Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Reading :: Quests

Quests: Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narratives
By Jeff Howard

Jeff Howard, an alum of the Computer Writing and Research Lab, recently published this interesting and unusual book that brings together game and narrative, gaming and literature, design and criticism. It aims to reach several different audiences, including digital media theorists and game designers, but in many places it works the hardest at reaching instructors who want to incorporate videogame design into their literature classes.

If you're thinking this is a fairly narrow audience, you're right. And at some points, the book has a hard time maintaining its balance, switching from inside baseball on lit crit to code snippets to discussions of the Aurora Toolset. It can be dizzying.

But the book does achieve its purpose: it draws direct analogies between literary quests and game quests, demonstrating how quests must be implemented differently in the different fiction environments, and discussing how to make that transformation in ways that lead to better games and better interpretations of the literary texts. And although the switches between environments can be dizzying, Howard manages to make things look easy. His low-key writing style and chapter organization help us to know when we're on familiar territory and his analogies help us across unfamiliar territory.

Even though the book is pitched at these specific audiences, you might pick it up if you have a background in one area (computer-assisted instruction, literature, game theory) and want to see how the other areas can help you out. It's an unusual book, but an illuminating one within these areas.

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