Monday, October 03, 2005

Reading Rebel Dawn

I have now finished my paper for the League of Worlds conference in Melbourne on how the Text, Media, and Culture students interpret the computer game Rebel Dawn.

Besides having long, interesting and immensely productive conversations with Owen Kelly from Arcada Polytechnic in Helsinki on the matter, it has been interesting to see, on the one hand, how readily the students adapt to the thought of computer games as constructed onscreen worlds, and, on the other, how easily they draw parallels between the "real world" and the world portrayed in the game. Many of them seem to be familiar with how a virtual world "should" operate, and they, as I say in the paper, "enter Rebel Dawn, seeing it as an example of a 'virtual reality' with its own rules and norms that differ from those of the 'real world,' but come out of it either not believing in the world that is portrayed or seeing it simply as an analogy to the real world." By bringing gender issues, ideas on capitalism and social inequalities, as well as their expectations on storytelling and narrative form, into their reading of the game, they in fact effectively collapse "any notions of Rebel Dawn as a virtual world with little or no ties to the 'real world.'" This realisation is definitely something that can be used when teaching other types of texts.

I would suggest that an onscreen world is no more—or less—virtual than a world constructed in a work of literature. As Owen effectively argues in his paper (for the LoW): virtuality does not have anything to do with "being online" or computer-mediation of any kind. It is more likely an issue of engaging in a "text"—a cultural expression—be it a novel, an article, a movie or a conversation... or an onscreen world.

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