Tragedy

Group project summary, by leader Loki Aguilera-Keifert

So I went through the two readings from Janet Murray, and while they don’t necessarily cover Tragedy across the board, I thought there were a decent amount of really key thoughts that she expressed.

For instance, when she talked about the game Myst, I enjoyed reading her analysis that the “most dramatically satisfying endings are the near-identical losing branches” in which you choose to free either Achenar or Sirrus instead of their father. Regardless of who you choose between the two, you end up imprisoned in the “very same dungeon from which he has escaped…throughout the game you have peered into each brother’s dungeon through a static-ridden, credit-card-size window embedded with the parchment page of an enchanted book” as both a last laugh sorta move and a sudden 180 flip in spatial positioning. Your mobility significantly reduced, your realization that you are the superimposed static image in the window–it’s pretty damn tragic hahaha.

I also thought the following question would be good to raise, also from Murray’s work:

“How can we impose endings that yield complex story satisfactions on a form that is based on win/lose simplicity?” (142) For a tragic narrative, the simplicity would be reduced even further to a lose/lose situation–or would it? Is your loss as a player entirely attached to your main protagonist’s loss? I have a feeling that complex storytelling might outline more facets to your character that might convince some players of your players “greatness,” and therefore them being undeserving of loss, and so they ultimately feel bad anyway for their protagonist’s death. But others might feel differently, and I think Murray dives into this in her next chapter:

“Only after viewing all the stories, after repeating the mourning process [after Rob has taken his own life] from each several viewpoints, would we feel a larger catharsis: not an acceptance of Rob’s death, not an understanding of a single consistent composite explanation, but a pervasive sense of an interrelated community with multiple truths.” (178)

Whose truth do we buy in an overarching narrative containing multiple viewpoints and stories?

I still am struggling with this question, because it has been a recurring one throughout various points of life in general. Do we have to “buy” a truth, and where do we prescribe value? I don’t enjoy thinking of truth as having value in some utilitarian sense, but nonetheless that is what I have to ground myself in when following narratives both in real life and in-game. It doesn’t mean that I readily dismiss people’s truths, however, and I think by refraining from asserting conclusions of how a narrative unfolds, based on limited recognition of varied truths, is the (haha) true pitfall. Optimally, then, I think the artist(s) behind a games’ development–whether it be tragic or not– should avoid designing a game revolving around extracting a catharsis from the player. Said purging of fears or anxieties can never be considered a complete operation. Lingering phrases, actions, or environmental influences interspersed throughout the game by NPCs, your PC, or charged by interactive features of the surrounding backdrop, might prompt the player to reconsider whether or not they accept the conclusion of the storyline. Tag on multiple, maybe conflicting, narratives usually introduced by other NPCs you and your PC might have come to trust over time, or at the very least listening to them results in an amalgamated kernel of their stories which takes root in your head, and that’s it. As with many stories expressed through different mediums, it usually does not matter how much time has elapsed before you have realized a “new” meaning about the tale–what matters is that the idea arrived and was understood to begin with. In turn, do we know as players that even when we have been presented all truths in a game that the catharsis we experience is complete? Should we accept that our anxieties should be purged? 

Of course, we should let games end. I’m not trying to preach some “oh-we’re-always-in-the-game” type of deal. As I have learned across the humanities and social sciences, structuralism as a practice eats itself apart. To dig, dig, dig is inevitably pointless, but in the case of tragic storylines, they are too manicured to be left to strum our heartstrings both roughly and intricately. I just can’t help but always be skeptical of tragic storylines, but maybe that’s because I tend to question my own reactions and feelings far too often–not always by choice. To cut it short, I think I would rather accept a lingering fear or anxiety after the conclusion of a game with a tragic storyline, as long as it is not pervasive. It keeps me thinking.                

I also included in our slack channel:

Do you accept Murray’s (Aristotle’s) definition of a tragedy, and its applicability to the sources (Myst, Rob’s Suicide) she highlights? Why or why not?

I think fleshing out the post-game element is a cool way to approach dealing with an inevitable tragedy. While the conclusion is irreversible, you can still pick up the pieces and go through a recovery phase. You might not feel the same about your partner being with you after the conclusion of the game, where you’ve spent all your energy just to “beat” it, but it also feels better than nothing. Like how you get to play as your son in Red Dead Redemption as well. I think given the futility of an event, maybe we play games because we keep hoping to enact some change that maybe was outside of the developer’s frame. Something gamebreaking or just different that expected. But sometimes we also just want to play the game and if everything sucks, then it just feels flat the whole time. 

I also thought Murray’s discussion of the “navigating reader” to be intriguing:

“Perhaps the navigating reader would feel impelled to return to a good memory or to trace it more deeply but would find those associations closed off, blocked by unpleasant thoughts, or too difficult to hold on to. Perhaps the accounts of good memories would fade quickly from the screen, or perhaps other, destructive, thoughts would intrude involuntarily, as represented by images or scenes that would arise by themselves without any action from the reader.” (176)

The common phrase is that we don’t always remember what happened, but we always remember the feelings associated with the event and with the people involved. Whether or not our incomplete memories are characteristic flaws is to be decided on an individual basis. Yet, we as humans can understand the experience of reliving memories through faint images and provocative feelings, and I think that helps in understanding how we might also commonly process tragedy and trauma. While the tragic character of a storyline might inevitably suffer alone in their sacrifice for something greater, they are not alone at the core of their feelings. One’s experience and feeling can be stretched apart from one another, yet remain attached, just enough to overlap over other people’s interactions with life.

It is interesting that Murray choose Rob as her focus, a person who commits suicide. During those moments of the deepest form of despair, a person feels so irreparably alone in such a state that of course no one else could understand. That is the tragedy–the loneliness. Rob wasn’t alone, and though the difficulties of challenging those intruding or unpleasant thoughts feels insurmountable, there are others who have scaled those walls and are there to point out how to scale those walls. Even in how Murray describes “scenes that would arise by themselves without any action from the reader” means that some autonomy is withheld from the reader, and also Rob, in how they experience reliving the memories. But she does not address how the character takes in action in feeling the experience, which the artist can never dictate. And that’s where the real power lies. In our ability to process and share similarities in processes with others, or guide others on refining their processes to feel. The classic “Emotional Content” Bruce Lee quote always pops in my head when I think about this kinda stuff. Though, he says to not think but feel, but feeling and then reflecting is a mixed approach that I feel comfortable with.

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