Are Video Games Like Novels?

Video games as interactive storytelling? Maybe not at first glance, but as Eric Hayot explains, the interplay between game and narrative is real.

Pixelated books

Are video games like novels? Maybe not exactly, but as literature scholar Eric Hayot asserts, “any understanding of video games that does not include the novel … will necessarily be incomplete.” Video games are influenced by more traditional forms of storytelling, but also  influence storytelling back. And tracing their history uncovers some unusual ways that video games have played with conventional ideas of fiction.

JSTOR Daily Membership Ad

Early research on video games tended to underscore their differences from traditional narrative. Hayot writes that “games were so different from novels, films, or drama that anyone seeking to simply slot them into that longer aesthetic history would be effectively attempting to ‘colonize’ a new medium.” And this was coming from those who championed gaming. Maybe that was true for games like Tetris or Super Mario Brothers where the “kinesthetic and interactive structures,” i.e. the running, jumping, and spinning were the main point. But like any other medium, it’s difficult to place them all into a single box, or to give them all a similar definition. As Hayot points out, “Plenty of video games involve stories, enough that attempting to think about what games do or are, culturally speaking, without any sense of how storytelling works would be a pretty odd thing to do.”

Take Spike Lee’s 2015 film Livin’ Da Dream, a 90-minute film that video game researcher TreaAndrea M. Russworm describes as a “a black family melodrama.” That Lee, a prolific filmmaker, would make a movie isn’t news. What made this one so different was its inclusion in a video game. The mediums collide in what Russworm notes is an intentional disruption of “the boundaries between video games and cinema, gameplay and spectatorship.” The film appears in NBA 2K16 ’s “MyCareer” mode, and “is something that will centralize a narrative, or as Lee tells his audience, this time the mode will feature his kind of storytelling.” As Russworm explains, elements of the game/film “preclude any attempts to impact the narrative,” making it not quite a game or a film, but a different kind of storytelling.

Weekly Newsletter

Get your fix of JSTOR Daily’s best stories in your inbox each Thursday.

Privacy Policy   Contact Us You may unsubscribe at any time by clicking on the provided link on any marketing message.

Though early video games like Pong may have lacked what we think of a narrative, games “belong to a longer history of storytelling,” writes Hayot. Sure, it’s just a white ball bouncing from paddle to paddle across a pixelated screen, but it draws from earlier traditions. “Interaction was a story-mode for centuries,” Hayot explains, noting the history of shouting at stages in everything from Punch and Judy shows to Shakespeare. And as Russworm writes, the “synergy between game and cinema … blurs many of the traditional, formal distinctions between the two mediums.” Video games are not just their own way of storytelling, but are continually drawing from others, creating a new way of thinking about the craft. As Hayot explains, “any true understanding of what narrative aesthetics are doing in general, is impossible if we do not also understand the work video games are doing on that front.”

Support JSTOR Daily! Join our new membership program on Patreon today.

JSTOR logo

JSTOR is a digital library for scholars, researchers, and students. JSTOR Daily readers can access the original research behind our articles for free on JSTOR.

Get Our Newsletter

More stories.

The Superman costume as worn by Christopher Reeve in Superman III

  • Still American?

A woman proffers a jug of ale to a man in the street from her 'house of shame', in an allegorical 19th century woodcut.

  • A Pint for the Alewives

Children walk with their surfboards after surfing in Teahupo'o Bay on August 17, 2023 in Teahupo'o, French Polynesia.

  • Decolonizing the Language of Overseas France

Didarganj Yakshi

The Didarganj Figurine: A Yakshi or a Ganika ?

Recent posts.

  • Napping Penguins, Moon Landings, and Angels with Guns
  • What Is Greenwashing?

Support JSTOR Daily

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Reading the Game: Exploring Narratives in Video Games as Literary Texts

Embargo lift date, committee chair, committee members, degree year, journal title, journal issn, volume title.

Video games are increasingly recognized as powerful tools for learning in classrooms. However, they are widely neglected in the field of English, particularly as objects worthy of literary study. This project argues the place of video games as objects of literary study and criticism, combining the theories of Espen Aarseth, Ian Bogost, Henry Jenkins, and James Paul Gee. The author of this study presents an approach to literary criticism of video games that he names “player-generated narratives.” Through player-generated narratives, players as readers of video games create loci for interpretative strategies that lead to both decoding and critical inspection of game narratives. This project includes a case-study of the video game Undertale taught in multiple college literature classrooms over the course of a year. Results of the study show that a video game introduced as a work of literature to a classroom increases participation, actives disengaged students, and connects literary concepts across media through multimodal learning. The project concludes with a chapter discussing applications of video games as texts in literature classrooms, including addressing the practical concerns of migrating video games into an educational setting.

Description,, series/report, sponsorship, alternative title, conference dates, conference host, conference location, conference name, conference panel, conference secretariat location, permanent link, full text available at, this item is under embargo {{howlong}}, collections.

Logo image

Gaming literature: how digital games have changed literary fiction and performance

Files and links (1).

Beginning with a brief history of the video game, this dissertation explores the ways digital games structure the form and content of science fiction and immersive theater productions. Since the 1970s, media scholars have considered how previous media including literature, film, television, and theater have influenced game development. But few have asked: how have older media forms become more game-like, and what are the implications for authorship and readership? By adapting an interdisciplinary approach from game studies, media studies, and literary criticism, this work argues that “ludic” literatures rely on the user’s familiarity with games and their associated cultures as a form of intertextuality based on the implied procedures of computer-mediated experiences. In doing so, I revise critical conceptions of media-specificity and the limits of methodologies engineered for studying cultural forms. By attending to the audience’s roles as reader, spectator, and player, I also question game design that regards greater levels of user agency as always empowering. My research contributes to the fields of literary, game, media, and performance studies by asking critics to reexamine the conditions of twenty-first century cultural production and consumption with interdisciplinary approaches that can better attend to the ways in which media forms give structure and meaning to one another. As our media landscape becomes increasingly fluid, referential, and adaptive, my work demonstrates how we can account for the discursive nature of cultural texts and the messy networks of individuals, communities, and industries they interact with.

Company Logo

Cookie Preference Center

Your preferences, strictly necessary cookies.

As described in our Corporate Privacy Notice and Cookie Policy , we use cookies (including pixels or other similar technologies) on our websites, mobile applications and related products (the “services”). The types of cookies we use are described below.​

These are cookies necessary for the services to function and are always active. They are usually only set in response to actions made by the user which amount to a request for services, such as setting privacy preferences, logging in, or filling in forms. ​

Cookie List

Jump to navigation

NeMLA 2022: Video games and the literary

This panel will explore the many existing and potential connections between video games and the literary world. Many leading games have explicitly referred to works of literature, either within their storyworlds or in their marketing (for instance,  Bioshock ’s interactive rebuttal of Ayn Rand’s ideas). More broadly, emerging video game theory has often defined itself either by analogy or by opposition to existing concepts from literary theory. Book genres such as the choose-your-own adventure format (eg. Steve Jackson’s  Sorcery!  series) have also anticipated video gaming, and in turn been remastered as games using the same text and narrative structure. Character types such as the detective, the explorer, the inventor, and the damsel in distress have been reimagined in interactive media. Meanwhile, formal and technical aspects such as episodic publication, metalepsis, and point of view are often modified by video game creators when compared with their literary antecedents. Questions of mimesis are also enriched by considering the distinction between verbal description and computer graphics.

Submissions are welcome on any aspect of the relationship between gaming and literature. We encourage approaches that read specific games in connection with their literary sources and intertexts, as well as theoretical takes on both convergences and differences between how the two media construct stories and communicate with their audiences. In light of literary-critical approaches such as reader response theory, the literary also stands to gain from the new insights into narrative offered by the rise of gaming as a cultural and commercial force. This panel will offer a forum for an interdisciplinary group of scholars to share insights and promote lasting dialogue.

Please submit 300-word abstracts using the NeMLa portal: and email [email protected] or [email protected] with any questions.

MIT Press

On the site

  • social science
  • games & activities

Literary Gaming

Literary Gaming

by Astrid Ensslin

  • $35.00 Paperback

216 pp. , 6 x 9 in , 21 b&w illus.

  • 9780262548830
  • Published: August 15, 2023
  • Publisher: The MIT Press
  • 9780262027151
  • Published: March 14, 2014
  • 9780262322041
  • MIT Press Bookstore
  • Penguin Random House
  • Barnes and Noble
  • Books a Million

Other Retailers:

  • Waterstones
  • Request permissions
  • Description

A new analytical framework for understanding literary videogames, the literary-ludic spectrum, illustrated by close readings of selected works.

In this book, Astrid Ensslin examines literary videogames—hybrid digital artifacts that have elements of both games and literature, combining the ludic and the literary. These works can be considered verbal art in the broadest sense (in that language plays a significant part in their aesthetic appeal); they draw on game mechanics; and they are digital-born, dependent on a digital medium (unlike, for example, conventional books read on e-readers). They employ narrative, dramatic, and poetic techniques in order to explore the affordances and limitations of ludic structures and processes, and they are designed to make players reflect on conventional game characteristics. Ensslin approaches these hybrid works as a new form of experimental literary art that requires novel ways of playing and reading. She proposes a systematic method for analyzing literary-ludic (L-L) texts that takes into account the analytic concerns of both literary stylistics and ludology.

After establishing the theoretical underpinnings of her proposal, Ensslin introduces the L-L spectrum as an analytical framework for literary games. Based on the phenomenological distinction between deep and hyper attention, the L-L spectrum charts a work's relative emphases on reading and gameplay. Ensslin applies this analytical toolkit to close readings of selected works, moving from the predominantly literary to the primarily ludic, from online hypermedia fiction to Flash fiction to interactive fiction to poetry games to a highly designed literary “auteur” game. Finally, she considers her innovative analytical methodology in the context of contemporary ludology, media studies, and literary discourse analysis.

Astrid Ensslin is Professor in the School of Creative Studies and Media at Bangor University.

In this wise and insightful book, Astrid Ensslin makes a good start on a new literary criticism, one that sees beyond the mere facticity of digital mediation, deep into the substance and operations of important works. The book is exemplary, both in its keen grasp of textual theory and, perhaps more crucially, its smart and sensitive engagement with demanding, often baffling texts. Perhaps close reading is no longer possible for works so nontrivial in their configurative requirements. Ensslin offers an intriguing substitute, call it deft reading , a criticism answerable to the great, protean demands of texts relentlessly in play. Stuart Moulthrop, Professor of English, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
It is easy to say games contain narratives and easy to say that narratives are playful. Saying so does little other than repeat existing rather poor metaphors for games and narratives. Astrid Ensslin does something much harder and more rewarding: she takes on all the works occurring on the spectrum from games to literature (what she calls the L-L spectrum) and provides the first rigorous descriptive vocabulary for reading these works. I was surprised and informed by the diversity and invention found in the works examined. More than this: I was persuaded and even amazed by the rich and fine-tuned readings Ensslin offers. Literary Gaming sets the standard for understanding literary ludicity. Sandy Baldwin, The Center for Literary Computing, West Virginia University
Literary Gaming moves beyond tired debates as to whether the playful and poetic are compatible, and instead offers detailed readings of specific projects, illustrating a range of ways that compelling artistic experiences combine the ludic and literary. Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Associate Professor of Computer Science, University of California, Santa Cruz, and author of Expressive Processing
Literary Gaming is a fascinating and detailed scholarly exploration of this fairly new field of academic inquiry. Leonardo

Related Books

Tactical Publishing

Introduction: American Game Studies

Patrick Jagoda is professor of cinema and media studies, English, and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago. He is executive editor of Critical Inquiry and director of the Weston Game Lab. Patrick’s books include Network Aesthetics (2016), The Game Worlds of Jason Rohrer (2016, cowritten with Michael Maizels), and Experimental Games: Critique, Play, and Design in the Age of Gamification (2020). He has also coedited volumes including “Surplus Data: On the New Life of Quantity” ( Critical Inquiry , 2022) and The Palgrave Handbook of Literature and Science Since 1900 (2020).

Jennifer Malkowski is associate professor of film and media studies at Smith College. They are the author of Dying in Full Detail: Mortality and Digital Documentary (2017), the coeditor of Gaming Representation: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Video Games (2017), and the coeditor of the book series Power Play: Games, Politics, Culture (Duke University Press). Their work has also been published in Cinema Journal , Jump Cut , Film Quarterly , and the edited collections Unwatchable and Queers in American Popular Culture .

  • Standard View
  • Article contents
  • Figures & tables
  • Supplementary Data
  • Peer Review
  • Open the PDF for in another window
  • Permissions
  • Cite Icon Cite
  • Search Site

Patrick Jagoda , Jennifer Malkowski; Introduction: American Game Studies. American Literature 1 March 2022; 94 (1): 1–16. doi:

Download citation file:

  • Reference Manager

In 2017 , the American game designer Momo Pixel released the single-player, browser-based game Hair Nah . In this game, you play as Aeva, a Black woman taking trips to locations that include Osaka, Havana, and the Santa Monica Pier. As you move through levels on your journey—taking a taxi ride, traversing airport security, sitting on an airplane—you must slap away increasingly aggressive white hands that reach into the frame to touch your hair. Though Hair Nah taps into the genre of a casual button-mashing game, this interactive experience also explores the topic of microaggressions via unwanted hair touching. If you slap away enough hands on your travels, you reach a screen welcoming you to your destination with the message “YOU WIN!” but the caveat, “The game is over, but this experience isn’t. This is an issue that black women face daily. So a note to those who do it STOP THAT SHIT.”

How did video games move from a medium oriented toward adolescent male consumers and characterized by violent actions, such as shooting or fighting, to one that could also accommodate a playfully serious and cathartic exploration of a Black woman defending herself against racist bodily intrusions? Though video games still privilege violent mechanics and are far from diverse, especially in terms of designers and developers in the industry, the early twenty-first century has seen an expansion of the form of, and the culture surrounding, games. This has included a proliferation of game genres: puzzle-platformers (hybrids that combine spatial or cognitive puzzles with jumps across platforms as in Super Mario Bros. [Nintendo, 1983]); survival horror games (action-adventure games in which the player must persist in a threatening environment without adequate resources); time loop games (games that repeat a set period of time and encourage experimentation in the mode of the film Groundhog Day [Harold Ramis, 1993]); battle royale games (online multiplayer games in which players explore and gather resources while striving to be the final survivor), etc. And beyond entertainment, the variety of audiences addressed by digital games becomes apparent through terms such as artgames , indie games , serious games , casual games , gamification , citizen science games , and esports . Gradually, video games have also foregrounded the experiences of people of color, queer and trans folks, and other marginalized creators. Overall, video games have gone from their peripheral position as fun experiments created by mostly white, male, and cis computer engineers on machines intended for military and academic applications, to novelty arcade machines that might appear at pizza parlors, to an enormous worldwide industry that has surpassed the book, film, and music industries, now including an estimated 3 billion gamers worldwide ( Newzoo 2021 ).

While the United States is no longer the top video game market (China is), it has played an important part in the emergence, imagining, and culture of games, especially video games. This special issue explores the intersection of two academic fields: game studies and American studies. In preparing this special issue, we as coeditors have sought to explore the contributions of American studies—its methods, its worldview—to the interdisciplinary constellation of game studies through essays that pull from both of these fields. In preparing its introduction, we attempt to speak to multiple audiences, most especially readers of American Literature who may be new to game studies and scholars of game studies who may be new to this journal or the field of American studies. Ahead, we begin with some writing on game studies’ evolution that seeks to introduce this area of inquiry to readers in the former group, and to frame our particular perspective on it for readers in the latter group. Our second section looks more closely at the “American” in American studies and in this issue’s heuristic category of “American game studies.” Finally, we conclude by previewing and framing the seven essays ahead.

  • “Versus”: A Brief History of Game Studies, a Fruitfully Combative Field

While game studies is among the youngest academic disciplines and most visibly focuses on video games, the lineage of intellectual engagement with games is longer and broader than the formal field’s short history might indicate. A social interest in games—as metaphors, forms, and applied tools—dates back to such coordinates as nineteenth-century Prussian war games or Kriegsspiel , mid-twentieth-century research in economic game theory and American wargaming simulations during the Cold War, and the emergence of the serious games movement with Clark C. Abt’s book Serious Games ( 1970 ). An interest in games and play was already a feature of early work in computer science following World War II, including Claude E. Shannon’s important paper “Programming a Computer for Playing Chess” (1949) and Alan Turing’s ( 1950 ) “imitation game” concept that became central to artificial intelligence research. In the social sciences, games were a central organizing principle in classic books such as Dutch historian Johan Huizinga’s cultural history of play Homo Ludens ( 1938 ), sociologist Roger Caillois’s formalist study Man, Play and Games ( 1961 ), and Marshall McLuhan’s media studies classic Understanding Media ( 1964 ), which includes a chapter about games and culture. Finally, games have played a central role in the humanities and the arts. Analog games were key to some of the most important concepts in twentieth-century critical theory, including Sigmund Freud’s ( 1920 ) “fort-da” game, Clifford Geertz’s ( 1973 ) “deep play,” and Jacques Derrida’s ( 1966 ) “free play.” Similarly, games have influenced twentieth-century art movements, including the Situationist International’s use of “play” as a guiding principle and the Fluxus collective’s creation of actual games and “events scores,” as in the work of artists such as George Maciunas, Yoko Ono, and Ben Patterson.

