During a nerdy-geeky conversation this afternoon I reminisced with a colleague about stuff. Our chat segued from SF novels to Warhammer 40K to Counter-Strike. Unfortunately for those listening, we got excited and spent the remainder of our lunch break name-dropping the classics—you could argue that if there is a Western literary canon then wouldn’t it be fair to suggest that a Western computer game canon also exists?
Have you ever listened to a group of gamers talk passionately about games that you MUST play? Ever felt excluded because you’ve never experienced the superb writing in Baldur’s Gate or witnessed the “old school” multiplayer modes in Goldeneye on the N64?
A lot of guys I know will defer to the geekiest gamer for the ultimate yay or nay and won’t contest their opinion because if you like Westwood more than Blizzard then you’re wrong because we all know that Blizzard is a more successful studio because …
It’s interesting to note that most of these classics are relatively old compared to the new releases (duh), just like many of the books that you’ll find in the Western literary canon. Today, many VCE English texts that are recommended by the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) include a variety of modern texts as well as works that are written by enduring authors such as Dickens and Austen. These texts are chosen for their “literary merit”, among other criteria areas.
So what does “literary merit” mean to you? To me “literary merit” is a wanky term that “elite literature experts” use to exclude a shite load of people from engaging in the process of choosing and justifying the texts that Victorian high school students read, analyse and discuss.
I’m concerned about the narrow scope of the Western literary canon because there are many, many excellent books that fall outside of it. And the same applies to computer games. There are a lot of brilliant indie games that are overshadowed by same-old mainstream titles.
The ideas that comprise a canon seem intangible to me for two reasons. Firstly, it influences academics (specifically the “elite literature experts”), publishers and retailers and it only seems to be tangible when the maelstrom of opinions affects how books and games are ranked, perceived and sold; secondly, for a canon to exist it needs to be recognised. What if a future generation considered the Western literary canon to be redundant? The idea is only as strong as the people who reinforce it.
We should be deciding for ourselves what makes a book or a game great rather than letting others think for us. Who knows, they might have ulterior motives … Who are they anyway?
The Western literary canon is devoid of postcolonial literature, specifically Patricia Grace and Kim Scott’s novels. And we’re about to find out why. These stories: challenge the insidious use of Western literacy to control populations and to discredit Indigenous oral traditions; communicate an authentic representation of Indigenous people and their practices; and experiment with the tropes of the novel in a manner that can be controversial or misunderstood by “outsiders”.
Therefore we’re all racists and so long as we keep reading the same eurocentric stuff—and keep playing the craptastic yet popular games—social change will become social same.
Wow, that was more didactic than I intended. So much for talking about how much I miss base building …