Julia Flanders sends word that the first issue of the Digital Humanities Quarterly is now available online. The journal has some very interesting essays, ranging from reviews of Willard McCarty's Humanities Computing to a discussion of "Encoding for Endangered Tibetan Texts".
Jeff Howard contributes an essay of "Interpretative Quests in Theory and Pedagogy", discussing a course on quests that included an exercise in constructing a quest game. He concludes that
The study of quests offers a possible bridge between games and narratives that can help us to progress beyond the divisive ludology versus narratology debate without losing sight of the venerable, implied questions about interpretative freedom, imagination, and the human search for meaning that made this debate so fierce in the first place.
This line of argument assumes that the quest theme really matters to role-playing and MMORPG games, but the more experience I have with City of Heroes the less convinced I am that anyone is playing much attention to the quests.
- If the quests mattered, the developers would doubtless take care in writing and plotting them. They don't, either in City of Heroes or elsewhere. Occasionally you'll encounter clean, functional prose and even a stab at characterization, but trite formulas are far more common. Contrast the visual detail, which is filled with richly textured allusions to places real and imagined.
- If the quests mattered, serious players would pursue them. In City of Heroes, if you want to find a grizzled veteran player, you're at least as likely to meet them at a callow level 3 hero in Atlas Park as in the outer, high-level reaches of the game world.
- Players love to experiment with new power sets and novel strategies. For example, I'm finding it strangely fascinating to work as a healer with incompetent pickup teams, helping immature and bumbling heroes.
- Quests in games tend not to align with their literary counterparts, despite our ritual citation of Odyssey and Joseph Campbell. We have plenty of American War Games, but in none of them do we see much evidence of the central conflict of the American War Movie, which is almost always between hero and commander. From The Naked and the Dead to Run Silent, Run Deep, or From Here To Eternity to Patton, from Catch 22 to M*A*S*H, we're always fighting the Old Man or the rear echelon or HQ. In games, our Odysseys have no Penelope, our Arthur's have no Jennifer, and our Tamino has no particular use for a Papageno or a Sarastro. Games seldom follow their obvious and natural models. Why not? Surely not because game designers are all immature or unschooled or inept.