For all of these precursors, the interdisciplinary field of game studies, with an emphasis on video games, did not begin to emerge until the 1990s and 2000s—about four decades after the creation of the earliest (noncommercial) video games in the 1950s and about two decades after the rise of the commercial industry with the arcade era and the first wave of console gaming in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Game studies grew out of a vibrant cultural studies that had been expanding for several decades and the simultaneous advent of new media studies. Key institutional development occurred during this period, including the beginning of games-specific journals, such as Board Game Studies (1998) and Game Studies (2001), as well as the establishment of organizations, such as the Digital Games Research Association (2003) and Games for Change (2004).

As a fledgling field, game studies began with a debate, which arguably became more of a foundational myth than the divisive intellectual showdown it is often misremembered to have been. Nevertheless, this alleged rift signals competing energies that shaped the field early on and previews the approximately decennial schisms that would continue to structure it. All academic fields weather periods of sharp ideological disputes—ranging in tone from collegial disagreements to blood feuds—but it feels as if there is something special about the way these have defined game studies. Perhaps our chosen objects of inquiry reflect our natural penchant for competitive, often-binary contests (as in the fighting game genre, early games like Spacewar! [1962, Steve Russell] and Pong [1972, Atari], and resonant with the medium’s Cold War origins). But if that is the case, then our frequent engagement with such contests as play may cast our skirmishes in a different light and set us up to learn well from our opponents, ultimately strengthening both sides. Game studies—seen through the lens of its performances of competition, whether serious or playful—can function as a metagame.

This first debate’s groundwork was laid through some of the earliest humanistic writing focused on games and its origins in fields such as theater and performance studies and literary studies; it included Brenda Laurel’s Computers as Theatre ( 1991 ), Janet H. Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace ( 1997 ), and Espen J. Aarseth’s Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature ( 1997 ). Each of these important works began with a focus on the formalistic properties and poetics of computational and interactive works, including video games. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, numerous scholars—such as Markku Eskelinen ( 2001 ), Gonzalo Frasca ( 2003 ), and Jesper Juul ( 1998 )—sought to define game studies as its own field. In distinction to the scholarship of Laurel, Murray, and Aarseth, which they characterized as narratology and saw as inflected by literary criticism, these writers posited a new field of ludology . This field deemphasized concepts derived from print literature or theatrical performance in favor of a medium-specific vocabulary for games. Terms such as rules , mechanics , challenges , and objectives dominated over analysis of narrative , character , or text . Though ludology attended to all games, there was a growing interest in digital games during this period, including the precise aesthetic qualities of digital works. This focus on the newer media of computer games and video games, which was shared by narratologists, included attention to a game’s procedural dynamics, navigable spaces, elements of participatory play, possibilities for dynamic decision-making, and more.

Though the narratology versus ludology debate looms largest in game studies, other schisms in the field followed, mapping new possibilities in terms of both methods and research areas. An important methodological divide that crystallized in the 2000s was that between proceduralism and anti-proceduralism (or play-centrism ). On the one hand, proceduralism, as introduced by Murray and elaborated by Ian Bogost ( 2007 ), focuses on the ways that games use rules and algorithmic processes to communicate meanings. In a formalistic mode, proceduralism asks scholars to analyze games via the systems that constitute games—interrelated and changeable components such as rules; objectives; textual, visual, or audio information; and mechanics—and often reveal their underlying ideologies. On the other hand, anti-proceduralism or play-centrism, as elaborated by scholars such as Miguel Sicart ( 2011 ), focuses on how players play games instead of on the games themselves. From this perspective, player experience and experimentation, as it manifests in culture, matters more than the underlying code or structure of a game. Though Sicart characterizes this as a disagreement, both proceduralist and play-centric scholarship have introduced a greater range of methods to game studies.

With the emergence of anti-proceduralism, we see the binary debates of the field productively pushing game studies to follow the path of other disciplines in the arts and humanities, such as literary studies or film studies: to expand from a hyperfocus on The Text to a more substantive engagement with its larger context. Anti-proceduralism called for an examination of the range of audience experiences of games—notably the commercial entertainment medium most likely to produce radically different experiences of the same text, because of its highly interactive and variable, often multiplayer, nature. In turn, a strong current of industry studies emerged within the discipline to examine the material and commercial context of games’ production and consumption. Work on esports has delved into the organized and highly monetized world of gaming competition. And a critical mass of scholars has engaged with the vast universe of video game paratexts online, researching everything from fan subcultures of specific franchises to game-based art to the booming business of livestreaming one’s own gameplay via platforms like Twitch.

The retreading of other disciplines’ intellectual paths occurred again in the 2010s when a new debate came to the fore, carrying with it shadows of game studies’ previous narratology versus ludology rift. The 2010s divide was between computational and representational approaches to game studies. A computational approach unfolded through subfields such as code, software, and platform studies that attended to the technical dimensions of video games by writers such as Nick Montfort and Bogost ( 2009 ), and Noah Wardrip-Fruin ( 2009 ). The approach made a sometimes-implicit, sometimes-explicit claim about what aspects of games were most important (hardware, software) and what type of knowledge and training scholars should possess to optimally study video games (computational). A representational approach—which sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly positioned itself against the computational—sought a larger platform for questions about identity (including across lines of race, gender, sexuality, and class) and representation, in games themselves and in the industries and cultures that produce and contain them. This latter approach has been adopted by numerous scholars including Shira Chess ( 2020 ), Mia Consalvo ( 2012 ), Anna Everett ( 2009 ), Tara Fickle ( 2019 ), Kishonna L. Gray ( 2020 ), Patrick Jagoda ( 2020 ), Carly A. Kocurek ( 2015 ), Soraya Murray ( 2018 ), Lisa Nakamura ( 2002 ), Laine Nooney ( 2013 ), Adrienne Shaw ( 2015 ), Jennifer Malkowski and TreaAndrea M. Russworm ( 2017 ), Christopher B. Patterson ( 2020 ), Amanda Phillips ( 2020 ), and Bo Ruberg ( 2019 ). As with other fields before it, game studies was now being called to examine the inclusions and exclusions at work not only in its texts but also within the academic discipline itself, and to see the familiar ways these have privileged white men as characters, players, and scholars. At the same time, those doing computational work pushed researchers interested in representation to stay accountable to the medium-specificity of video games, to acquire new knowledge and skills enabling that approach, and, in the process, to discover new implications of how representation works in this computational medium. Once again, the field’s cyclical return to binary contests was far from a zero-sum game, advancing research in complex ways and in multiple directions.

To be clear, even as there are genuine disagreements in game studies, they might be conceptualized at best as organizing heuristics and at worst as oversimplifications. Some of the most compelling scholarship within game studies today is not so clear cut. There are scholars who have analyzed games with balanced and interanimating approaches to narrative and gameplay, procedure and play, and technical and representational dimensions—including scholars listed above as emblematizing only one side of a debate. More than many other fields, game studies encourages ongoing discussions between theorists and designers, formalists and historians, and empiricists and artists who approach games from different perspectives. Even as polemics and differences persist, game studies in the early 2020s has become a more vibrant field that attends to the political dimensions of ludic forms, as well as the ways that games reproduce, animate, and challenge patterns within broader cultures.

  • Why “American” Game Studies?

In exploring “American game studies” in 2022, this volume emerges in the long wake of the structuring binaries we have outlined in game studies’ history, and our contributors demonstrate the generative influence of the field’s periodic schisms. By pairing game studies with American studies in this special issue, we hoped to gather work from an already interdisciplinary field (game studies) inflected with the broad methodological sweep of another arguably even more interdisciplinary field (American studies). The intention is not to claim games as originally, essentially, or primarily “American,” whether specific to the United States or more capaciously understood according to transnational approaches. Instead, this special issue is an experiment that brings together the methods and orientations of two fields that have often intersected only in implicit ways. In relation to game studies, we find especially important American studies’ strong lineages to and from cultural studies, critical race and ethnic studies, Asian American studies, Black studies, Indigenous studies, Latinx studies, gender studies, queer studies, disability studies, and transnational theory—many of which appear in force in the essays that follow. Through a grounding in American studies, we wanted to draw on the aggressive heterogeneity and creativity of this field—its penchant for expansive, rather than divisive, thinking.

[In the 1950s] practitioners of New Criticism were seen—and saw themselves—as specialists in precise textual analysis . . . whereas the Americanists were known as practitioners of the contextual (or historicist) approach . . . Text versus context: the extent, seriousness, and comprehensiveness of this archetypal division was then—still is—oversimplified and exaggerated. Nonetheless, the close formalist study of texts as if they had an autonomous existence . . . was greatly enlightening to apprentice Americanists. But of course there was no reason, logical or pedagogical, to assume that such a formalist method was irreconcilable with the study of the interplay between literary works and their social and cultural contexts.

“Text versus context” parallels “narratology versus ludology”—not in a direct analogy of terms but in the anxieties that scholars trained in earlier disciplines often bring to the formation of new ones. Those moments of formation are characterized by fundamental questions: Whose training matters most? What established methodology best applies? The interdisciplinary growing pains align whether it is literature and theater scholars facing off with computer scientists about how to write about Tomb Raider (1996, Core Design) or New Criticism’s practitioners of close reading disagreeing with cultural historians on the ideal methodological approach to analyzing a Jonathan Edwards sermon. Alongside such similarities in field debates, there are also notable differences between the disciplinary histories of American studies and game studies. For example, the fields have seen varied approaches to national divides. Though game studies has been US-centric in a number of ways, it has never introduced the type of sharp divide that persisted, for several decades, between American and British literature in English departments.

As Marx notes, text and context are stronger when coexisting and synthesizing in a field’s scholarship—and so it became in American studies, even as text and context’s earlier clash inflated into legend. This has been true of the binary terms of game studies’ debates, as well. American studies today, from our vantage and in an ideal form, favors an intellectual climate where such debates do not resolve with one side “winning” and dominating future discourse. Rather the field has supported the proliferation of multiple branches of inquiry—intermingling, in their best versions, as they mature. We admire this inclusive approach and we see it on display, in an exemplary manner, in our contributors’ writing for this special issue.

The most troubled concept in the history of American studies is the “American” itself and the notion of this category as internally coherent and inherently significant. Haunted by a Cold War ethos of American exceptionalism and a tendency toward US-centrism within the broader category of America, the field nuanced this titular term in the late twentieth century through anti-racist, feminist, queer, Indigenous, and working-class critiques of its previous conception of “American” and through a sharp turn toward a more transnational approach (Radway 1999 ; Fisher Fishkin 2005 ). American studies’ current best practices of questioning US-centrism and framing US works in a transnational context are deeply appropriate to game studies, as the United States is not the global leader in video game development, manufacture, or consumption—in contrast to some other popular culture industries. For example, some of the earliest and most successful video game hardware and software developers were Japanese, including Nintendo, Sega, Konami, Namco (later Bandai Namco), and Square Co. (later Square Enix). And since 2010, the Asia-Pacific region has produced the most revenue for the industry (47 percent in 2017 compared to 13 percent from the United States), with mainland China as the medium’s biggest profit center (Prato, Feijoo, and Simon 2014 ; Patterson 2020 : 7). As Patterson ( 2020 : cover copy) argues, video games are “an inherently Asian commodity: its hardware is assembled in Asia; its most talented e-sports players are of Asian origin; Nintendo, Sony, and Sega have defined and dominated the genre.”

Interestingly, many video game players in the United States likely have little sense that their nation does not, in fact, broadly dominate the market and culture of the medium, because video games’ national origins are often purposefully obscured. Game studios all over the world use localization processes to tailor their finished products for different national markets. Localization largely happens through translating on-screen text and re-recording speech in the target country’s language, but it can also involve removing images or thematic elements that violate that country’s laws or cultural mores. And so, many games developed in the industry hub of Japan, for example, will have shed the most obvious markers of their Japanese origins by the time a US player is starting them up, mouse or controller or phone in hand (games in the Mario franchise [1981–present, Nintendo] may be the most familiar example). Comparing video games to another popular entertainment industry, film, in this context illustrates the psychological and cultural impact of localization. Filmgoers in the United States seeing a live-action film produced outside of the United States will usually get many indications of its foreign origin—first and foremost a spoken language other than English with subtitles or dubbing, or at least performers speaking differently accented English (saving, perhaps, some Canadian productions). Less common in film (though somewhat common in television) is the medium’s more invasive version of localization: the full-on US remake. So when a given filmgoer’s annual movie consumption includes, say, 95 percent movies with English spoken in American accents, that filmgoer has an accurate sense that their film consumption is US-dominated (though they may miss the way US studios’ big-budget releases are no longer really made for the United States, catering more than ever to the more lucrative international market). Not so for the US gamer, who may be unknowingly immersed in content from Japan, England, Poland, Australia, and other leading centers for development.

In the years to come, a growing and increasingly transnational video game culture is likely to complicate persisting assumptions about a US-centric video game industry. It is our intention, then, to frame “American game studies” here not as an unexamined default for game studies, but as a site in this issue of purposeful, culturally specific, and transnationally expanded inquiry that draws on American studies’ methods.

  • An Essay Itinerary

This special issue of American Literature explores the intersections of American and game studies through a range of literary, historical, and cultural works, but primarily through a careful medium-specific and cultural attention to video games. The collected essays raise larger questions that include the following: How does game studies contribute to an expanded understanding of the United States, the Americas, and American interactions around the world? What role do games play in nation building and perceptions of national and border cultures? How do categories such as race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability influence the work of game designers and players in our time? How have representations in video games shaped broader American discourses about identity, especially in the early twenty-first century? How is worldbuilding in games influenced by racialized national imaginaries? How does attention to genres such as visual novels reveal a US-centrism that ignores the substantial production and consumption of video games across Asia? How do historical methods and historiographical approaches help us analyze video games that attempt to produce counterhistories of marginalized peoples? How have games grappled or failed to grapple with America’s colonial and genocidal history relative to Indigenous peoples?

We begin with an essay that directly tackles the aforementioned positions of America and Asia in video game industries and cultures: Christopher B. Patterson’s “Making Queer Asiatic Worlds: Performance and Racial Interaction in North American Visual Novels.” Patterson concentrates on what he defines as a deeply “Asiatic” video game genre, the visual novel: text- and characterization-heavy interactive digital narratives, with a prominent history of erotic content and, generally, a manga/anime visual aesthetic. Patterson uses this genre to expose the binary of Asia and America in relation to video games as limiting and illusory. Making the case that “transpacific game studies” is essential to navigating this largely Asian/American hybrid medium, Patterson examines the potential of Asiatic visual novels produced in North America to do reparative cultural work. These games aspire to create queer and anti-racist worlds, but they do so unevenly in a manner that maps onto the racial identities of their creators, with queer Asian/American designer Brianna Lei’s Butterfly Soup (2017) as best realizing the genre’s utopic promise. This game is read against Doki Doki Literature Club (2017, Dan Salvato), Analogue: A Hate Story (2012, Christine Love), and Heaven Will Be Mine (2018, Aevee Bee). As Patterson aptly puts it, “If games make the boundaries of Asia and America irrelevant, visual novels explore this irrelevance through Asiatic irreverence .”

From the recent ludic imagining of queer and anti-racist utopias, Bo Ruberg pulls us back several decades to a more harrowing period of queer history with “The Mystery of the Missing AIDS Crisis: A Comparative Reading of Caper in the Castro and Murder on Main Street .” Struck by the seeming absence of HIV/AIDS from video games, despite the AIDS crisis coinciding with a period of booming game development, Ruberg takes a magnifying glass to 1988’s Caper in the Castro (C. M. Ralph)—often recognized as the first LGBTQ video game—and its “straight” remake Murder on Main Street (1989, C. M. Ralph). Their investigation deftly reveals the absent presence of HIV/AIDS in both versions of this point-and-click detective game. Asking on one level if the AIDS crisis was really missing from video game representations in the 1980s and 1990s, Ruberg is also asking: has the AIDS crisis, and its ties to the queer community, been a persistent influence on games as a medium, despite the rarity of its explicit depiction? And more broadly still: in what ways do seemingly absent cultural topics haunt video games more subtly?

While Ruberg looks for the AIDS crisis in game history, Josef Nguyen expresses relief that a certain gay character did not appear. In “Reconsidering Lost Opportunities for Diverse Representation,” Nguyen closely examines an offhand statement from game producer David Mullich about his I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (1995, Cyberdreams Interactive Entertainment). Mullich recalled in a 2012 interview that in adapting I Have No Mouth from a 1967 Harlan Ellison story, the development team erased the backstory of one character, Benny, and may have thus created, “a lost opportunity to write a story about someone struggling with the challenges of being homosexual.” To really spin out the “contingent possibility” of representation that this statement (and, indeed, this genre of “lost opportunity” statements) evokes, Nguyen journeys analytically through fan studies, Deleuzian theory, speculative fiction studies, and queer game studies. Productive detours through the production and reception history of Tomb Raider and through Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929) bring readers back to I Have No Mouth powerfully and ask them to think more deeply about the often-insidious implications of regret or longing for these “lost opportunities for diverse representation” in early game history.

