On 'Authorial Intent,' Game Designers, and Gamers

It's been a while since the Space Giraffe kerfluffle where Yak Minter threw a hissy fit in his blog regarding poor scores given to the XBLA psychedelic shooter (and the point where it was compared to Joyce's Ulysses, but I came across an interesting piece recently that talked about Space Giraffe in reference to (wait for it) a piece of literary theory known as 'authorial intent.' The post-structuralist conception is (at least in part) that the critic's will and opinion always supercedes that of the author. What does this have to do with Space Giraffe? Well, it's one way to look at why there was such heated discussion over Space Giraffe:

The collision between the Llamasoft's eccentric design aesthetic and the expectations of entire modern internet did not fall in Minter's favor .... At least a couple of online discussions link to a post on Minter's personal blog where he expresses muted optimism at the game's tepid sales after its launch last summer, and another on the game's official development blog where he angrily rebuffs players (and reviewers) who find the game too difficult or unfriendly to "man up and grow a pair", ranting that the expectation of the modern gamer to encounter some easy tutorial levels followed by a steady-but-gentle difficulty curve is more pandering to the masses than a time-tested refinement in game design philosophy.

This alone paints an interesting portrait of a truly old-school game designer discovering the sort of controversy that would arise only as a result of the almost anachronistic insertion into the XBox Live Arcade catalog that Space Giraffe represents - a brand-new, high-definition, surround-sound game that still somehow feels like it's from 1985. What brings it all around to my thoughts on authorial intent are articles like this one, where Minter insists that Space Giraffe is not a followup to Tempest. Except... it totally is. I put forth that not a single person who has played the original Tempest, and who has had no contact with Minter's own thoughts on Space Giraffe's design, will fail to immediately think "Aha! Tempest!" upon seeing the newer game. Furthermore, even if they like the game enough to stick with it and discover all the ways that it's different - and there are indeed many - they will still consider it a Tempest offshoot.

It's not a particularly long piece, and many may cringe at the collision of literary theory and, uh, gaming, but it's not that often we see such a visceral response from an auteur to critics that stretches out over a period of time.

On Authorial Intent and Space Giraffes [The Gameshelf]