On the Margins: Paratexts of Video Games
Posted on behalf of Dr Regina Seiwald
This blog post takes the place of my Game Cultures BCMCR research cluster presentation on 11 March 2020, which was cancelled due to the global health crisis.
In my presentation, I wanted to talk about the paratexts of video games and how they can be used to enhance the players’ willingness to immerse themselves in the game-world. The paper was intended for the Congress in Humanities and Social Sciences, which would have taken place in London, Canada, in June 2020. Together with two Canadian colleagues, I was planning on hosting a panel on “Video Games and (Para)Textuality,” with my paper providing the theoretical foundation for the panel, while also drawing on a diverse corpus of games.
The status of paratexts in game studies is akin to their status in relation to the games they frame: They are (spatially and materially) marginal. Game studies mainly understands paratexts as discourses arising from games, such as Consalvo (2007; 2017) and Burk (2010), who propose modding and professional streaming as paratexts, or Carter (2015), who researches propaganda as a form of paratext. Although these elements are more or less paratexts (or rather epitexts, see below), game studies does not systematically engage with what narratologists, notably Genette (1997), define as paratexts: Elements that are part of the game yet not part of its diegesis. Paratexts are situated on the threshold between fiction and reality and fall into two categories, namely peritexts and epitexts (Genette 1997, 5).
Peritexts are materially connected with the game they frame and include elements such as creating an avatar, setting the difficulty level and other gameplay elements, packaging, title, ambient music before and after the game, opening and closing credits, cut-scenes, as well as mods and bots. Epitexts are not materially connected to the game but only related to it. Unlike peritexts, they are not bound to the materiality of the medium they relate to, meaning that they can take on various forms, such as video clips, text, spoken word, pictures or drawings. Epitexts include elements such as online communities discussing gameplay elements, online and offline platforms, magazines, and podcasts reviewing games, online stats, game merchandising, advertising, trailers, storybooks, character sheets, developer diaries, and games made into movies or TV shows.
Paratexts possess a marginal status in video game research to date despite having a deep impact on how the game is materially perceived. Peritexts inform the player of how the game-world is constructed and the player is slowly prepared to enter it. Some games, however, consciously do not include paratexts (or only limited ones) but begin in medias res. Examples are Limbo (2010) and Inside (2016), which constitute the player’s lack of knowledge of any backstory a key element of the game. Epitexts serve two purposes: they either allow players to make informed buying and playing decisions or support them in their gameplay and knowledge about the game.
If you’d like to hear more about this research, along with other works in progress from our Game Cultures cluster, look out for our upcoming online seminar. Details will be posted on our Events page.
Burk, Dan L. 2010. “Copyright and Paratext in Computer Gaming.” Emerging Ethical Issues of Life in Virtual Worlds, edited by Charles Wankel and Sea Malleck (pp. 33–53). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
Carter, Marcus. 2015. “Emitexts and Paratexts: Propaganda in EVE Online.” Games and Culture 10.4: 311–42. https://doi.org/10.1177/1555412014558089.