This post adds to the weeknotes on the ISCS York / Ryerson ComCult conference that Eileen and Hilary and I attended last weekend in Toronto. Specifically, I want to briefly reflect on text — oral/written/other — that the presentation by Tanya Kan brought up in relation to her game Solace State (in progress, see trailer).
Kan began her presentation by describing her game as a 3D visual novel and referenced ergodic literature in relation to how Solace State is using textual elements.
The game is in its first demo stages and works broadly in speculative sci-fi. Its themes of political movement, the metropolis, and missingness are underlined by 2D and 3D elements that Kan has designed herself, and she’s writing the script — and I should mention that Kan’s whole panel was made up of women making politically motivated games that are not removed from the personal. They, ensemble, should have been delivering a keynote. (Panel included: Priya Rehal and Amanda Wong from York University, Gabriela Aveiro-Ojeda from Every1Games, and Meagan Byrne from Sheridan College.)
What intrigued me most about Solace State is its multiple layers and levels of text, as spoken via voiceover, written on buildings, and inserted as subtitles / titles — and all at once. Kan spoke particularly of text that’s involved in political movements as a part of urban space that’s always in view and yet always only partially; as such, scripts scintillate in and out of buildings at the same time as a voiceover plays and titles are appearing to guide the player (in a miraculously non-overwhelming way — but see the trailer above and judge for yourself). It seems that in Solace State text is something that you both can and cannot have access to; it’s at once everywhere and missing; furthermore, as this is a text-based game, you’re reliant as a player on having text at all; it becomes a natural resource. As Kan said during her presentation, “this creates a different habit of reading.”
Our habits of reading are already changing and being re-created, but the way that Kan’s game renders more sublimated forms (and gendered forms) of expression into various layers and modes of text recreates what cybertext and ergodic literature are equipped to handle. Gossip, as Kan specified, is a major element of how the player navigates information in the game.
How are our habits of reading changing to accommodate elements like gossip without rendering them invalid?
I would have thought this was an issue of semantics rather than structure, but the fact that Kan is formally tackling this issue made me think of how alternate forms of communication literally become formed.
Kan ended her presentation by saying, utopia is limiting. (And it made me think of that Talking Heads line, “heaven is a place where nothing ever happens,” translated by Nathan Coley:
Gossip is a form of text that is networked, that exists in a non-utopic world where everything is happening, and in a potentially messy space of textual movement. Here, reading is a game of visibility as much as of erasure. I can’t wait to play Solace State when it comes out in full.