From the lost histories and foreclosures of representation in games under neoliberalism in Ruberg and Nguyen’s essays, we turn to an even earlier history of games in American economic game theory, which precedes the emergence of video games. In “The Game Theory of Sex,” Arthur Z. Wang considers the role of game metaphors and forms across US society. Specifically, this essay focuses on the relationship between economic game theory and sexual game metaphors in American culture that occur in self-help books, song lyrics, and other types of cultural works. The essay does not engage in a mere application of game theory to sex or to relationality, an analytical move that economics itself might engage in, but instead it constructs a cultural history that is organized through game form. As a central aesthetic case, Wang focuses on Lydia Davis’s economic microfictions, such as the story “Go Away” (1997), as game theoretical models that operate via modes such as fictionality, antinarrativity, and self-fulfilling prophecy. The essay proposes that the cultural history of sexual games might contribute to a fuller account of the connections between game theory and contemporary gamification that make games a component of business, education, health, job training, and other domains.

With “Authentic-Deconstructionist Games and Tragic Historiography in Assassin’s Creed III ,” Stephen Joyce steers our issue toward the first in a pair of formative moments in American history, as rendered through twenty-first-century video games. Joyce focuses on the 2012 installment of Ubisoft’s bestselling Assassin’s Creed franchise, a series that offers historical fiction narratives from settings that include the twelfth-century Holy Land, fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Europe, and the eighteenth-century Caribbean. Assassin’s Creed III focuses on the American Revolution. Joyce argues that this game belongs to an “authentic-deconstructionist genre” that explores the ways in which historical knowledge is constructed. In particular, this essay attends to the narrative of an Indigenous protagonist who attempts to defend his tribe from white settlers. The positioning of this narrative within a broader story of national origins undermines its historiographic accomplishment. Nevertheless, Joyce argues that the game and its downloadable content (DLC) expansions have succeeded in eliciting generative conversations and critical responses regarding the role of Indigenous people during the latter half of the eighteenth century.

Katrina Marks moves us chronologically forward with “‘My Whole Life I’ve Been on the Run’: Fugitivity as a Postracial Trope in Red Dead Redemption 2 .” Marks analyzes the titular western game, which had the second most profitable launch of any video game (second only to Grand Theft Auto V [2013, Rockstar North]), earning $725 million in its first three days and, as of early 2021, exceeding 36 million units sold (Parijat 2021 ). Marks turns to critical race and ethnic studies for the concept of “fugitivity,” which describes legal and geographic dimensions of policing that surveil, constrain, and endanger racially othered bodies. The essay attends to the narrative, spatial, and kinesthetic qualities of the video game in order to argue that the player becomes aligned with racialized others through a fugitive relationship to space. Despite various representational shortcomings, Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018, Rockstar Games) operates as a complex interactive work that invites a player to interrogate the rhetoric and logics of postracialism.

Marks attends to space, mapping, the United States’ expanding national borders, and the figures within those borders who are accepted or deemed fugitive. These thematic concerns set the stage for our final essay, Gary Kafer’s “Gaming Borders: The Rhetorics of Gamification and National Belonging in Papers, Please .” Kafer writes expansively about the subgenre of border games, considering the ways in which they bolster or challenge the concepts of borders and national belonging by rendering these through game structure and mechanics. The essay centers on close reading of the most emblematic border game, the disturbing and experimental indie classic Papers, Please (2013, Lucas Pope), in which the player takes on the tedious and high-stakes work of a border control agent checking documents. Kafer rhetorically pairs two states of flow: the flow of bodies through borders and the achievement of a flow state in gaming (one that may feel unsettling to attain in Papers, Please for players who oppose the ethos of state racism endemic to border security). Moving off-screen, Kafer weaves in the “gamification” of actual border control procedures in the United States. Ultimately, Kafer reveals the key element video games introduce that can offer sharp new insight into the operation and the idea of borders: failure.

Rather than suggesting a unified field of American game studies, this issue seeks to foreground present-day developments at this established intersection and to proliferate new possibilities for the future of the field. Moving across numerous genres—including visual novels, point-and-click games, AAA blockbuster games from major publishers, and smaller experimental games—the issue showcases the formal range of video games, as well as the wide applicability of methods in and around American studies—including transpacific studies, queer historiography, cultural history, critical race and ethnic studies, and border studies—to all corners of the medium. These genres and approaches are far from exhaustive. For example, game studies has much more to say about genres such as platformers or first-person shooters, phenomena such as citizen science games or esports, and major platforms such as mobile or Twitch livestreaming. Games and video games now encompass a far greater field of possibility than they did in their inaugural decades. Even so, our goal in this issue is to create new bridges between fields that have been in conversation, but would benefit from more intentional and precise connections.

Data & Figures

Issue Cover

  • Previous Issue
  • Next Article



Citing articles via, email alerts, related articles, related book chapters, related topics, affiliations.

  • About American Literature
  • Editorial Board
  • For Authors
  • Rights and Permissions Inquiry
  • Online ISSN 1527-2117
  • Print ISSN 0002-9831
  • Copyright © 2023
  • Duke University Press
  • 905 W. Main St. Ste. 18-B
  • Durham, NC 27701
  • (888) 651-0122
  • International
  • +1 (919) 688-5134
  • Information For
  • Advertisers
  • Book Authors
  • Booksellers/Media
  • Journal Authors/Editors
  • Journal Subscribers
  • Prospective Journals
  • Licensing and Subsidiary Rights
  • View Open Positions
  • email Join our Mailing List
  • catalog Current Catalog
  • Accessibility
  • Get Adobe Reader

This Feature Is Available To Subscribers Only

Sign In or Create an Account

Are Video Games Worth Studying? (A Literary Perspective)

Video games are part of a history that roots itself within the mythic tradition of storytelling. This is a tradition shared by genres traditionally thought of as literary, such as novels, poetry, and drama. Yet despite the lineage that video games share with literary fiction, often there is an imaginary distinction made between video games and the traditionally literary genres. Video games are commonly viewed within late 20th century/early 21st century American culture(s) as a medium unworthy of critical study, but this view is not shared by all gamers, nor is it shared by all literary critics. Why is this the case? Are video games actually worth critical study or are those who dismiss video game studies as a legitimate field of research correct when they assert such claims as “You’d be better off putting down the controller and reading a book?”

(Re)Defining Literature

The traditional view of literature, “written work valued for superior and artistic merit” (Oxford Living Dictionary), is a view that prizes books above all other mediums. It is a definition that naturally connotes a power structure and elitism, albeit it does so in a way that is not necessarily apparent. Whenever we propose the idea that literature by definition encompasses all written works, a select few written works, or a select few authors, we perpetuate a power structure that can regulate and relegate media. The traditional definition creates a system that enables a disproportionate number of intellectuals to judge the quality of all other works. That which fits within the canon’s established view of good quality is separated from that which challenges the canon in unconventional ways.

If our definition of literature is all written works, then anything that is not a written work cannot be literary. Within this understanding  Othello , the  Fifty Shades of Grey  trilogy,  The Origin of Species , “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and  Hammer of the Gods: the Unauthorized Biography of Led Zeppelin all share equal literary merit, but other media, such as Hitchcock’s  The Birds , Spielberg’s  Jurassic Park , Tarantino’s  Django Unchained are incapable of being literary. Thus, from the perspective of a literary critic who adheres to this definition, written work has a superior literary value, comparatively speaking, because only written works exist as literature.


Yet there are those who would find this definition still too all-encompassing. For some, to posit that  Fifty Shades of Grey  can be placed upon   on the same literary level occupied by the writings of Shakespeare or Poe is to commit literary blasphemy. Within this definition of literature, a clear hierarchy exists amongst written works. Not everything that is written can be literature. Literature instead is an achievement. For a written work to be literary, it must be superior in its artistic form. It must set a new precedent and build upon the tradition that came before it. This is the view where the canon begins to emerge. Certain voices become privileged. Others become marginalized. (This is largely why there are so many white and male voices within the canon and far fewer female voices and voices belonging to people of color.)

Amongst literary critics, historically, it is not uncommon for this canonized definition too to be too encompassing. One only needs to reference the writings of critics such as F.R. Leavis, e.g. The Critic as Anti-Philosopher,  and Harold Bloom, e.g. How to Read and Why , for examples of this perspective. Dorothy Parker, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston may be gifted writers with extraordinary literary talents, but from this perspective, they are not necessarily always considered amongst the Great Authors, the authors from whom the literary standard is drawn and constituted. Instead, this definition subjugates authors to a select few, and even then, this select few is frequently subjugated to a single author, William Shakespeare. This definition utilizes Shakespearean as the literary standard. Anything unlike Shakespeare is not worth reading.

For Harold Bloom, the Bard is not one to be trifled with. Source:

Each variation of literature, from the most anarchic view (all written works are literature) to the most monarchic interpretation (Shakespeare is literature, you plebeian), provides a different assessment of what physically makes a text literary. Central to all three of these varying definitions, however, is that to be literary, a piece of media must either be a written work or directly connected to a written work. This can be and often is the case, but the connection between media and a written artistic text does not always have to be direct. Instead “literary-ness” can come through other avenues, tie ins to social events, human psychology, history, or even what is called literary theory.

Literary Theory

Whereas a definition of literature aims to regulate what should or should not be read, literary theory aims to regulate how a text can be read. It is from this regulation that a reader is able to determine a work’s possible literary meaning(s). Whether an individual is cognizant when making a judgment about a text, that person is influenced by literary theory when creating that judgement. To quote Lois Tyson’s Critical Theory Today , “there is no such thing as non-theoretical interpretations” (4).

To be able to interpret a work in any capacity is to attribute a literary quality to that work. Yet not all works are literary in the same way. That is why it is imperative to stress that there is not a singular theory that enables a work to be literary. There is instead a plurality. Each theory provides a way to “see both the value and limitations of every method of viewing the world” (Tyson 3). No theory yet provides all of the answers, but each literary theory highlights aspects that enables a critic to find at least an answer. Some theories are compatible, e.g Marxism and African-American Criticism. Others are opposed to one another, e.g. New Historicism and New Criticism. Each theory calls a different perspective into study. Each theory gives the study of a work purpose. Without theory, the study of any text, written or not, is impossible.

While the majority of literary theories may not originally have been intended for the video game medium, these theories still can be applied to video games, just as they may be applied to music, film, and other forms of visual art. I can play  Resident Evil 4 , but I can also utilize the game to explore how it reflects Kristeva’s theory of the abject found in her  Powers of Horror  or Said’s notion of the “Orient” within his  Orientalism . It does not matter particularly which theory I choose to evoke, but what does matter is how I choose to utilize any theory to uncover a meaning from the text. I must be aware of what a particular theory allows me to claim, but I also must be able to state why the sort of claim I am making is important and recognize what conversations I am a part of by making this claim. A worthwhile claim does not depend on whether a given medium is written. It depends on the theory being used to analyze that piece of media.

The Curse of New Media and Hyperreality

I could just play Resident Evil 4 and shoot this villagers without thinking, but I also can stop and utilize this scene to reflect upon some aspect of culture. How does this game tell me it is okay to kill some people and not others? Who are these people exactly? What messages about class and humanity does the game convey based on how it is structured? Source:

There is a reason why video games are not taught in classrooms as frequently as more traditionally “literary” texts like Rome and Juliet ,  The Hobbit , and  The Great Gatsby , but this is not because video games cannot be literary and are unworthy of any critical analysis. Rather, the perception that video games are incapable of being either of these things, i.e. literary and worthy of critical analysis, is what informs video game’s relegation to an inferior form of media and storytelling.

Within contemporary American culture, video games are often perceived as mindless entertainment, usually aimed at children and young men. As such, video games share in the struggle faced by most new forms of media. They are judged in relation to those forms which preceded them and are dismissed as a lesser copy. As a result of this perception, video games have yet to achieve the universally recognized literary status that is attributed to other forms of written storytelling. But this perception is slowly changing. Arguably, the medium we call “the video game” not only deserves to be analyzed on the same scale of literature, it deserves recognition as the spiritual successor to the novel, drama, and comic book as narrative forms. Yet if video games are worth studying, as I claim, why would a perception exist within American culture that so largely contradicts my view? How can it be that video games are worthy of literary analysis if there are so many skeptical voices within the culture at large?

In his most famous work,  Understanding Comics , Scott McCloud describes the skepticism and harsh, non-literary criticism new storytelling innovations face as “the curse of new media” (151). While McCloud is speaking about the innovation of the comic book and its public reception as a complex literary artifact, the argument remains the same for video games as well. A mass skepticism towards a medium’s literary merits propels an argument that bases itself around the concept that tradition is a measure of quality through which a person may determine a piece of media’s worth. For many, video games do not meet the standards this tradition has set. For these people, video games are seen as an imperfect copy of what came before them, mass market stories and regurgitated board game mechanics without literary merit.

Scott McCloud, explainer of invisible arts. Source:

“Ever since the invention of the written word, New Media have been misunderstood,” McCloud writes, “Each new medium begins its life by imitating its predecessors” (151). The attitude that must be taken then is not to view a medium as a lesser and derivative form of mode of story-telling, but to view a medium as unique and capable of accomplishing particular modes of storytelling that other mediums are unable to. The earliest ancestors of video games expressed themselves through oral narratives and artistic images, but video games utilize more than audio-visual storytelling that rely on the ancestral forms. This in part may be a source of anti-video game skepticism.

Video games provide an avenue that no other literary genre has been able to accomplish thus far, a nearly full immersion into another’s reality. When an individual plays a video game, no matter how constricted the confines the game’s design may restrict a player’s range of choices in-game, that individual is granted an ability to actively participate within the story and guide aspects of the story along in ways that go beyond what written literature has been able to accomplish. Not even the genre of the “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” novel has been able to rival the amount of creative control a player is able to partake in shaping the narrative. This creative control that a player has while navigating through a video game’s narrative creates a genre of literature that can be described as what Umberto Eco calls “hyperreality” (8).

Umberto Eco, confounder of reality and literary pioneer. Source:

Eco describes hyperreality as those instances where imagination “demands the real thing, and to attain it” someone “must fabricate” an “absolute fake; where the boundaries between game and illusion are blurred, the art museum is contaminated by the freak show, and falsehood is enjoyed in a situation of ‘fullness,’ of horror vacui ,” or the filling of every empty space with detail (8). With the exception of graphic novels, which still face a similar stigma shared with video games, all written literary genres cannot approach the hyperreal. No matter how immersive the genre is, there remains an empty space that separates a reader from the work in question.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Written works can definitely alter a reader’s sense of reality and cause certain perceptions about what is real and fiction to blur, but the medium maintains an empty space over character control that only may be found within video games. More so than any experience lived through another’s writing, and certainly more so than those observed within film, the events within a video game create a hyperreal experience for the player.

People who are too young to enlist can experience hyperreal war throughout titles like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor, while law-abiding citizens are able experience hyperreal terrorism through games like  Grand Theft Auto ,  Watch_Dogs , and  Infamous . Narratives become a lived through experience that players can share as if they lived these lives directly. I have never lived as a Spartan warlord, but I have distinct memories of killing the God of War and usurping his deified throne. I have never woken up in a lab with only a portal gun to make my escape, but I remember doing so and thwarting a homicidal AI named GLaDOS in the process. I can recall times I have raced through fictional lands, made monsters battle each other on my command, fought at Normandy, led a raid on the Dire, and escaped a zombie-infested place called Ravenholm. This is not the experience that I have had with books.

Having read  Anna Karenina , I do not have memories of being run over by a train.  Fight Club did not lead to me thinking that I have a second personality called Tyler Durden. I remember  other characters  who have “lived” these lives, but these experiences do no constitute as my own.  House of Leaves leaves me memories about a labyrinthine house, a blind scholar named Zampanó, and the hopeless Johnny Truant, but I do not own these memories the way I own those I have acquired through the hyperreal  Half Life 2  or  God of War . I may bring my own perspectives to written literature, but I do not take my own  unique  and hyperreal experiences away from the written literature that I read.

Thusly, the study of video games is not only capable of producing worthwhile information the same way other literary studies can, but it is able to investigate a medium unlike any other. Steeped in the hyperreal, new meanings and theories await our discovery. We should not abandon the book as a medium because there are so many things still waiting to be uncovered within the pages of new and established writers. However, we cannot retreat to books and dismiss video games as a legitimate medium of study without doing a disservice to our own understanding of literary theory within the context of hyperreal new media.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. How to Read and Why . Scribner Book Company, 2000.

Eco, Umberto. “Travels in Hyperreality.”  Travels in Hyper Reality , 1967. Translated by William Weaver, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1986.

Leavis, F.R.  The Critic as Anti-Philosopher . 1983. Ivan R. Dee, 1998.

McCloud, Scott.  Understanding Comics . William Morrow Paperbacks, 1994.

“Literature.”  Oxford Living Dictionaries , Accessed 7 November 2016.

Tyson, Lois.  Critical Theory Today: A User Friendly Guide . 3rd ed .,  Routledge, 2014.

What do you think? Leave a comment .

Matt Sautman

Want to write about Games or other art forms?

Receive our weekly newsletter:

Resident Evil: Transformation in the Pursuit of Power


' src=

Outstanding article. I did a university degree in Games Design. Worked pretty hard, missed a first by 3% (mainly because one module I didn’t agree with and refused to do anything but the bare minimum). Each year we had to create an idea of a game and work towards making that a reality. However we never had any programming courses it was purely design. This lead to the issue of “How do we make a game without programmers”. Which in turn made me part-time learn in the evenings from tutorials etc just to get something functional. As the games became more elaborate I wasn’t able to progress fast enough in my understanding, so I went out and facilitated a programmer outside my course (in another programming course) to come on board. We run our own gaming company nowadays.

