Terminable & Interminable

Exploring World of Warcraft, a game, Jill makes an interesting comparison between the game and long-running TV shows: Both could go on forever. There are few, if any, endings built in. As Jill says, they "simply pose puzzles and defer closure for as long as they can."

I worry about this "simply." Setting up a framework in which the same, or similar, interactions can happen over and over, with enough differentiation to keep participants interested, isn't simple; and I wonder what the opposite of mere puzzle-posing might be, what Jill has in mind here. A recent complaint about Lost from New York Mag opposes quick puzzle-solving (good) to slow puzzle-posing (bad): "Puzzles are meant to be solved, not prolonged. You can only tease viewers so long before they feel like they're being mocked." Slowness, waiting -- if these things make bad TV, can they do anything good for games?

Well, maybe they don't make such bad TV. Soap operas are like this -- they go on for years and years. Epics -- Roland, the Kalevala, the Mahabharata, to name just three -- are like this too. The Thousand and One Nights. Et cetera. Jill mentions Arthurian legends. All I take from this is that certain stories are epics by virtue of their scope. Not all stories are epics, however. Not all stories have that open-endedness, that support for generating other stories within a single overarching framework.

Jill mentions an idea, from the Peter Brooks playbook, about what stories look like: the end should be fully contained in the beginning, every outcome should be prefigured in some way from the start, which should contain only these seeds of the narrative and nothing else. A story, in this case, is a machine for unfolding consequences from initial conditions. This is also a game. (Think of chess. Of Nabokov.) This is not, to my mind, an epic, though an epic might contain a story of this sort, as perhaps a kind of set-piece, so long as the manner of its unfolding does not break the larger framework of the epic (does not, in other words, break the rules of the world imagined in the epic).

Brooks thinks the end of a story should make sense of its beginning. That this feeling of understanding is what signals "the end" of the story. Aha! That's the moment, the end. Tout comprende. A perhaps wishful idea. I can see how it might be comforting. But other comforts are also available: repetition, perhaps mastery. Onyxia, as Jill points out, always comes back. She's playing Freud's game, fort/da; and so are we. You may lose, or she might, but nothing is ever really lost -- a point ironically underscored by the title, in Jill's post, of the TV series that never ends, in which the loss represented by an actual ending is precisely what is not on the menu.

Perhaps medium and genre not especially powerful categories of analysis in any case.

It may not be a good idea to ask this question, but I will anyway: What is the nature of the relationship between the world of World of Warcraft and the lives of those who play it? The game seems like a kind of supplement, as if those lives would, in important ways, not be the same without it.

WoW already has a place in an academic economy where it is just like books and films and other artifacts of popular culture insofar as it gives people who talk for a living something to talk about. There is an extraordinary video of a recent conference on WoW, in which the conference-goers (Jill's there, too) were filmed looking distinctly uncomfortable as they sat around a table full of rifles, presumably loaded, which they were about to learn to use. (A fascinating curriculum for these mild-mannered educators!) It would be interesting to read this footage through a Derridean lens; it seems like a trace of an experience that constituted a sort of supplement to the conference, and it certainly stands in some relationship (but, what?) to the supplementarity of WoW to the academic discourse around it. Or, perhaps, vice-versa. (Of course.)