Arcade of Attractions

One of my students recently wrote in his blog about how he’s enjoying a nostalgic return to Final Fantasy 3 after having played some more recent games, and how he regrets that more recent games don’t spend more energy creating games that, like FF3, engross the player with good gameplay and story, rather than focusing on FX and programming.

halflife2_big2.jpg

While this is by no means a new concern among game designers, scholars, or
consumers, it occurs to me that there’s an interesting parallel between the drive
to produce ever-more-polygons and the cinematic drive to produce better and bigger special effects. Tom Gunning argues, in the well-known article “The Cinema of Attractions”, that the Hollywood prediliction for acrobatic, explosive action scenes stems from the early influence of vaudeville in cinema. While some movies first appeared in kinetoscope parlors, others began showing up in vaudeville theaters. As part of that venue, these films included more openly performative (and less narrative) elements. Gunning suggests that the lavish dance scenes in musicals or the interminable fashion shows that pop up everywhere in classic hollywood cinema stem from this vaudeville past. Scott Bukataman uses Gunning’s argument to explore cinematic science fiction, suggesting that special effects are the children of those fashion sequences and the grandchildren of Melies’ magic shows.

Might we suggest that the video game obsession with graphical (and sonic) ‘progress’ also stems from this secondary influence of spectacle rather than narrative? While many have pointed out the conflict over resources involved in complex graphics design–the more complex the graphics,
the less time there is for ‘gameplay’ programming–I’m not sure whether we have examined the issue in light of the historical conflict between spectacle and narrative.

I don’t really have anything to say about that, except that it occured to me. Could this be a useful lens to bring into the conversation?

A Cranky Post

Having just finished conference season, I wish OED had sent me this word a while ago:

maunder, n
Idle, incoherent, or rambling talk or writing; an instance of this.

Back! OR How Attending Two Conferences in a Single Month Killed my Blogging

So it turns out that when I get swamped, I tend to ignore my faithful readers out there. Fear not, Digital Sextant fans, I am back. Expect the next few days to include various comics-related posts and other nincompoopery.

In the meantime, some notes from the last few weeks.


  1. Old Friends and New at CCCC It was fun to see and meet all my old friends and new. I didn’t do enough of the conference proper, but I’ve discovered that hometown conferences are harder to attend faithfully than ones you have to travel to.
  2. More conference fun at PCA/ACA I saw more old friends and new at PCA/ACA in Atlanta.
  3. I saw today as the acme of busy-ness for the semester. It’s all teaching from here on out, except for my presentation at Intersections on May 2.
  4. More to come.