This paper discusses three games that are characterized by what I call “epistolary architecture,” showing how the games use their spatial distribution of communicative acts to subvert the common videogame trope of the unseen woman. In his essay “Game Design as Narrative Architecture,” Henry Jenkins outlines how some games distribute narrative progression across space rather than time, so that arrival at a particular location will trigger an event in the game’s story. Gone Home (2013) and Dear Esther (2012) use similar techniques, but to markedly different effect, by distributing subjective accounts of the past (external to the timeframe of the gameplay) around the game space by way of letters, recordings, and other messages. Bientôt L’été (2013) inverts this scenario. In it, a player walks along a seashore, receiving linguistic fragments brought in by the waves, then later rearticulates these into fractured conversations with another player in a remote location. Each of these games, in its own way, problematizes the trope of the unseen woman, which I argue has been a structuring principle in videogames for decades. In general, the unseen woman has been a destination, the endpoint of a quest and thus fundamentally outside the world of the gameplay. The epistolary architecture of Gone Home, Dear Esther, and Beintôt L’été is fundamental to the games’ ability to subvert this principle. Conversely, each game uses the figure of the unseen woman to complicate the player’s relationship to its story and its setting.
LETTERS AND THE UNSEEN WOMAN: EPISTOLARY ARCHITECTURE IN THREE RECENT VIDEO GAMES
Daniel Reynolds is an Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies at Emory University, where his research and teaching focus on the relationships between technology, media, and the mind. His writing has appeared in Fibreculture, Refractory, and Applied Semiotics/Sémiotique appliquée.
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Daniel Reynolds; LETTERS AND THE UNSEEN WOMAN: EPISTOLARY ARCHITECTURE IN THREE RECENT VIDEO GAMES. Film Quarterly 1 September 2014; 68 (1): 48–60. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fq.2014.68.1.48
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