Every once in a while I come across a thoughtful, well-written blog that I keep up with. Recently, I came across Doc Love’s rather unassuming blog. Like Michael’s thoughts over at the Brainy Gamer, Doc Love reflects upon the past, present and future of video games as a gamer and a cultural scholar. The latest post focuses on understanding the experience of playing Half-Life 2 – through the lens of dystopian literature and film, and through an examination of the player’s part in assuming the role of the protagonist Gordon Freeman. The links Doc Love draws between Blade Runner, Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and the game are all apt of course, but I am more struck by the way the article is framed through Barthes’s essay Death of the Author.
Pictured above: The alien tripod creature in The War of the Worlds, as illustrated by Alvim Correa. The resemblance to the synth “Striders” in Half-Life 2 is anything but accidental. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Like the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin who has much to say on the subject of creativity and its roots in traditions of speech, Barthes seems similarly claim that we must see any creative work as inherently a part of the historical and cultural tools that its creator drew upon, and what we as us readers draw upon when we interpret their creations. Even the wonderful title of the post, “Everything Old is New Again“, reminds me of a quote from an ethnomethodologist named Garfinkel who said that our social circumstances tend to happen again and again “for another first time” – that there is a novelty to even the most ritualized ‘Hello!’ greeting. As a creative work, Half-Life 2 is of course a recombination of its many cultural and literary influences – yet it presents us with a dystopian future “for another first time”. On a side note, I would add H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds as an important literary and aesthetic influence… the apocalyptic London immediately came to mind when I first saw ‘City 17