Matt Sautman

I’m glad you enjoyed it! That’s fascinating, and somewhat disconcerting, that they didn’t teach you any programming, but I am glad you were able to teach yourself. I hope your company does well in the coming year!

The games and the subtexts they contain is enough to merit study as a form of literature, akin to the study of cinema and television.

I agree with you wholeheartedly.

I agree with the sentiment, but not with the wording.

Since you seem to know a lot about gaming, and hopefully PC gaming, can I ask you a question? I’ve built a computer over the holiday season and need a keyboard to round it all up. I hate wasting money so I was thinking something cheap like the K552 but I don’t know if it’ll be worth it without all the features of a mechanical keyboard

What do you think?

I am not an expert on hardware, but maybe someone will come across this and be able to better answer your question?

Hi Tracy, I’ll jump in here. I assume that you’re talking about the Redragon K552 Mechanical keyboard. If you can, go into a shop where people have some keyboard shops (local computer repair shops are the best) and play around with the feel of the keys. Ask an employee what types of switches the boards you like use (the K552 uses Cherry Green switches for reference) and looks for boards that have the same switch type.

As far as the K552 goes it’s a solid board but you get what you pay for. Order from a place with a decent return policy in case it just feels “too weird” after a couple of weeks of use.

Bringing games into education won’t do any good unless students know how to play them.

Ideally teachers would teach them how to play them. That said, it’s not always the case. I have had my own students analyze Half-Life 2, and I did that through demoing for my students. My supervisor has done similar things also with walkthroughs. Ultimately it depends on what kind of analysis a teacher wants students to practice.

I disagree, shell. I’m a teacher who has brought games into the classroom to kids who don’t have much access to gaming (other than mobile) and part of the fun is learning the controls. This is especially true In regards to games with unique control systems.

Nice, this is a very informative piece for what being a gaming journalist really is.

Why thank you!

Not directly related… but the gaming business is a bad business as it is so new and it hasn’t had time for people to basically unionize and realize that their dream job is a job and the gaming business is a business and they need to stand up for their rights before they loose them and by the time they do, all the jobs go overseas to a country with smarter, harder working slaves who would face instant dismissal and a beating if they even thought of their rights….as has happened with every major computer based industry in the last 2 decades 😕

That’s interesting. It certainly isn’t a universal situation, but fledging gaming companies especially have to contend with that the most. Albeit, that doesn’t stop some of the established companies from treating their workers in a similar fashion.

Lovely article. I’ve been a long term fan of The Artifice and the game related articles are among my favourites.

Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

I used to be of the mind that “games have to mean something important to the world” – that they wouldn’t be important as an artform if we couldn’t reach people in a deep place emotionally. I’m not sure I believe that any more – I think games that entertain are just fine, and games that spur you with more complex emotions are wonderful, too, but both need to co-exist – ideally peaceably.

That importance can be subjective as well. I think of Tetris or Candy Crush. Casual games like those don’t have to provide emotional depth, but they can symbolize other kinds of social importance. If I recall correctly, the podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind has an episode on Tetris and its mental health benefits. I would argue that something similarly could be said for Candy Crush. It’s a different kind of art form, but I find it equally interesting.

I used to be of the opinion that Games can only exist as an art-form and that casual games wee an abomination. I’ve grown to realize that they both can co-exist as well :). But you’re right; to be recognized as an art-form it has to touch you emotionally, and this is purely subjective. This is a sort of frequency that won’t join hands anytime soon. Common folks are still in the prejudice that Vgames are worthless.

We should be allowed to comment on – and be a critic of – games. And games are a weird medium.

Yes. Yes, we should.

Most people don’t see the value in studying games because they haven’t been taught to look at a game’s “gameplay” as anything other than content.

So let’s make a collective effort to change that.

I wholeheartedly agree with your conclusions. Video games are art and should be explored.

Glad you enjoyed it!

Video games are undeniably pieces of art by virtue of what they are. However, whether they belong in traditional art galleries – is the debate.

What even is a “traditional” art gallery? Has those traditions changed over the course of time? These questions are key to that debate.

I have a print on my desk from PC gamer from about 10 years ago or more, it’s a shot of city 17 from Half Life from the distance, it’s one of the most enjoyable bits of hanging art in the house, standing on top of towers in ancient Constantinople, crying at the end of Planescape torment, watching space battles in EVE with hundreds of lasers lighting up the darkness…..

all of these moments stay with me as much as the best arthouse movies or art observed in a gallery, gaming is a sadly unappreciated art form, the story telling is as good as most movies, the art direction and art and music themselves can be stunning, anyone who says gaming isnt art hasnt been playing the right games…

I agree wholeheartedly.

I’ve been a fan of ‘writing about games and not just for review’ for a decade plus now.

I’m glad to hear it. There is so much we can learn when we write about games in this way.

Well, this makes me sad. I just finished school and I feel lost. Gaming/entertainment is what I really want to get into.

I’m sorry you feel lost. I hope you find a way to get into that field.

I completed a game degree about 7 years ago now. I’ve also been in the game industry for 7 years now. You can certainly do it, it’s a matter of drive. The school provides a structure, motivation, and community to work with. It won’t transform you into an amazing artist or programmer by getting all B’s. Once you are applying for a job we’ll only hire the best, so you have to look around and decide if you have the drive to try and be the best. What a company is looking for is an amazing portfolio, and it’s up to you to create that.

I think this was a brilliant and thought out article. Limited series comics like Y: The Last Man, Watchmen, and Sandman are well scripted and novel media that are both academic and entertaining. Just as much as video games like The Last of Us, Journey, and Battlefield 1, which all deal with things that most of us haven’t dealt with brilliantly. I really enjoyed this article, and supports my many college papers wee comics and films are academic sources.

I’m glad you enjoyed it! The best thing about recognizing “the curse of new media” is that we can help identify the cultural biases that exist within our culture and analyze these works for what they are, texts that are capable of containing a multitude of meanings that highlight multiple aspects of the human condition.

This was an excellent article, would be nice to have a few more in depth pieces like this exploring similar topics.

Thank you for the kind words. Hopefully you get your wish granted within the near future!

If you’re into the art of the industry, you would be best to find an artistic medium: gaming being one of them.

It makes me wonder if there is any medium that is truly unartistic, or if it is possible for some mediums to be less artistic than others.

Any piece of visual, or aural or written entertainment media is art. This is not really open to debate.

Sadly not everyone agrees with this sentiment.

game criticism is some of the very best and most fun to read

I’m glad you’re a fan! (It’s also fun to write.)

Great, great article.

There are great characters in games as well as great stories being told in them.

There is so much complexity worth unpacking in countless games.

We need a games study course at my university. When players approach their games on their own merits, issues like genre and familiarity begin to fall away. You don’t need those things if you can engage with art on a direct basis.

It could be a fun course. I can also envision people getting angry at video games in it the way that they sometimes may get with books in literature courses.

In total agreement, and I think the writing in games keeps getting better. With the stellar writing we see in Grand Theft Auto 5 for example, the fully fleshed out worlds, we can look at social topics that are difficult to deal with in any other medium, in an emotionally engaging and connective way. I was amazed at how many people (myself included) sobbed and agonized over every decision to keep a video game character (Clementine) alive in Telltale’s The Walking Dead. And this type of art reaches an audience that normally wouldn’t be seeing many other forms of art, engaging more of the world in critical thinking about our environments around us and how we can survive in them. As the writing gets better we’ll be able to glean even more details and lessons on life from video games. Great article!

I’m glad you enjoyed it! There is certainly lots of depth within story but also story structure. Who knows what masterpieces will be released in the coming years?

Loved the article, I couldn’t agree more with the points you brought up. It was really great to see Scott McCloud’s work used for video games, there are a lot of connections to be made! Are there any “further readings” you would recommend with regards to your article? I’d love to know!

Most of my engagement for video game criticism comes from YouTube videos, e.g. GameTheory, but I do know that my Supervisor at SIUE is a review editor for an academic journal that specifically deals with video games:,id=164/

Greatly appreciated!


Interesting to think how video games are used in the classroom besides as literature. Beyond simple spelling and math games, there was a CD-Rom game called “Hollywood” in my elementary classrooms where a kid could create a simple scene from a selected batch of characters. That might have been one of my earliest encounters with a simple form of storytelling.

On the topic of video games in the classroom – besides the stigma, we also must consider that if we consider video games “Art” then it is an art form that is very much in infancy. It is important to remember that we still have many teachers who were teaching before video games even really existed. To delve into the deeper meanings, we need teachers steeped in the medium in the first place. The novel took decades to be considered fine art, I don’t see why video games as an art form wouldn’t also need some time to mature. Not to mention that video games as an artistic medium have had little to no time to exist outside of their commodification. We are only beginning what seems to be a golden age of independent game developers.


Agreed! There could be some research potential here to study the educational value of gaming. Perhaps in the area of developing empathy and inclusion. I think the applications for gaming are largely ignored due to as against seeing games as an art form. Articles like these will help break down that mind set, hopefully.

I think the main point is summarised well with “video games share in the struggle faced by most new forms of media.” I expect that video games, similar to books, comics, film and etc. will capture audiences and inspire stories that would not have been shared or considered without the medium being taken every more seriously. I see video games as an evolutionary stage in our ability to share information and entertain an audience and expect they will soon join novels as legitimate in comparison to the storytelling devices of the future that we have yet to experience.

And sadly, I imagine because of “the curse of new media,” we may have to rediscover a lot of the old games that we could have appreciated in more detail had we realized the depth in games decades sooner.

I really like the point you made in your second to last paragraph. Video games truly do give us a hyperreal experience. The Lone Wanderer didn’t explore the Wasteland in Fallout 3; I did.

I’m glad you liked that point. That by far is one of my favorite things about the medium.

Fantastic article. For me, the beauty of gaming is that hyperreality, that immersion that elevates games, in my opinion, past books and cinema, allowing for the person playing to involve themselves rather than imagine the scenario mentally or watching people on a screen.

Video games are becoming more and more artistic in narrative design, and hopefully one day the medium becomes widely accepted as a viable form of art.

I greatly enjoyed your article, as both a recently graduated English major and a video gamer. As you say, there is the unwarranted stigma against video games in our American culture, one major issue being, as you say, that “video games are often perceived as mindless entertainment.” Much of your article looks at the important differences between commonly understood “literature” and video games, specifically the level of immersive experience offered by video games that literature does not offer. But I think it is important to look at a way in which they are quite similar.

Just as I have certain novels I read and re-read periodically, I also follow suit with certain video games. I revisit the commonly recognized member of the literary canon (albeit more on the modern-end of the spectrum) Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, as well as the non-canon, but increasingly recognized feminist work Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldua. With video games, I replay, among others, Persona 3 and 4. The appeal and motivation is the same: the books and the video games impact you on an emotional, psychological and philosophical level, while having killer story lines and compelling character development. They all provide a story to be enjoyed time and again, with new things to pick up on with each new play-through.

As the video game gains its rightfully acknowledged worth on a broader scale, it will be crucial to look at its unique merits in contrast to other media—but the similarities are important as well.

I’m glad you enjoyed it! I’m curious if at video game studies become more legitimized as a media of study if there will be particular games that will be canonized and if this canonization will differ at all from the games we sometimes consider “classic” now.

Autumn Edwards

Wow, awesome article! I am recently new to the gaming world but I can already see the unique perspective and appeal to them. The first game I ever played was Super Smash Bros with my friends. At first the content seemed strange, to fight with so many characters at once was a bit overwhelming. However after leaving that game alone and switching to Mario Cart, Street Fighter, and Batman; I can say with assurance that you really find a game that fits your personality and creative mind.

The one game I am obsessed with (mostly because I’m a Disney fan) is Epic Mickey. The appeal of painting, bright colors and deep story line captures my attention. I do believe video games are worth studying, like everything thing we do there is always something new to learn about ourselves as well as those who make the art.

I’m glad you liked it. Have you considered writing an analytical essay for the Artifice about Epic Mickey? I’m sure there are some deep things worth exploring within it.

Yes, I have actually. I’m currently in the process of joining the Artifice and right now trying to find a good balance to write and work lol. So I hope within the next week to actually get started like I want to.

Best of luck with it!


Perhaps the most insightful idea of this piece is what interactive digital art allows that other mediums can’t: a greater immersive interface of the audience. Novels transport one through a moving mental voyage, but much of video games are such a visceral experience. In the author’s very words, the player is “granted an ability to actively participate within the story and guide aspects of story.” While limited, the player is nevertheless navigating the thread of the storyline. No doubt that video games by nature allows such capacity, but therein lies how its audience are marked by different labels. It’s a “player,” rather than a “reader.” The former connotes a participant of an entertainment, while the latter a more serious intellectual endeavor. One is high and the other low-brow, which is aptly broached by the article. While postmodern theory argues that contemporary art erases the border between low-brow and high-brow works of art; perhaps old habits die hard.

A rearguard action is inevitable by any tradition that sees its influence infringed. Old fogies like Leavis must have been viewed as a suspicious rival by the philology folks as a young Turk reading English at Cambridge’s newly established department. While I enjoy literature with a capital “L,,” I’m also awed by the visual aesthetics of video game design. Equally relevant is to compare and contrast how traditional schools of visual arts, like painting and photography, regard the graphic representation of video games. For instance, Da Vinci and Michelangelo were only exploiting the technology of the Early Modern period to create their works. How different is that with the game designers today working with the available technology? Should the canvas be weary of a possibly emerging digital screen? I agree with the author that eventually, video games will not only be elegantly dissected by literary criticism, but as an ivory-tower topic intersecting with art, computer science, and communications

I’m glad you enjoyed it. I have noticed some visual artists have begun to embrace digital screens into their works, albeit I feel that it is still somewhat a novelty to find a museum. The St. Louis Art Museum, for example, has a piece in their modern art exhibit that features an extreme close-up of Heineken bottle label on film that plays on a continuous loop. I wouldn’t be surprised if there won’t be artists who will create artistic games on a small scale that only can be accessed in a museum. That, of course, is pure speculation on my part.

My background is in communication theory, so I would have like some mention of specific literary theories early in the essay. I totally agree with the points made. We must become media literate, not just print literate. That mean we understand the mechanisms of creation, composition and production and how they convey meaning. Traditional literary training forms a foundation for that, but true literacy includes film, television, video games and digital and mobile media. Most people are woefully under-educated regarding the art and persuasive ability of these media.

I touched on some literary theories specifically, i.e. the abject and post-colonialism, but I think it would be useful to apply specific theories as accompanying case studies to further develop this. It would also be interesting investigating literacy theories in regard to video games- something that Shanon Carter does within The Way Literacy Lives, but could be investigated even further.


I’m a Teaching Associate at Coastal Carolina University and teach mainly freshman English courses. I try to take the preconceived notions of students (literature is boring and needs to be updated) and turn them on their heads by comparing the classics to modern stories. The joy of this essay for me is how you showcase the evolution of story-telling. While we may consider the written word the basic definition for literature, video games (like movies and TV shows) have scripts. These scripts need writers the same as literature. We may not look at video games as a premiere source of strong literature, but many thought the same of comic books until we were graced with writers such as Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison. The point is, when writers take a material seriously, any form of entertainment can be turned into a written masterpiece. The purpose of writing (in any form or genre) is to express an idea. In regards to video games, those ideas are expansive stories pulling from medieval lore, sci-fi futurism, modern realism, etc to infer such universal themes as love, revenge, and justice. The ability for a writer to see the evolution is happening to the art and not the practice will assist them in opening an entirely new world of story-telling.

It’s powerful whenever students are able to connect their other literacies (such as video game literacy) with new “boring” information. I have brought video games (and board games) into my first year writing classes at various times in order to help explain a concept or to perform a meta-lesson that teaches multiple things at once. One of my favorites involved me performing a walkthrough of Half-Life 2’s City 17 while my students were practicing spatial analysis and asking questions about the things they observed.

Thank you for this article! I frequently find that video games are ignored or treated as lesser than novels or films, although they can contain complex plots and characters that rise above some other forms of media. It frustrates me when people think games cannot be analyzed because they are not an an adequate form of art.

You’re welcome! To people who think that, I’d like to ask them what makes a form of art “adequate” to begin with?

It’s refreshing to find this subject poised in the light, enough to (hopefully) open some eyes. I’ve played video games for the majority of my life, and, as an avid gamer, it can sometimes be frustrating to find people responding to games like “The Last of Us” and “Until Dawn” as they would a relatively mindless shooter or multiplayer game. The Last of Us, especially, is an exemplar of excellent storytelling and realistic characterization, more so than more lauded novels, T.V. shows, and movies. Of course, I did like that game and I do look forward to the sequel, and some may find it unpleasant, but it’s the first example to come to mind.

There’s an odd balance between story-driven games and multiplayer-based titles like Call of Duty and Battlefield. Those games may have story modes or campaign modes, but they’re often brief and relatively rudimentary. It seems games, as a whole, are shrinking in an effort to streamline players into multiplayer content, paid expansions, and DLC content. But, on occasion, we’re given a game that exhibits exactly what can be accomplished with quality writing and storytelling. The shrinking of quality and playtime may be detrimental to these more literary titles, as, whenever someone discounts video games as childish and toy-like, they often use brainless shooters and the like to support their argument.

