our “margins” have become much more extravagant, with The Witcher 3 having environments instead. Graphics are the “nothing” that surround the text, and the Bodleian club would love the “margins” in this text!
- Text is reserved to small windows and within cutscenes, making the text somewhat spaced out. This leaves plenty of time for a whole lot of “margin” that don’t really have much content in the game.
- The physical qualities of games, notably the box containing the disk, can hold the same power as a book binding in a shelf, but is notably more uniform than books, leaving most games to look the same. The quantity of the games represents your knowledge of this medium, over the quality of the boxes.
Through intense searching through our relatively new medium, we can see some connections between them and their predecessor. Especially in Role Playing Games such as The Witcher 3, the text is important, but even more important is how good it looks, and how good it feels.
“Baxter’s Procrustes.” Stories, Novels, & Essays, by Charles Waddell Chesnutt, Library of America, 2002, pp. 781–793.
Cox, Angela R. “Teaching Games as Text: Introduction (Part I).” Play The Past RSS, Wordpress, 12 Feb. 2014, www.playthepast.org/?p=4438.
Price, Leah. How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain. Princeton University Press, 2013, pp 1-18.
Sapkowski, Andrzej. “The Witcher III Wild Hunt.” CD Projekt Red, 2015.