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[Comments] (2) Intertextuality in Games: I love it when a game references another game. What was the first time I saw this? Maybe in an Infocom game; those all had references to Zork, but I didn't actually play Zork until pretty late, so it was lost on me.

I dunno where to draw the line because a lot of games are flat-out clones of other games. If your game doesn't bring something new to the world of games it's less "intertextuality" and more "plagiarism." Also I'm not as interested in the way later games in a series reference earlier games in terms of plot or graphics or music, or when one game includes a related game as a minigame or Easter egg. In a very 80s move I borrowed the Wii Zelda game from Steve Minutillo (thanks, Steve!) and I'm about halfway through. Its mechanics are very different from any other Zelda game I've played (ie. the first three) but there are lots of references to the old games; for instance the old musical themes are now used as accentuating stings. Unfortunately they haven't reused the awesome death theme from the original Zelda (stay tuned for my mashup of the Zelda death theme, "Stairway to Heaven", and the one song from Earthbound [Update 2008-06-01: the Winters song]). And also all of this is just callbacks to earlier Zelda canon.

Of course, if one game references a totally different game, that's more interesting. I think almost all the Infocom games, even the mysteries, have some reference to Zork. I liked how Jeff Lait tied You Only Live Once into POWDER in a really obscure way. But this is still the same as when a book/painting/song references another book/painting/song. Games are capable of a totally different kind of reference, because they can steal gameplay elements from other games.

In Game Roundups past I've mentioned a couple games with full-on ludic intertextuality: Tong and The Bub's Brothers. Tong is a straight-up hybrid of Tetris and Pong. TBB is a Bubble Bobble clone but it's got powerups that, eg. turn Bubble Bobble into Breakout. Game ideas like Tetris and Breakout are so well-cloned that it's not difficult to imagine sticking them into some other game.

There's also parody. Kingdom of Loathing incorporates a huge number of other games, not just in the playable sub-games like the text adventure but by adapting other games' mechanics to the KoL schema. My own Guess the Verb! did something similar with text adventures, focusing on treasure collection and magic words for the cave crawl, on NPC interaction for the college game, etc. Super Smash Bros. is a parody game, which is why I'm interested in it even though I hate that kind of game. Ditto with Parodius, as the name implies. Also the GameCenter CX game for the DS (which will probably never be released in English), which parodies the whole culture of late-1980s console gaming.

Super Smash Bros. and Parodius get away with intertextuality by being made by the same company that owns the source material. The other games I mentioned get away with it by referencing generic games like Pong and Breakout or open source games like Nethack. Or, most often, they just file the serial numbers off the source material. But a new kind of game is starting to show up. This kind of game achieves intertextuality the same way contemporary art does: copyright infringement.

Games like Mega Mario have done this for years, but without really thinking it through. The earliest example I can think of was a couple games I found in 2006 where you play various non-Mega-Man platformers as Mega Man. Now, let me point you to I Wanna Be the Guy: The Movie: The Game. Due to its extreme difficulty I recommend experiencing IWBTG:TM:TG solely through the medium of speed-run videos, making it IWBTG:TM:TG:TM. Apart from having a satisfying number of original dirty tricks up its sleeve, this game is notable for ripping off graphics, sound, and gameplay elements from most of the well-known 8-bit games and several 16-bit ones. And it often combines them in ways that create new gameplay elements. I look forward to seeing more of this sort of game, hopefully ones that I can actually play.

Update: If you like this entry, you might like my just-published science fiction story "Mallory".

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Comments:

Posted by Jeremy Penner at Sun Mar 30 2008 00:26

Have you seen ROM CHECK FAIL? (http://www.farbs.org/games.html)
Also, Barkley, Shut Up And Jam: Gaiden steals fairly heavily from the Japanese RPGs that it satirizes. (http://www.talesofgames.com/)

Posted by Leonard at Sun Mar 30 2008 09:19

Thanks, Jeremy! Both of those games made me want to write this entry but I didn't think of them while writing it. I'm amazed I thought of the Mega Man games.


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