I appreciate the content and quality of your article, especially in noting the ridiculousness of discounting the literary value of video game content as opposed to other mediums. I’m currently an undergraduate, though it’s my last semester, and I could only imagine the stares and incredulity with which I’d be met if I tried to use a video game as an example in an essay or during class. This skepticism will hopefully dissipate as older generations shift out of the classroom, and other such positions of power/literary finality, and video games advance.

Here is to hoping that skepticism goes away within the coming years. Best of luck with your last semester of undergrad!

The part of the article that stuck with me the most was how video games get players to participate in the story, even if choices can be restricted. That restriction has its positives and its negatives.

One way I see it as a positive is how dialogue choices are handled in Persona 4. The story will usually move along no matter what choice you make, but the responses and reactions from other characters keeps the player engaged. If you make the right dialogue choice, stats can even be raised to make conversation with people that are smarter or more stubborn possible.

Dialogue is unfortunately a negative in Fallout 4 when compared to the previous Fallout games, where a range of dialogue options — some of which can only be done if you have a high enough stat needed to complete the action — present in the earlier games is now down to only 4 options.

I think that you could possibly develop that analysis into a larger article. What do the dialogue choices within Fallout 4 communicate about language? What do the changes in options reveal about the game? Maybe it’s do to limited funding or space on the hardware, but I’m sure there is a deeper argument to be made from this observation.

Most people don’t see the value in studying games because they haven’t been taught to look at a game’s “gameplay”.

Richard Krauss

This is a well articulated article. For me, in order to look at video games as a form of literature, it isn’t even necessary to look at game-play, artistic design, or anything else pertaining to the actual video game itself. I think all you have to do is look how integrated they are in terms of popular culture and its impact on daily life to make an argument that it is a form of literature. Great Job.

Thank you for your kind words! It’s amazing the multitudes a single game can encompass!


Thanks for this – I often find myself in a position where I feel as though I have to defend games as an object of study, even with the rise of game studies and a newer research and works in new media doing much of the work of validating games as it is. Mostly because the image of games as being still immature is still so pervasive, despite the wonderfully intellectual and engaging stuff coming out of games research (though I do admit, sometimes the industry does not do a whole lot to dissuade this image).

I haven’t given much thought to games and literary theory, so this was an interesting read and a good peak into how other discipline than mine (communications and new media) are engaging with games as text. Thanks!!

Literary Theory is a fairly vague topic to me, but applying video games to them helps the concept sink in a bit easier for me grasp. I wish higher education platforms would embrace Video Games a bit more as a text to be studied and after reading your article I see that there is yet hope in that wish. Thank you for an enlightening read!

Awesome article! I agree that video games should be taken more seriously as a literary text. I still read a lot, but I am more likely to read non-fiction nowadays, getting my fix of fiction in video games and movies. It would be interesting to see in schools. It would also be interesting to see if games could be utilised to be educational in curriculum. I understand educational games already exist, but they’re quite basic games that don’t have much to them. Imagine a game set in World War II that a student could play for homework, that took them into the horrors while allowing them to understand the contexts and events more actively. There is so much potential.

nice post thanks for sharing

Game is a new form of literature. For sure.

Check for basic grammar. Last sentence in the introduction needs to be broken up. Very long to read.

Third Paragraph under (Re-Defining Literature) Repetitious use of the word “Literature”. Good technique of the short sentences in this paragraph, but be careful not to overuse this, as it starts to lose its original effectiveness.

Otherwise, a really interesting article to read. I especially enjoyed the section on ‘The Curse of New Media and Hyperreality’. I would definitely love to learn more about this subject area.


I feel like video games have become as much of an art as animation and comics. Its developing through the years and its reflection of current interests is certainly something we should study, especially in context of society.

The other important part in all this is that just playing video games doesn’t supplement academic study. As much as you may enjoy playing video games all day, if you don’t keep up with your studies then you won’t see the benefit they have to offer.

This was very insightful as someone who Enjoys both literature and Video games. Great Article!

Joseph Cernik

A good essay. Interesting, essential you’re proposing a new area of academic study–imagine a professional journal devoted to this topic.

Sunni Ago

Your mention of Call of Duty got me thinking of the various messages being sent in the campaigns of the game and how with no analysis, no critical eye we end up with Call of Duty blaming other countries for American war crimes. Not to say the fanbase necessarily believes the game, but it definitely merits more attention being paid to what exactly is being said in the games we play.

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Prove you are human, type c a t s in singular form below:

How Kingdom Hearts Handles Trauma and Resilience

Back Home

Gaming the Literary: On Video Games and Literature

How, exactly, do I argue for the validity and legitimacy of the examination of video games through the lens of literary studies?

To me, it seems, such a lens might allow us to more fully realize how video games converse with other new media forms and how it is they converse with other means of storytelling. And such an understanding of games can allow us to understand how it is that games expand the way we interact with and engage with narrative structures and with the stories we tell. But what I tend to struggle with is how it is I can convince others working within the field of literary studies of all this, how it is I can convince others that, by considering the manner in which play and narrative intersect in video games and the manner in which such an intersection might influence literary studies research and pedagogy, we can come to understand the significant ways that games expand the way we think about how it is we can make meaning through the construction of (playful) narrative structures.

In my post last week I talked a bit about games and play and the manner in which play has come to be defined by those like Huizinga and Sicart. But play is not the only component inherent in what makes a game a game, for games are narratively constructed as well. Indeed, narrative is a form of signification, a form of representing who we are, a form of making sense of the world and our places in it. But storytelling is also a means of opening ourselves up to other possibilities for existence—it’s a means of opening ourselves up to the possibility for change. And video games, as texts that incorporate elements of both narrative and play exemplify the manner in which this opening of possibilities can be made manifest through the intersection of the two. And the risk in not engaging with games’ narrativity limits us in our understanding of the various ways games, other media forms, and other modes of storytelling all allow us to experience narrativity and play in different ways. Games, then, allow us to further redefine the boundaries of narrative and play, of storytelling and gameplaying.

But why are these diverse experiences important for academics in literary studies? Why should those of us entrenched in this field turn to the digital sphere?

Perhaps one reason is because it expands our understanding of everything “literature” can encompass. In other words, in order to navigate the new literary terrain of our world today, a shift in the field is needed—a shift from dismissing games to instead embracing them as texts that affect and are affected by contemporary literary culture. Because it is through video games’ ability to situate meaning, to embody experiences, to solve problems, to reflect on imagined worlds and social relationships and identities and contemporary society that games reveal the important role they might play for the field of literary studies; by putting these systems of representation and meaning-making in conversation with other textual forms, we can begin to understand how video games both draw from these other forms to tell their stories and tell stories in different, exciting ways. Indeed, our engagement with video games as ludic stories can allow us to more fully engage with a variety of media texts, and in order to truly do so, we must make sure not to abandon the video game because it can expand our understanding of all the different ways we make meaning through the stories we tell.

You may also like

literary studies video games

We Are Not Welcome Here: The Continued Plight of Women in Geek and Gaming Culture

Possible triggers: sexual violence and assault. Game developer Brianna Wu of Giant Spacekat recently wrote a an essay that started as an […]

literary studies video games

Feminism, Ethics, and The Culture of War

In Beyond Choices, Miguel Sicart addresses issues of moral and ethical choices and how games designed in such a way to draw players into […]

literary studies video games

Experiencing War Beyond Normative Institutions

Because I obviously enjoy being sad, depressed, and/or miserable, I’m going to continue this conversation regarding feminism and war in light of […]

literary studies video games

Episode 50: We’re Golden!: Celebrating Episode 50 With Meagan Marie

Episode 50: We’re Golden!: Celebrating Episode 50 With Meagan Marie (“Save As” to download or head over to iTunes to subscribe) Our […]

One thought on “ Gaming the Literary: On Video Games and Literature ”

  • 1 comment

' src=

I really appreciate that formulation of your thoughts on the topic. indeed it really motivates me since it’s the most interesting point in games for me at the moment. when i read “Playing in the dark” by Toni Morrison a year ago i already started to think about some analysis and lecture like that on games and its culture, not as specific as, more kind of. I wonder if you have any tips/hints/links to media concerning the same topic since you wrote at the end you already feel a shift. could you share some links if so?

On the other side i’m in the middle of organising a festival about games with a critical and alternative approach. it will be in may this year and we will go public in a few days. maybe you would be interested in giving a talk on that topic? we are going to publish a “call for entries” paper with the release of you social media, so is there any way beside facebook to stay in contact with you?

Comments are closed.

Book cover

Encyclopedia of Computer Graphics and Games pp 1–9 Cite as

Narrative in Video Games

  • Hartmut Koenitz 2  
  • Living reference work entry
  • First Online: 22 January 2018

1561 Accesses

9 Citations

5 Altmetric

Ludonarrative ; Video game narrative

Today, no generally accepted definition of video game narrative exists. The academic discourse has pointed out ontological and phenomenological differences to more traditional forms of narrative, and therefore, the relationship to established scholarship in narratology is complex. In the field of video game studies, narrative aspects of video games are often described in contrast to rule-based aspects. A wider scan of related fields reveals additional positions. Ludonarrative is variously understood as a structural quality of the video game artifact, as an experiential quality during the experience of a video game, or as a high-level framework to understand video games. Finally, a number of scholars emphasize the difference to traditional manifestations and therefore work towards specific theories of video game narrative. While all legitimate by themselves, these different usages of “narrative” in the context of video games are...

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution .

Aarseth, E.J.: Cybertext. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore/London (1997)

Google Scholar  

Aarseth, E.J.: Computer game studies, year one. Game Studies. 1 (1), 1–15 (2001)

MathSciNet   Google Scholar  

Aarseth, E.J.: A narrative theory of games. Presented at the Foundations of Digital Games 2012

Aarseth, E.J.: Ludology. In: The Routledge Companion to Video Game Studies. Routledge, London (2014)

Aarseth, E.J.: Espen Aarseth responds. (2004)

Adams, E.: Fundamentals of Game Design. New Riders, Berkeley (2010)

Ascott, R.: The Construction of Change. Cambridge Opinion, Cambridge (1964)

Ascott, R.: Behaviourist art and cybernetic vision. Cybernetica. X (1), 11 (1967)

Ascott, R.: The cybernetic stance: my process and purpose. Leonardo. 1 , 105 (1968)

CrossRef   Google Scholar  

Aylett, R.: Emergent narrative, social immersion and “storification.” Presented at the Proceedings of the 1st International Workshop on Narrative and Interactive Learning Environment, Edinburgh (2000)

Aylett, R., Louchart, S.: Towards a narrative theory of virtual reality. Virtual Reality. 7 (1), 2–9 (2003)

Bates, Joseph (1993). The nature of character in interactive worlds and the Oz project. In C. Loeffler (Ed.), Virtual Realities: Anthology of industry and culture. New York: Van Nostrand Rheinhold. Blair, Preston ( 1994)

Bernstein, M., Joyce, M., Levine, D.: Contours of Constructive Hypertexts. Presented at the ECHT ‘92: Proceedings of the ACM conference on Hypertext, New York, December 1992

Bogost, I.: Persuasive Games: the Expressive Power of Videogames. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA (2007)

Bolter, J.D.: Writing Space. Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale (1991)

Buckles, M.A.: Interactive Fiction: The Computer Storygame “Adventure,” PhD Thesis, University of California San Diego, (1985)

Caillois, R.: Man, Play, and Games. Free Press of Glencoe, New York (1961)

Calleja, G.: Experiential narrative in game environments. Presented at the Proceedings of DiGRA (2009)

Calleja, G.: In-Game. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA (2011)

Calleja, G.: Narrative involvement in digital games. Presented at the Foundations of Digital Games (2013)

Calleja, G.: Game narrative: an alternate genealogy. In: Digital Interfaces in Situation of Mobility. Common Ground Research Networks, Chicago (2015)

Campbell, J.: The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Harper & Row, New York (1949)

Cavazza, M., Donikian, S., Christie, M., Spierling, U., Szilas, N., Vorderer, P., Hartmann, T., Klimmt, C., André, E., Champagnat, R., Petta, P., Olivier, P.: The IRIS network of excellence: integrating research in interactive storytelling. In: Interactive Storytelling: First Joint International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling, ICIDS 2008 Erfurt, Germany, November 26–29, 2008, Proceedings, pp. 14–19. Springer, Berlin (2008)

Cavazza, M., Pizzi, D.: Narratology for interactive storytelling: a critical introduction. In: Technologies for Interactive Digital Storytelling and Entertainment, pp. 72–83. Springer, Berlin (2006)

Cavazza, M.O., Charles, F.: Character-based interactive storytelling. IEEE Intell. Syst. 17 (4), 17–24 (2002)

Dubbelman, T.: Narrative game mechanics. In: Nack, F., Gordon, A.S. (eds.) Interactive Storytelling, pp. 39–50. Springer, Cham (2016)

Ensslin, A.: Literary Gaming, pp. 1–217. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA (2014)

Eskelinen, M.: The gaming situation. Game Studies. 1 , (2001)

Eskelinen, M. The gaming situation. Game Studies, 1(1). (2001). Retrieved from

Eskelinen, M.: Markku Eskelinen’s response. (2004)

Fernández-Vara, C.: Game spaces speak volumes – indexical storytelling. Presented at the Digra 2009 Conference (2011)

Fernández-Vara, C.: Introduction to Game Analysis. Routledge, London (2014)

Ferri, G.: Making sense of a game: a preliminary sketch for a semantic approach to games. Presented at the Proceedings of the International Conference on Advances in Computer Entertainment Technology (2007a)

Ferri, G.: Narrating machines and interactive matrices: a semiotic common ground for game studies. Proceedings of the Digra 2007 Conference. 466–473 (2007b)

Ferri, G.: Satire, propaganda, play, storytelling. Notes on critical interactive digital narratives. In: Koenitz, H., Sezen, T.I., Ferri, G., Haahr, M., Sezen, D., Catak, G. (eds.) Interactive Storytelling : 6th International Conference, ICIDS 2013, Istanbul, Turkey, November 6–9, 2013, Proceedings, pp. 174–179. Springer International Publishing, Heidelberg (2013)

Ferri, G.: Narrative structures in IDN authoring and analysis. In: Koenitz, H., Ferri, G., Haahr, M., Sezen, D., Sezen, T.I. (eds.) Interactive Digital Narrative. Routledge, New York (2015)

Field, S.: Screenplay: the Basics of Film Writing. Random House Publishing Group, New York (1979)

Frasca, G.: Ludology meets narratology: similitude and differences between (video) games and narrative. (1999)

Frasca, G.: Videogames of the Oppressed, MA Thesis, Georgia Institute of Technology (2001)

Frasca, G.: Simulation versus narrative. In: The Video Game Theory Reader, pp. 221–235 (2003a)

Frasca, G.: Ludologists love stories, too: notes from a debate that never took place. DIGRA Conf. (2003b)

Fullerton, T., Swain, C., Hoffman, S.S.: Game Design Workshop. Morgan Kaufmann, Burlington, MA (2008)

Genette, G.: Narrative Discourse, an Essay in Method. Cornell University Press, Ithaca (1980)

Harrell, D.F., Zhu, J.: Agency play: dimensions of agency for interactive narrative design. Presented at the AAAI Spring Symposium: Intelligent Narrative Technologies Stanford, CA, 23–25 March 2009

Hello Games: No Man’s Sky [Video Game] (2016)

Herman, D.: Story Logic. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (2002)

Hocking, C.: Ludonarrative dissonance in Bioshock: the problem of what the game is about. In D. Davidson (Ed.), Well played 1.0 (pp. 114–117). ETC Press, Pittsburgh, PA (2009)

Iser, W.: The Act of Reading. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore (1979)

Jenkins, H.: Game design as narrative architecture. In: Wardrip-Fruin, N., Harrigan, P. (eds.) First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA (2004)

Jennings, P.: Narrative structures for new media. Leonardo. 29 , 345–350 (1996)

Juul, J.: A clash between game and narrative. Danish literature (1999)

Juul, J.: Games telling stories. Game Studies. 1 , 1–12 (2001)

Juul, J.: Half-Real. MIT Press, Cambridge MA (2005)

Kapell, M.W.: The Play Versus Story Divide in Game Studies. McFarland, Jefferson (2015)

Knoller, N.: The expressive space of IDS-as-art. In: Oyarzun, D., Peinado, F., Young, R.M., Elizalde, A., Méndez, G. (eds.) Interactive Storytelling: 5th International Conference, ICIDS 2012, San Sebastián, Spain, November 12–15, 2012. Proceedings. Springer, Berlin (2012)

Koenitz, H.: Reframing Interactive Digital Narrative. UMI Dissertation Publishing, Proquest (2010a)

Koenitz, H.: Towards a theoretical framework for interactive digital narrative. In: Aylett, R., Lim, M.Y., Louchart, S. (eds.) Interactive Storytelling: Third Joint Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling, pp. 176–185. Springer, Heidelberg (2010b)

Koenitz, H.: Towards a specific theory of interactive digital narrative. In: Koenitz, H., Ferri, G., Haahr, M., Sezen, D., Sezen, T.I. (eds.) Interactive Digital Narrative, pp. 91–105. Routledge, New York (2015)

