Let’s Play

Hi. I’m Andrew Ferguson. Three years ago, while fighting my way through English Lit exam lists full of doorstop novels and deep-end theory, I decompressed with a hobby that seemed as far from literary scholarship as could be: watching other people play videogames online, in archived or livestreamed forms called Let’s Plays, or LPs. And, somewhere along the eighth time I saw Final Fantasy VI utterly broken by players with skill levels I found previously unimaginable, I realized my two preoccupations weren’t all that dissimilar, with each having much to learn from the others—and, what’s more, that it was the literary that had much more to learn from the videogames than the other way around.

All that has now fed into my dissertation, “Let’s Play: Narrative Strategies and the Playerly Text,” attempts to read a variety of 20th/21st century novels through modes of videogame play. The authors covered range from Kathy Acker to Flann O’Brien to Colson Whitehead; the games from Portal to Pac-Man to The Binding of Isaac. There’s a few chunks out in the wild: on Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire and Super Mario Bros.; and on James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and Metroid; the rest (knock wood) will be finished by the end of the year.

Upshot being, I spend a lot of time watching and thinking about different ways to play things; hence, I am inordinately excited to be part of this particular year’s Praxis cohort as we think through all the different ways we can build on last year’s superb Ivanhoe WordPress plug-in. But it’s not so much the case of leaving my own impression on a game with a distinguished lineage; rather it’s the chance to take part in something that mirrors the best of what I’ve seen in the LP community: a collective practice of building, critiquing, rebuilding, and gradually broadening the range of responses within texts and projects, as well as the practice itself and the composition of the community. It’s a mode of criticism that, even prior to joining this particular cohort, I have come to think of as “cohortative”—at once insistent, desirous, encouraging, and passionate.

Very much looking forward to getting to know everyone here, especially my colleagues—and discovering along with them new modes of play.

 

Andrew Ferguson is a 2014–15 Praxis Fellow and a Ph.D candidate in English at the University of Virginia, working in the texts and media of the last hundred years. His dissertation, “The Game and the Glitch: Narrative Strategies and the Playerly Text,” uses modes of videogame play to explore alternate methods of textual engagement in…

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