Narrative and Play in American Studies: Ludic Textuality in the Video Game Alan Wake and the TV Series Westworld

The study of US popular culture has long focused—mostly implicitly—on a particular symbolic form: narrative. Popular crime-fiction or science-fiction novels, movie blockbusters, big-budget television shows, comic books or graphic novels,and many other types of texts and media that make up popular culture, while diverse in their specific aesthetic and medial properties, share a fundamental focus on telling a story. In contrast, other symbolic forms, understood as ways of meaning-making and making sense of experience, have often been sidelined in popular-culture studies, and in American Studies as well. I contend, however, that the study of US-American popular culture should more strongly recognize and be opened up to another symbolic form in particular: play. Methodologically, this focus on symbolic forms shifts attention away from the medium of (diverse) texts. Consequently, a video game may be understood, in terms of its symbolic forms, as predominantly play yet including many narrative elements as well. Likewise, there are texts and media traditionally understood as (only) narrative that also exhibit ludic aspects. Such a fusion of narrative and play, in fact, is most visible in contemporary US popular culture (roughly from the late 1990s onward), as I will show.

Schubert, Stefan. “Narrative and Play in American Studies: Ludic Textuality in the Video Game Alan Wake and the TV Series Westworld.” Playing the Field: Video Games and American Studies. Ed. Sascha Pöhlmann. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2019. 113-30. Print.

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