Koenitz, H.: Interactive storytelling paradigms and representations: a humanities-based perspective. In: Handbook of Digital Games and Entertainment Technologies, pp. 1–15. Springer Singapore, Singapore (2016)

Landow, G.P.: Hypertext. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore (1992)

Laurel, B.: Toward the Design of a Computer-Based Inter- active Fantasy System. PhD Thesis, The Ohio State University. (1986)

Laurel, B.: Computers as Theatre. Addison-Wesley, Boston (1991)

Louchart, S., Aylett, R.: Narrative theory and emergent interactive narrative. International Journal of Continuing Engineering Education and Life Long Learning. 14 , 506 (2004)

Madej, K.S.: “Traditional narrative structure” – not traditional so why the norm? 5th International Conference on Narrative and Interactive Learning Environments, Edinburgh, Scotland 6–8 Aug 2008

Mason, S.: On games and links: extending the vocabulary of agency and immersion in interactive narratives. In: Koenitz, H., Ferri, G., Haar, M., Sezen, D., Sezen, T.I., Catak, G. (eds.) Interactive Storytelling: 6th International Conference, ICIDS 2013, Istanbul, Turkey, November 6–9, 2013, Proceedings, pp. 25–34. Springer International Publishing, Cham (2013)

Mateas, M.: A preliminary poetics for interactive Drama and games. Digital Creativity. 12 , 140–152 (2001)

Mateas, M., Stern, A.: Structuring content in the façade interactive drama architecture. Presented at the AIIDE (2005)

McCoy, J., Mateas, M., Wardrip-Fruin, N.: Comme il Faut: a system for simulating social games between autonomous characters. In: Proceedings of the Digital Arts and Culture Conference. Digital Arts and Culture 2009

Montfort, N.: Twisty Little Passages. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA (2005)

Mukherjee, S.: Video Games and Storytelling. Springer, Berlin (2015)

Murray, J.: From game-story to cyberdrama. (2004)

Murray, J.H.: Hamlet on the Holodeck: the Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. Free Press, New York (1997)

Murray, J.H.: The last word on ludology v narratology in game studies. International DiGRA Conference (2005)

Murray, J.H.: Hamlet on the Holodeck. The Free Press, New York (2016)

Nausen, L.: Coda. In: Narrative across Media, pp. 391–403. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (2004)

Neitzel, B.: Narrativity of computer games. In: Hühn, P. (ed.) Handbook of Narratology. De Gruyter, Berlin/München/Boston (2014)

Neumann, V.J., Morgenstern, O.: Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. Princeton University Press, Princeton (1953)

MATH   Google Scholar  

Pearce, C.: Towards a game theory of game. In: Wardrip-Fruin, N., Harrigan, P. (eds.) First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA (2004)

Peirce, C.S.: The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, vol. 1, pp. 1867–1893. Indiana University Press, Bloomington (1992)

Prince, G.: A Dictionary of Narratology. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1987)

Riedl, M.O.: A comparison of interactive narrative system approaches using human improvisational actors. Presented at the Intelligent Narrative Technologies III Workshop, New York (2010)

Riedl, M.O., Bulitko, V.: Interactive narrative: an intelligent systems approach. AI Mag. 34 , 67 (2012)

Riedl, M.O., Young, R.M.: From linear story generation to branching story graphs. CGA. 26 , 23–31 (2006)

Roth, C., Koenitz, H.: Evaluating the user experience of interactive digital narrative. Presented at the 1st International Workshop, New York (2016)

Ryan, M.-L.: Beyond myth and metaphor: The case of narrative in digital media. (2001)

Ryan, M.-L.: Avatars of Story. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis (2006)

Saillenfest, A., Dessalles, J.L.: A cognitive approach to narrative planning with believable characters. 2014 Workshop on Computational Models of Narrative – OASIcs (2014)

Salen, K., Zimmerman, E.: Rules of Play. MIT Press, Cambridge (2004)

Schell, J.: The Art of Game Design: a Book of Lenses. Elsevier/Morgan Kaufmann, Amsterdam/Boston (2008)

Simons, J.: Narrative, games, and theory. Games Studies. 7 , 1–21 (2007)

Tanenbaum, J., Tanenbaum, K.: Empathy and identity in digital games: towards a new theory of transformative play. Presented at the Foundations of Digital Games 2015, April 24 2015

Wardrip-Fruin, N., Harrigan, P.: First Person-New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA (2004)

Wardrip-Fruin, N., Mateas, M., Dow, S., Sali, S.: Agency reconsidered. Presented at the Digra 2009 Conference (2009)

Welsh, T.J.: Literary gaming [book review]. American Journal of Play. 7 (3), 396–398 (2015)

Wood, H.: Dynamic Syuzhets – writing and design methods for playable stories. ICIDS. 10690 , 24–37 (2017)

Wright, W.: The Sims [video game] (2000)

Download references

Author information

Authors and affiliations.

Professorship Interactive Narrative Design, HKU University of the Arts, Utrecht, Netherlands

Hartmut Koenitz

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hartmut Koenitz .

Editor information

Editors and affiliations.

Newton Lee Laboratories, LLC, Tujunga, California, USA

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2018 Springer International Publishing AG

About this entry

Cite this entry.

Koenitz, H. (2018). Narrative in Video Games. In: Lee, N. (eds) Encyclopedia of Computer Graphics and Games. Springer, Cham.

Download citation


Received : 30 December 2017

Accepted : 02 January 2018

Published : 22 January 2018

Publisher Name : Springer, Cham

Print ISBN : 978-3-319-08234-9

Online ISBN : 978-3-319-08234-9

eBook Packages : Springer Reference Computer Sciences Reference Module Computer Science and Engineering

  • Find a journal
  • Publish with us

U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

The .gov means it’s official. Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.

The site is secure. The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

  • Publications
  • Account settings
  • Advanced Search
  • Journal List

Logo of brainsci

Does Video Gaming Have Impacts on the Brain: Evidence from a Systematic Review

Denilson brilliant t..

1 Department of Biomedicine, Indonesia International Institute for Life Sciences (i3L), East Jakarta 13210, Indonesia

2 Smart Ageing Research Center (SARC), Tohoku University, Sendai 980-8575, Japan; (R.N.); (R.K.)

3 Department of Cognitive Health Science, Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer (IDAC), Tohoku University, Sendai 980-8575, Japan

Ryuta Kawashima

4 Department of Functional Brain Imaging, Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer (IDAC), Tohoku University, Sendai 980-8575, Japan

Video gaming, the experience of playing electronic games, has shown several benefits for human health. Recently, numerous video gaming studies showed beneficial effects on cognition and the brain. A systematic review of video gaming has been published. However, the previous systematic review has several differences to this systematic review. This systematic review evaluates the beneficial effects of video gaming on neuroplasticity specifically on intervention studies. Literature research was conducted from randomized controlled trials in PubMed and Google Scholar published after 2000. A systematic review was written instead of a meta-analytic review because of variations among participants, video games, and outcomes. Nine scientific articles were eligible for the review. Overall, the eligible articles showed fair quality according to Delphi Criteria. Video gaming affects the brain structure and function depending on how the game is played. The game genres examined were 3D adventure, first-person shooting (FPS), puzzle, rhythm dance, and strategy. The total training durations were 16–90 h. Results of this systematic review demonstrated that video gaming can be beneficial to the brain. However, the beneficial effects vary among video game types.

1. Introduction

Video gaming refers to the experience of playing electronic games, which vary from action to passive games, presenting a player with physical and mental challenges. The motivation to play video games might derive from the experience of autonomy or competing with others, which can explain why video gaming is pleasurable and addictive [ 1 ].

Video games can act as “teachers” depending on the game purpose [ 2 ]. Video gaming has varying effects depending on the game genre. For instance, an active video game can improve physical fitness [ 3 , 4 , 5 , 6 ], whereas social video games can improve social behavior [ 7 , 8 , 9 ]. The most interesting results show that playing video games can change cognition and the brain [ 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 ].

Earlier studies have demonstrated that playing video games can benefit cognition. Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies have demonstrated that the experience of video gaming is associated with better cognitive function, specifically in terms of visual attention and short-term memory [ 14 ], reaction time [ 15 ], and working memory [ 16 ]. Additionally, some randomized controlled studies show positive effects of video gaming interventions on cognition [ 17 , 18 ]. Recent meta-analytical studies have also supported the positive effects of video gaming on cognition [ 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 ]. These studies demonstrate that playing video games does provide cognitive benefits.

The effects of video gaming intervention are ever more widely discussed among scientists [ 13 ]. A review of the results and methodological quality of recently published intervention studies must be done. One systematic review of video gaming and neural correlates has been reported [ 19 ]. However, the technique of neuroimaging of the reviewed studies was not specific. This systematic review reviewed only magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies in contrast to the previous systematic review to focus on neuroplasticity effect. Neuroplasticity is capability of the brain that accommodates adaptation for learning, memorizing, and recovery purposes [ 19 ]. In normal adaptation, the brain is adapting to learn, remember, forget, and repair itself. Recent studies using MRI for brain imaging techniques have demonstrated neuroplasticity effects after an intervention, which include cognitive, exercise, and music training on the grey matter [ 20 , 21 , 22 , 23 , 24 ] and white matter [ 25 , 26 , 27 , 28 , 29 ]. However, the molecular mechanisms of the grey and white matter change remain inconclusive. The proposed mechanisms for the grey matter change are neurogenesis, gliogenesis, synaptogenesis, and angiogenesis, whereas those for white matter change are myelin modeling and formation, fiber organization, and angiogenesis [ 30 ]. Recent studies using MRI technique for brain imaging have demonstrated video gaming effects on neuroplasticity. Earlier imaging studies using cross-sectional and longitudinal methods have shown that playing video games affects the brain structure by changing the grey matter [ 31 , 32 , 33 ], white matter [ 34 , 35 ], and functional connectivity [ 36 , 37 , 38 , 39 ]. Additionally, a few intervention studies have demonstrated that playing video games changed brain structure and functions [ 40 , 41 , 42 , 43 ].

The earlier review also found a link between neural correlates of video gaming and cognitive function [ 19 ]. However, that review used both experimental and correlational studies and included non-healthy participants, which contrasts to this review. The differences between this and the previous review are presented in Table 1 . This review assesses only experimental studies conducted of healthy participants. Additionally, the cross-sectional and longitudinal studies merely showed an association between video gaming experiences and the brain, showing direct effects of playing video games in the brain is difficult. Therefore, this systematic review specifically examined intervention studies. This review is more specific as it reviews intervention and MRI studies on healthy participants. The purposes of this systematic review are therefore to evaluate the beneficial effects of video gaming and to assess the methodological quality of recent video gaming intervention studies.

Differences between previous review and current review.

CT, computed tomography; fMRI, functional magnetic resonance imaging; MEG, magnetoencephalography MRI, magnetic resonance imaging; PET, positron emission tomography; SPECT, single photon emission computed tomography; tDCS, transcranial direct current stimulation; EEG, electroencephalography; NIRS, near-infrared spectroscopy.

2. Materials and Methods

2.1. search strategy.

This systematic review was designed in accordance with the PRISMA checklist [ 44 ] shown in Appendix Table A1 . A literature search was conducted using PubMed and Google Scholar to identify relevant studies. The keywords used for the literature search were combinations of “video game”, “video gaming”, “game”, “action video game”, “video game training”, “training”, “play”, “playing”, “MRI”, “cognitive”, “cognition”, “executive function”, and “randomized control trial”.

2.2. Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

The primary inclusion criteria were randomized controlled trial study, video game interaction, and MRI/fMRI analysis. Studies that qualified with only one or two primary inclusions were not included. Review papers and experimental protocols were also not included. The secondary inclusion criteria were publishing after 2000 and published in English. Excluded were duration of less than 4 weeks or unspecified length intervention or combination intervention. Also excluded were studies of cognition-based games, and studies of participants with psychiatric, cognitive, neurological, and medical disorders.

2.3. Quality Assessment

Each of the quality studies was assessed using Delphi criteria [ 45 ] with several additional elements [ 46 ]: details of allocation methods, adequate descriptions of control and training groups, statistical comparisons between control and training groups, and dropout reports. The respective total scores (max = 12) are shown in Table 3. The quality assessment also includes assessment for risk of bias, which is shown in criteria numbers 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 9, and 12.

2.4. Statistical Analysis

Instead of a meta-analysis study, a systematic review of the video game training/video gaming and the effects was conducted because of the variation in ranges of participant age, video game genre, control type, MRI and statistical analysis, and training outcomes. Therefore, the quality, inclusion and exclusion, control, treatment, game title, participants, training period, and MRI analysis and specification of the studies were recorded for the respective games.

The literature search made of the databases yielded 140 scientific articles. All scientific articles were screened based on inclusion and exclusion criteria. Of those 140 scientific articles, nine were eligible for the review [ 40 , 41 , 42 , 43 , 47 , 48 , 49 , 50 , 51 ]. Video gaming effects are listed in Table 2 .

Summary of beneficial effect of video gaming.

Duration was converted into weeks (1 month = 4 weeks); DLPFC, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; GM, grey matter; FPS, first person shooting. * Participants were categorized based on how they played during the video gaming intervention.

We excluded 121 articles: 46 were not MRI studies, 16 were not controlled studies, 38 were not intervention studies, 13 were review articles, and eight were miscellaneous, including study protocols, non-video gaming studies, and non-brain studies. Of 18 included scientific articles, nine were excluded. Of those nine excluded articles, two were cognitive-based game studies, three were shorter than 4 weeks in duration or were without a specified length intervention, two studies used a non-healthy participant treatment, and one was a combination intervention study. A screening flowchart is portrayed in Figure 1 .

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is brainsci-09-00251-g001.jpg

Flowchart of literature search.

3.1. Quality Assessment

The assessment methodology based on Delphi criteria [ 45 ] for the quality of eligible studies is presented in Table 3 . The quality scores assigned to the studies were 3–9 (mean = 6.10; S.D. = 1.69). Overall, the studies showed fair methodological quality according to the Delphi criteria. The highest quality score of the nine eligible articles was assigned to “Playing Super Mario 64 increases hippocampal grey matter in older adult” published by West et al. in 2017, which scored 9 of 12. The scores assigned for criteria 6 (blinded care provider) and 7 (blinded patient) were lowest because of unspecified information related to blinding for those criteria. Additionally, criteria 2 (concealed allocation) and 5 (blinding assessor) were low because only two articles specified that information. All articles met criteria 3 and 4 adequately.

Methodological quality of eligible studies.

Q1, Random allocation; Q2, Concealed allocation; Q3, Similar baselines among groups; Q4, Eligibility specified; Q5, Blinded assessor outcome; Q6, Blinded care provider; Q7, Blinded patient; Q8, Intention-to-treat analysis; Q9, Detail of allocation method; Q10, Adequate description of each group; Q11, Statistical comparison between groups; Q12, Dropout report (1, specified; 0, unspecified).

3.2. Inclusion and Exclusion

Most studies included participants with little or no experience with gaming and excluded participants with psychiatric/mental, neurological, and medical illness. Four studies specified handedness of the participants and excluded participants with game training experience. The inclusion and exclusion criteria are presented in Table 4 .

Inclusion and exclusion criteria for eligible studies.

i1, Little/no experience in video gaming; i2, Right-handed; i3, Sex-specific; e1, Psychiatric/mental illness; e2, Neurological illness; e3, Medical illness; e4, MRI contraindication; e5, experience in game training.

3.3. Control Group

Nine eligible studies were categorized as three types based on the control type. Two studies used active control, five studies used passive control, and two studies used both active and passive control. A summary of the control group is presented in Table 5 .

Control group examined eligible studies.

3.4. Game Title and Genre

Of the nine eligible studies, four used the same 3D adventure game with different game platforms, which were “Super Mario 64” original and the DS version. One study used first-person shooting (FPS) shooting games with many different game titles: “Call of Duty” is one title. Two studies used puzzle games: “Tetris” and “Professor Layton and The Pandora’s Box.” One study used a rhythm dance game: Dance Revolution. One study used a strategy game: “Space Fortress.” Game genres are presented in Table 6 .

Genres and game titles of video gaming intervention.

* West et al. used multiple games; other games are Call of Duty 2, 3, Black Ops, and World at War, Killzone 2 and 3, Battlefield 2, 3, and 4, Resistance 2 and Fall of Man, and Medal of Honor.

3.5. Participants and Sample Size

Among the nine studies, one study examined teenage participants, six studies included young adult participants, and two studies assessed older adult participants. Participant information is shown in Table 7 . Numbers of participants were 20–75 participants (mean = 43.67; S.D. = 15.63). Three studies examined female-only participants, whereas six others used male and female participants. Six studies with female and male participants had more female than male participants.

Participant details of eligible studies.

3.6. Training Period and Intensity

The training period was 4–24 weeks (mean = 11.49; S.D. = 6.88). One study by Lee et al. had two length periods and total hours because the study examined video game training of two types. The total training hours were 16–90 h (mean = 40.63; S.D. = 26.22), whereas the training intensity was 1.5–10.68 h/week (mean = 4.96; S.D. = 3.00). One study did not specify total training hours. Two studies did not specify the training intensity. The training periods and intensities are in Table 8 .

Periods and intensities of video gaming intervention.

The training length was converted into weeks (1 month = 4 weeks). ns, not specified; n/a, not available; * exact length is not available.

3.7. MRI Analysis and Specifications

Of nine eligible studies, one study used resting-state MRI analysis, three studies (excluding that by Haier et al. [ 40 ]) used structural MRI analysis, and five studies used task-based MRI analysis. A study by Haier et al. used MRI analyses of two types [ 40 ]. A summary of MRI analyses is presented in Table 9 . The related resting-state, structural, and task-based MRI specifications are presented in Table 10 , Table 11 and Table 12 respectively.

MRI analysis details of eligible studies.

* Haier et al. conducted structural and task analyses. + Compared pre-training and post-training between groups without using contrast. TFCE, Threshold Free Cluster Enhancement; FEW, familywise error rate; FDR, false discovery rate.

Resting-State MRI specifications of eligible studies.

Structural MRI specifications of eligible studies.

Task-Based MRI specifications of eligible studies.

All analyses used 3 Tesla magnetic force; TR = repetition time; TE = echo time, ns = not specified.

4. Discussion

This literature review evaluated the effect of noncognitive-based video game intervention on the cognitive function of healthy people. Comparison of studies is difficult because of the heterogeneities of participant ages, beneficial effects, and durations. Comparisons are limited to studies sharing factors.

4.1. Participant Age

Video gaming intervention affects all age categories except for the children category. The exception derives from a lack of intervention studies using children as participants. The underlying reason for this exception is that the brain is still developing until age 10–12 [ 52 , 53 ]. Among the eligible studies were a study investigating adolescents [ 40 ], six studies investigating young adults [ 41 , 42 , 43 , 47 , 49 , 51 ] and two studies investigating older adults [ 48 , 50 ].

Differences among study purposes underlie the differences in participant age categories. The study by Haier et al. was intended to study adolescents because the category shows the most potential brain changes. The human brain is more sensitive to synaptic reorganization during the adolescent period [ 54 ]. Generally, grey matter decreases whereas white matter increases during the adolescent period [ 55 , 56 ]. By contrast, the cortical surface of the brain increases despite reduction of grey matter [ 55 , 57 ]. Six studies were investigating young adults with the intention of studying brain changes after the brain reaches maturity. The human brain reaches maturity during the young adult period [ 58 ]. Two studies were investigating older adults with the intention of combating difficulties caused by aging. The human brain shrinks as age increases [ 56 , 59 ], which almost invariably leads to declining cognitive function [ 59 , 60 ].

4.2. Beneficial Effects

Three beneficial outcomes were observed using MRI method: grey matter change [ 40 , 42 , 50 ], brain activity change [ 40 , 43 , 47 , 48 , 49 ], and functional connectivity change [ 41 ]. The affected brain area corresponds to how the respective games were played.

Four studies of 3D video gaming showed effects on the structure of hippocampus, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), cerebellum [ 42 , 43 , 50 ], and DLPFC [ 43 ] and ventral striatum activity [ 49 ]. In this case, the hippocampus is used for memory [ 61 ] and scene recognition [ 62 ], whereas the DLPFC and cerebellum are used for working memory function for information manipulation and problem-solving processes [ 63 ]. The grey matter of the corresponding brain region has been shown to increase during training [ 20 , 64 ]. The increased grey matter of the hippocampus, DLPFC, and cerebellum are associated with better performance in reference and working memory [ 64 , 65 ].

The reduced activity of DLPFC found in the study by Gleich et al. corresponds to studies that showed reduced brain activity associated with brain training [ 66 , 67 , 68 , 69 ]. Decreased activity of the DLPFC after training is associated with efficiency in divergent thinking [ 70 ]. 3D video gaming also preserved reward systems by protecting the activity of the ventral striatum [ 71 ].

Two studies of puzzle gaming showed effects on the structure of the visual–spatial processing area, activity of the frontal area, and functional connectivity change. The increased grey matter of the visual–spatial area and decreased activity of the frontal area are similar to training-associated grey matter increase [ 20 , 64 ] and activity decrease [ 66 , 67 , 68 , 69 ]. In this case, visual–spatial processing and frontal area are used constantly for spatial prediction and problem-solving of Tetris. Functional connectivity of the multimodal integration and the higher-order executive system in the puzzle solving-based gaming of Professor Layton game corresponds to studies which demonstrated training-associated functional connectivity change [ 72 , 73 ]. Good functional connectivity implies better performance [ 73 ].

Strategy gaming affects the DLPFC activity, whereas rhythm gaming affects the activity of visuospatial working memory, emotional, and attention area. FPS gaming affects the structure of the hippocampus and amygdala. Decreased DLPFC activity is similar to training-associated activity decrease [ 66 , 67 , 68 , 69 ]. A study by Roush demonstrated increased activity of visuospatial working memory, emotion, and attention area, which might occur because of exercise and gaming in the Dance Revolution game. Results suggest that positive activations indicate altered functional areas by complex exercise [ 48 ]. The increased grey matter of the hippocampus and amygdala are similar to the training-associated grey matter increase [ 20 , 64 ]. The hippocampus is used for 3D navigation purposes in the FPS world [ 61 ], whereas the amygdala is used to stay alert during gaming [ 74 ].

4.3. Duration

Change of the brain structure and function was observed after 16 h of video gaming. The total durations of video gaming were 16–90 h. However, the gaming intensity must be noted because the gaming intensity varied: 1.5–10.68 h per week. The different intensities might affect the change of cognitive function. Cognitive intervention studies demonstrated intensity effects on the cortical thickness of the brain [ 75 , 76 ]. A similar effect might be observed in video gaming studies. More studies must be conducted to resolve how the intensity can be expected to affect cognitive function.

4.4. Criteria

Almost all studies used inclusion criteria “little/no experience with video games.” The criterion was used to reduce the factor of gaming-related experience on the effects of video gaming. Some of the studies also used specific handedness and specific sex of participants to reduce the variation of brain effects. Expertise and sex are shown to affect brain activity and structure [ 77 , 78 , 79 , 80 ]. The exclusion criterion of “MRI contraindication” is used for participant safety for the MRI protocol, whereas exclusion criteria of “psychiatric/mental illness”, “neurological illness”, and “medical illness” are used to standardize the participants.

4.5. Limitations and Recommendations

Some concern might be raised about the quality of methodology, assessed using Delphi criteria [ 45 ]. The quality was 3–9 (mean = 6.10; S.D. = 1.69). Low quality in most papers resulted from unspecified information corresponding to the criteria. Quality improvements for the studies must be performed related to the low quality of methodology. Allocation concealment, assessor blinding, care provider blinding, participant blinding, intention-to-treat analysis, and allocation method details must be improved in future studies.

Another concern is blinding and control. This type of study differs from medical studies in which patients can be blinded easily. In studies of these types, the participants were tasked to do either training as an active control group or to do nothing as a passive control group. The participants can expect something from the task. The expectation might affect the outcomes of the studies [ 81 , 82 , 83 ]. Additionally, the waiting-list control group might overestimate the outcome of training [ 84 ].

Considering the sample size, which was 20–75 (mean = 43.67; S.D. = 15.63), the studies must be upscaled to emphasize video gaming effects. There are four phases of clinical trials that start from the early stage and small-scale phase 1 to late stage and large-scale phase 3 and end in post-marketing observation phase 4. These four phases are used for drug clinical trials, according to the food and drug administration (FDA) [ 85 ]. Phase 1 has the purpose of revealing the safety of treatment with around 20–100 participants. Phase 2 has the purpose of elucidating the efficacy of the treatment with up to several hundred participants. Phase 3 has the purpose of revealing both efficacy and safety among 300–3000 participants. The final phase 4 has the purpose of finding unprecedented adverse effects of treatment after marketing. However, because medical studies and video gaming intervention studies differ in terms of experimental methods, slight modifications can be done for adaptation to video gaming studies.

Several unresolved issues persist in relation to video gaming intervention. First, no studies assessed chronic/long-term video gaming. The participants might lose their motivation to play the same game over a long time, which might affect the study outcomes [ 86 ]. Second, meta-analyses could not be done because the game genres are heterogeneous. To ensure homogeneity of the study, stricter criteria must be set. However, this step would engender a third limitation. Third, randomized controlled trial video gaming studies that use MRI analysis are few. More studies must be conducted to assess the effects of video gaming. Fourth, the eligible studies lacked cognitive tests to validate the cognitive change effects for training. Studies of video gaming intervention should also include a cognitive test to ascertain the relation between cognitive function and brain change.

5. Conclusions

The systematic review has several conclusions related to beneficial effects of noncognitive-based video games. First, noncognitive-based video gaming can be used in all age categories as a means to improve the brain. However, effects on children remain unclear. Second, noncognitive-based video gaming affects both structural and functional aspects of the brain. Third, video gaming effects were observed after a minimum of 16 h of training. Fourth, some methodology criteria must be improved for better methodological quality. In conclusion, acute video gaming of a minimum of 16 h is beneficial for brain function and structure. However, video gaming effects on the brain area vary depending on the video game type.


We would like to thank all our other colleagues in IDAC, Tohoku University for their support.

PRISMA Checklist of the literature review.

For more information, visit: .

Author Contributions

D.B.T., R.N., and R.K. designed the systematic review. D.B.T. and R.N. searched and selected the papers. D.B.T. and R.N. wrote the manuscript with R.K. All authors read and approved the final manuscript. D.B.T. and R.N. contributed equally to this work.

Study is supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 17H06046 (Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Innovative Areas) and 16KT0002 (Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (B)).

Conflicts of Interest

None of the other authors has any conflict of interest to declare. Funding sources are not involved in the study design, collection, analysis, interpretation of data, or writing of the study report.

Switch RPG

Nintendo Switch RPG Reviews, Articles, News, Community and more!

Video Games As Literature

by Jeremy Rice · Published July 17, 2018 · Updated January 20, 2021

In her article titled “Literature as Video Games,” writer Bethany Larson examines the adaptation of great works of literature into video games and offers suggestions of more works that could survive the transition and have a decent foray into the gaming lexicon. Suggestions such as The Iliad and The Odyssey contain the epic scope required to make a successful action title. Meanwhile, works like Gulliver’s Travels and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn offer all the trappings required to create rich and compelling adventure games. Certainly our millennia of written works could provide countless examples of literature that can be adapted into the gaming format.

But what of original video game content? Can a video game offer the same depth of characters and insight into the human condition as a novel? Can a video game possess substantial literary merit?

literary studies video games

I suppose the first question we must ask is, “What gives a work literary merit?” What criteria are necessary for a written work to be considered literature and not simply historical record or random jumble of letters? And which of these requirements translates into the world of video games? People have different qualifications for what grants a work literary merit. Some wouldn’t even consider a decent science fiction novel literature. For the sake of our discussion, we will judge based on the following criteria: storytelling, character and depth. A final criterion, purpose, will be considered in the conclusion.


Storytelling is the soul of literature. If a writer fails to tell a compelling story, either in substance or delivery, then he has failed in producing literature. Novels tell stories about people. A short story may tell the story of a single person. A poem tells the story of a person’s emotions and experience. Each literary form requires a certain amount of effort by the reader to discern the story. But always, storytelling occurs.

What of video games? Are they a storytelling medium? Absolutely. Video game stories can be as complex and varied as those within various works of literature. Final Fantasy Tactics, for instance, chronicles a years-long conflict over the crown of a fictional medieval country, orchestrated by a religious conspiracy behind the scenes. Duck Hunt, on the other hand, has a story as simple as: “A man goes hunting. His dog laughs at him when he misses.” You’d be as hard-pressed to find a video game that doesn’t tell a story as you would a novel or short story.

literary studies video games

If storytelling is the soul of literature, then characters are its body. They are the representatives of humanity within the text. Some are complex, others simple. Each serves a unique purpose. Let us use J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series as an example. The titular protagonist, Harry, is a nuanced character with conflicting emotions and motivations, who progresses throughout the series into a well-rounded individual. To a reader, Harry is as real as you or me, minus the spellcasting and insane amounts of luck. On the other hand, the primary antagonist of the series, Lord Voldemort, is a flat, static character whose only purpose is to provide external conflict. He is practically a force of nature. He does, however, represent the worst of humanity, and thus serves a useful purpose in the author’s agenda. Finally, there are characters like Professor Dumbledore, who begins as a flat supporting character but in the final book is revealed to be an incredibly layered and deeply flawed person. All these characters show us something about ourselves and about the human condition.

What of video game characters? Can they produce these same effects? Can they raise questions within a gamer about life, love, and morality? Can a player relate to a video game character the same way as a character in a book? Certainly. Some games, like Mass Effect, allow a gamer to make the game’s protagonist a surrogate for the player himself. This itself is a literary technique, if slightly less prevalent in prose than in gaming. Other games, such as Chrono Trigger, create an entire cast of complex characters all with different personalities, motivations, and agendas. Both these techniques are prevalent within the world of video games.

literary studies video games

But where written works far outstrip most video games is in the area of depth. The pilot in Space Invaders, for example, could be anyone. He could be a man. He could be a woman. He could be an anthropomorphic jackrabbit for all we know. A five hundred-word piece of flash fiction could outdo Space Invaders in character development.

literary studies video games

Depth is also what separates other works of art from literature. A painting, for instance, can tell a story. It can include a whole cast of characters. But the depth of that story, the extent of those characters, is largely left to the onlooker’s imagination. Literature fills in those gaps and more fully expresses an author’s vision. But again, all rules have exceptions. A reader’s perception can greatly change the meaning behind postmodern works and can do so with the fullness of authorial intent behind them.

So we know that simple games like Pac-Man or Frogger certainly don’t hold much literary merit in terms of depth. But can other video games compete in this arena? I think they can – especially in the realm of RPGs.

Take Square Enix’s classic Final Fantasy VI. Not only does this game have a long, satisfying story with compelling characters, but it also includes numerous character subplots, which interweave themselves within the main plot in a way that rivals the works of many novelists. The game explores concepts like love, life, death, friendship, romance, parenthood, and politics. All these elements are not only directly addressed but are addressed from multiple angles among several different characters and storylines. I would rank Final Fantasy VI among the best literary works I know, prose or otherwise.

This raises the ultimate question – “Can a game be considered a work of literature?”

This is a sticky question. Do video games serve the same purpose as literature? What is the purpose of literature in the first place? For most novels, that most straightforward answer would likely be “to tell a good story.” For others, though, that answer is deeper. Books are written to impart wisdom or express the writer’s creativity. Still others would simply say books are written to entertain the reader. You could even argue that the only reason any book is ever published is just to make money for the publisher. This is where the debates between literary fiction and genre fiction begin and end.

literary studies video games

These same questions can be asked of video games. Where does the business model start and the creator’s vision stop? How much of a game is art? How much of it is pure entertainment? This is a line drawn in all creative works and is perhaps the greatest indicator that video games can hold literary merit. If someone sets out to tell a story using video games as a medium, debates will rage for years over not only its gaming elements but over the characters and story as well. This character may have been flat, and that plot point may not have made sense, but these objections, these discussions in and of themselves reveal the potential of video games as a storytelling medium. How far you want to take that, where you draw the line between art and entertainment, is up to you.

Jeremy Rice

Staff writer for SwitchRPG. Aspiring writer and fan of RPGs, retro games, and Nintendo. Currently playing: Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars, Pokemon Shining Pearl, and Marvel Snap.

View all posts

You May Also Like:

The State of Visual Novels on the Nintendo Switch

Tags: chrono trigger final fantasy 6 Octopath Traveler

Jeremy Rice

Jeremy Rice

About SwitchRPG


Recent Content

  • SwitchRPG Retrospective: A Postmortem Review from a Staff Member March 30, 2023
  • Mato: Anomalies Review (Switch) March 29, 2023
  • What Tears of the Kingdom Will Do to Us March 29, 2023
  • Farewell March 27, 2023
  • Tales of Symphonia Remastered Preview (Switch) March 14, 2023

Content Archive

  • Articles (647)
  • Podcast (99)
  • Rated "Bad" (24)
  • Rated "Good" (248)
  • Rated "Great" (105)
  • Rated "OK" (163)
  • Side Quests (18)
  • Videos (852)

Recent Discussions

  • Evan Bee on Grand Guilds Review (Switch)
  • Ben T. on Why we need the Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters on Switch
  • Gleamian on Why we need the Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters on Switch
  • Tejus on Dragonball Xenoverse 2 Review (Switch)

literary studies video games

REVIEW article

Performance indicators in speed climbing: insights from the literature supplemented by a video analysis and expert interviews.

  • 1 Faculty of Physical Education and Sport Sciences, Kharazmi University, Iran
  • 2 ETH Zürich, Switzerland

The final, formatted version of the article will be published soon.

Due to the goal of mastering a standardised route with relatively large handholds as quickly as possible, the weighting of performance-determining factors might be different in speed climbing in comparison to lead climbing or bouldering. The objective of this paper was to identify physical and tactical factors for peak performance in speed climbing. Therefore, not only existing literature was reviewed but also a video analysis of the final round of speed climbing at the Olympic games and interviews with experts were done. Out of two hundred and one articles initially found by searching in Medline, Elsevier and Google Scholar databases, 38 were ultimately considered. Generally, an increased lower limb power, a small body mass index, an improved anaerobic glycogen system, and a high fluency in movements were identified as characteristics for high-speed climbing performance. Based on video analysis of Olympic games, coordinated motions, correct foot movements and shorter reaction time could take a novice speed climber to an elite level. Furthermore, male climbers should avoid pairing hands on holds. Considering the increasing popularity, the continued improvement of the record time in this discipline, and the currently limited amount of relevant literature should stimulate future studies on performancedetermining variables, assessments, and training methods to maintain the attractiveness of speed climbing.

Keywords: performance analysis, anthropometrics, Physical Fitness, Biomechanics, Physiology, strategy and technique

Received: 29 Sep 2023; Accepted: 05 Dec 2023.

Copyright: © 2023 Hosseini and Wolf. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Peter Wolf, ETH Zürich, Zurich, Switzerland

People also looked at

Can you answer these 60 Christmas trivia questions on movies, music and traditions?

literary studies video games

Did you know we can thank Coca-Cola in part for the Christmas imagery we see today? In 1931, they released an advertisement with the popularized image of Santa – a jolly, fat man sporting red, white and green. Santa was previously depicted as thin, elf-like and wore blue as much as he did red.

If you enjoyed this fun fact, you'll love these trivia questions about America's favorite holiday . 

We've listed the questions for each category and reveal the answers at the end. Read a little bit more and you'll discover the history behind some of the most popular Christmas traditions. 

Christmas movie and TV trivia

  • What year was the Christmas movie “Elf” released?
  • What is the name of Buddy’s love interest in “Elf,” played by Zooey Deschanel?
  • In “Elf,” to Buddy’s excitement, the department store manager announces Santa is coming tomorrow to take pictures with customers. What time does he say he’s coming?
  • What are the four main food groups for elves, according to Buddy in “Elf”?
  • How many Grinch movies are there in total?
  • What does Buddy cram into the VCR in the movie “Elf”?
  • What is the name of the elf who wants to be a dentist in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”?
  • In “Love Actually,” what gift does Harry (Alan Rickman) give his wife, Karen (Emma Thompson), for Christmas? 
  • What song does Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister character dance to in “Love Actually”? 
  • What popular stop-motion film could be considered both a Halloween and a Christmas movie?
  • What’s the name of the town “It’s a Wonderful Life” takes place in?
  • In the world where George was never born, what was Mary’s occupation in "It's a Wonderful Life"?
  • What’s the name of the guardian angel that George Bailey meets in "It's a Wonderful Life"?
  • How many roles did Tom Hanks play in “The Polar Express”?
  • Where do the Griswolds live in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”?
  • What does Clark Griswold’s boss give him instead of a Christmas bonus in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”? 
  • What real-life store is a main plot point in “Miracle on 34th Street”?
  • What does Ralphie want for Christmas in “A Christmas Story”?
  • What is the secret message Ralphie decodes from the Little Orphan Annie show in “A Christmas Story”?
  • What language does Ralphie’s father think “Fragile” is when he opens his prize in “A Christmas Story”?
  • What is Ralphie’s punishment for swearing in “A Christmas Story”?
  • What is the name of the 2015 horror comedy starring a horned beast who punishes naughty children at Christmas?
  • Where can you find the “Home Alone” house, where most of the movie is filmed?
  • What do the burglars who break into the McCallister’s house in “Home Alone” call themselves?
  • How many siblings does Kevin have in “Home Alone”?
  • What kind of pet does Buzz from “Home Alone” have?
  • What is the name of the head elf in the 1994 movie “The Santa Clause”?
  • How many “Santa Clause” movies are there?
  • In “The Office” Christmas episode “Christmas Party,” what gift does Michael give in the Secret Santa gone wrong?
  • How many new Christmas movies did Hallmark release this year?
  • Lindsay Lohan made her return to the silver screen in a new Hallmark movie last year. What is it called?
  • What longtime actor and comedian plays a man making a deal with an elf in the 2023 Christmas movie "Candy Cane Lane?"
  • Candy, candy corn, candy canes and syrup
  • 11 cookies 
  • A Joni Mitchell CD 
  • Jump (For My Love) by The Pointer Sisters 
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas 
  • Bedford Falls
  • A librarian
  • Six: The conductor, the older version of the Hero Boy, Father, Hobo, Scrooge, and Santa Claus
  • A one-year membership to the Jelly of the Month Club
  • A Red Rider BB gun
  • “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine”
  • A bar of soap in his mouth
  • The wet bandits
  • A tarantula
  • 3, with a follow-up limited series released in 2022
  • "Falling for Christmas"
  • Eddie Murphy

History lesson: The1946 classic "It's a Wonderful Life" is set in the fictional Bedford Falls. Like many of its silver screen counterparts, the movie was filmed in California, but many believe Bedford Falls is based on the real-life Seneca Falls in upstate New York. The town even has an "It's a Wonderful Life" museum and celebrates an annual festival paying homage to the movie in December.

So what's the connection? One piece of evidence points to director Frank Capra's visit to Seneca Falls in 1945 while working on the script with screenwriters. There's also the nod to Seneca Falls architecture. Jimmy Hawkins, who played George Bailey's son Tommy in the movie, told Country Living "There's a lot of Seneca Falls in Bedford Falls," pointing to similarities between the Seneca Falls bridge and the movie's bridge, where George's pivotal decision occurs. The museum also marks similarities between local houses, railroad stations and even affordable housing projects referenced in the film by Bailey Brothers Building and Loan. 

Hawkins serves as an advisor to the "It's a Wonderful Life Museum" alongside on-screen siblings Carol Coombs (Janie Bailey) and Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu Bailey). 

Christmas song trivia

  • What name do we call the snowman in “Winter Wonderland”? 
  • What is the most streamed Christmas song of all time?
  • True or false: David Bowie recorded “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” as a member of the super-charity group Band Aid
  • What does Alvin want for Christmas in the song “The Chipmunk Song”?
  • How many gifts in total were given by the end of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”?
  • What year was Michael Bublé’s “Christmas” album released? 
  • Which musician sang “Santa Baby” in 1953, making it one of the most well-known versions to date?
  • Which 1990 film is credited with popularizing “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”?
  • In “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” what did Grandma drink too much of?
  • According to the song, “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch,” what does the Grinch have in his smile?
  • What word is used instead of “family” in “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”? 
  • When was the original “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” released?
  • What song did the New Yorker describe as "one of the few worthy modern additions to the holiday canon" in 2006?
  • What Christmas song was written in California during a heat wave in 1945?
  • “Where Are You Christmas?” was written by James Horner, Will Jennings and this famous pop star for the 2000 live-action “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
  • What pop Christmas song was released in 1984 but didn’t track on Billboard’s Hot 100 until 2017?
  • This "Goddess of Pop" performed "DJ Play a Christmas Song," a single from her recently released Christmas album, at the Macy's Day Parade this year. Who is it?
  • Parson Brown
  • All I Want for Christmas is You 
  • False, Bowie was asked to join but had scheduling conflicts
  • A hula hoop
  • Eartha Kitt
  • “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey
  • “Let It Snow”
  • Mariah Carey
  • “Last Christmas” by Wham!

History lesson:  Did you know those 12 days of partridges, turtle doves, gold rings and more add up to 364 gifts? A Reuters analysis added the gifts from your true love to a whopping cost of $105,561 . This includes $210.18 for planting pear trees and acquiring a partridge, almost $15,000 for assorted birds, $945 for those coveted golden rings and $58 for milk maids. The 2020 study of holiday costs didn't include the price for the ladies dancing, lords-a-leaping, pipers piping, drummers drumming, which it said was on pause due to the pandemic. "You and your true love could spend an evening watching some TikToks instead," Reuters writes.

Christmas traditions trivia 

  • What is Santa Claus known as in France?
  • In what country is Santa known as Babbo Natale?
  • Who wrote the poem “The Night Before Christmas”?
  • True or false: Poinsettias, the popular Christmas flower, are poisonous to dogs.
  • What two states are home to towns named “Santa Claus”?
  • When was St. Nicholas born?
  • When was Christmas declared a federal holiday in the United States?
  • How long did the Puritans ban Christmas in Massachusetts in the 17th century? 
  • True or false: We know definitively that Jesus Christ was born on December 25.
  • Which famous U.S. military event happened on Christmas Day in 1776?
  • According to a 2020 survey, what percent of Americans who put up a tree will use an artificial one instead of a real tree?
  • Clement Moore
  • True, the flowers are mildly toxic to both dogs and cats
  • Indiana and Georgia
  • Between AD 260 and 280
  • False, there’s no real evidence  
  • George Washington and the Continental Army crossed the Delaware River

History lesson: The Puritans made it a criminal offense to publicly celebrate Christmas in Massachusetts from 1659 to 1681. According to, after overthrowing King Charles I, the Puritans declared Dec. 25 a day of "fasting and humiliation" for the supposed sins of the Englishmen. Puritans in Massachusetts followed suit, banning the holiday with a swift message: celebrating Christmas comes with a fine. The ban came both from the Puritan interpretation of the Bible (which they said did not mention celebrating the holiday) and a distaste for rowdy holiday celebrations. The Massachusetts Bay Colony repealed the ban in 1681, but even still, Christmas did not become a public holiday in the state until 1856. 

Get in the holiday spirit with these other USA TODAY reads

  • Christmas jokes: 160 quips "yule" love this holiday season
  • Christmas memes: These might land you on the naughty list
  • Top Christmas movies: Stream these popular picks this holiday season
  • Family Christmas movies: Keep kids entertained with these holiday favorites
  • Listen to the hits: Here's where to find Christmas music on the radio
  • Christmas tree 101: Everything to know before purchasing
  • Healthy holiday eating: Enjoy favorites and feel good with these tips
  • How to play White Elephant: Try this game of holiday gift swap mischief
  • Give back: Where you can volunteer this holiday season

Just Curious for more? We've got you covered

USA TODAY is exploring the questions you and others ask every day. From "Why do dogs eat grass?" to "How to treat dog flu?" to "What is the biggest country in the world?" – we're striving to find answers to the most common questions you ask every day. Head to our Just Curious section to see what else we can answer for you. 


  1. Department of English and Literature

    literary studies video games

  2. Literary Video Games

    literary studies video games

  3. Games and literary theory

    literary studies video games

  4. Our top five literary party games for booklovers

    literary studies video games

  5. 11 Literary Board Games To Win Over Book-Lovers At Your Next Game Night

    literary studies video games

  6. 11 Literary Board Games To Win Over Book-Lovers At Your Next Game Night

    literary studies video games


  1. Genre Studies

  2. Genre Studies

  3. Interdisciplinary & Intermediality, Literature & Arts, Literary Studies & Disciplines in Tamil

  4. Introduction to literary studies semester 1 Question Paper 📜 #dusol #dsc #duregular #ba

  5. BA(ED)English And Literary Studies 💼Congratulations On Your Convocation 👩‍🎓Adeleke Adeyemi Maria

  6. Intro to Literary Studies #23 End Stopped and Run On Lines (Enjambment) in Urdu/Hindi


  1. Are Video Games Like Novels?

    March 5, 2022 3 minutes The icon indicates free access to the linked research on JSTOR. Are video games like novels? Maybe not exactly, but as literature scholar Eric Hayot asserts, "any understanding of video games that does not include the novel … will necessarily be incomplete."

  2. Reading the Game: Exploring Narratives in Video Games as Literary Texts

    Results of the study show that a video game introduced as a work of literature to a classroom increases participation, actives disengaged students, and connects literary concepts across media through multimodal learning.

  3. Remediating Video Games in Contemporary Fiction: Literary Form and

    Game scholars have discussed both the ways in which video games structurally differ from literary fiction and the ways in which they remediate motifs and narrative strategies from it. ... A literary studies/games studies conversation (special issue). Games and Culture, 15(7). Crossref. Google Scholar. Jayemanne D. (2017). Performativity in Art ...

  4. Gaming literature: how digital games have changed literary fiction and

    By adapting an interdisciplinary approach from game studies, media studies, and literary criticism, this research demonstrates how an understanding of literature's ludic influences provide unique insights into authorship and readership in our increasingly trans-, multi-, and intermedia cultural landscape.

  5. The Cultural Impact of Video Games: A Systematic Review of the Literature

    Theoretical studies were used by 8.89% of the research, while systematic literature reviews, descriptive studies, experimental studies and autoethnographies each accounted for 6.67% of the studies, while video game analysis, content analysis and critical-reflexive studies accounted for 4.44% for each type of study.

  6. PDF Introduction: a literary studies/games studies conversation

    comparison of pedagogic issues in the fields of literary and game studies, ranging from modes of assessment (asking students to explain why a novel / play / poem would or would not make a good video game might work for both disciplines), to how teaching relates to research, to the relationship between language and literature teaching in Modern L...

  7. NeMLA 2022: Video games and the literary

    This panel will explore the many existing and potential connections between video games and the literary world. Many leading games have explicitly referred to works of literature, either within their storyworlds or in their marketing (for instance, Bioshock's interactive rebuttal of Ayn Rand's ideas).More broadly, emerging video game theory has often defined itself either by analogy or by ...

  8. PDF Remediating Video Games in Contemporary Fiction: Literary Form and

    presence of video games even in literary novels that do not engage (on the level of plot and target . 3 audience) with video game culture per se. However, Hayot's essay ends up focusing on a ... The dialogue between literary and game studies is being cautiously reopened (see again Hutton & Barr, 2020) after a period of relative distanciation ...

  9. Narrative, Video Games, and Performance In Situ

    Kenneth J. Fasching-Varner & Michael P. McCreery Chapter First Online: 03 August 2021 1162 Accesses Part of the Advances in Game-Based Learning book series (AGBL) Abstract All video games, by design, are oriented in the narrative. Some games exemplify a colloquial notion of narrative (e.g., MYST), while others seem less story-like (e.g., Tetris).

  10. Literary Gaming

    Literary Gaming Home social science games & activities Literary Gaming Literary Gaming by Astrid Ensslin $35.00 Paperback Hardcover eBook 216 pp., 6 x 9 in, 21 b&w illus. Paperback 9780262548830 Published: August 15, 2023 Publisher: The MIT Press MIT Press Bookstore Penguin Random House Amazon Barnes and Noble Indiebound Indigo

  11. (PDF) This Is Next Level: Combining Video Games With Literature to

    Abstract and Figures. This chapter features instructional approaches positioning video games and literature as text sets that can promote reading and writing engagement in English language arts ...

  12. Introduction: American Game Studies

    Analog games were key to some of the most important concepts in twentieth-century critical theory, including Sigmund Freud's ( 1920) "fort-da" game, Clifford Geertz's ( 1973) "deep play," and Jacques Derrida's ( 1966) "free play."

  13. Video games are literature's new frontier

    And in the past decade, video games have become a new frontier of literary creativity. As someone who taught ancient languages and literature, I argue that it is fair to view video games as an art ...

  14. It's Time to Consider Video Games for Literary Studies

    Fludernik (2009), conveyed that narratology, or narrative theory, is a study of narrative as a genre with the objective to describe "the constants, variables and combinations typical of narrative...

  15. (PDF) Literary Gaming

    Abstract. In this book, Astrid Ensslin examines literary videogames—hybrid digital artifacts that have elements of both games and literature, combining the ludic and the literary. These works ...

  16. From literary narrative to video game narrative

    Narrative is a literary genre that is developed in video games; it is presented as an element that narrates the events that take place while playing the game. When you decide to develop a video ...

  17. Narrative in Video Games

    In the field of video game studies, narrative aspects of video games are often described in contrast to rule-based aspects. A wider scan of related fields reveals additional positions. ... Juul, J.: A clash between game and narrative. Danish literature (1999) Google Scholar Juul, J.: Games telling stories. Game Studies. 1, 1-12 (2001) Google ...

  18. Are Video Games Worth Studying? (A Literary Perspective)

    Video games are commonly viewed within late 20th century/early 21st century American culture(s) as a medium unworthy of critical study, but this view is not shared by all gamers, nor is it shared by all literary critics. Why is this the case?

  19. Gaming the Literary: On Video Games and Literature

    Because it is through video games' ability to situate meaning, to embody experiences, to solve problems, to reflect on imagined worlds and social relationships and identities and contemporary society that games reveal the important role they might play for the field of literary studies; by putting these systems of representation and meaning ...

  20. PDF Narrative in Video Games

    Today, no generally accepted definition of video game narrative exists. The academic discourse has pointed out ontological and phenomenologi-cal differences to more traditional forms of narra-tive, and therefore, the relationship to established scholarship in narratology is complex. In the field of video game studies, narrative aspects of video

  21. Does Video Gaming Have Impacts on the Brain: Evidence from a Systematic

    Literature research was conducted from randomized controlled trials in PubMed and Google Scholar published after 2000. A systematic review was written instead of a meta-analytic review because of variations among participants, video games, and outcomes. Nine scientific articles were eligible for the review.

  22. Video Games As Literature

    In her article titled "Literature as Video Games," writer Bethany Larson examines the adaptation of great works of literature into video games and offers suggestions of more works that could survive the transition and have a decent foray into the gaming lexicon.

  23. Performance indicators in speed climbing: Insights from the literature

    Based on video analysis of Olympic games, coordinated motions, correct foot movements and shorter reaction time could take a novice speed climber to an elite level. ... and the currently limited amount of relevant literature should stimulate future studies on performancedetermining variables, assessments, and training methods to maintain the ...

  24. Christmas trivia: 60 questions to quiz you on holiday knowledge

    Answers: History lesson: The Puritans made it a criminal offense to publicly celebrate Christmas in Massachusetts from 1659 to 1681. According to, after overthrowing King Charles I ...