Throwback: Assignment 2: MED4101 Studying the Media and Communication Research Report

Object of Study:

For my object of study, I have decided to utilise the theory of postmodernism to compare the narratives of both Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back and The Last of Us. As I look further into the narratives of both texts, analysing how postmodernity has shaped the narratives of both texts whilst looking at how postmodernism has evolved over the last fifteen years with video games.

Jameson (1992) defines postmodernism is often related to the notions of the waning or extinction of the “hundred-year old” modern movement. For example with video games, the evolution of gameplay and graphical enhancements are considered now to be seen as the final, extraordinary flowering of high-modernist impulse, which is spent and exhausted with them.

When constructing my research question, I had several ideas in mind for my object of study. However, some of my ideas that I had for postmodernism were far too broad and weren’t answerable, which meant rewriting my research questions to see if the research questions fitted into postmodernism.

Eventually, I came to a final conclusion with constructing my research question and this was “How does postmodernism inform the narrative between Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back and The Last of Us?” The research question I had constructed was specific and answerable to getting the most out of my research report because I specifically wanted to look into the postmodernity of narratives in video games.  This meant I could maximise the most out of using my chosen methodology and findings.

With using this research question I’ve constructed, I would be able to explore the narratives of both texts in more depth. Whilst also exploring how The Last of Us and Crash Bandicoot utilise elements from other mediums such as film and television to create intertextuality within both texts.

Methodology:

Whilst looking at certain methodologies for The Last of Us and Crash Bandicoot 2, I found that a rhetorical analysis for postmodernism was my preferred choice over political economy and audiences. Justifying rhetorical analysis for my research question, this would enable me to maximise my findings for the postmodernism narratives of both games.

What makes my choice of methodology fully justifiable is the fact that The Last of Us draws upon its “post-apocalyptic” atmosphere to draw up layers of narrative between the relationship of the characters (Joel and Ellie). Whilst with Crash Bandicoot 2, its linear narrative draws up on the relationships between Crash and his former nemesis Cortex. Wolf (2003) emphasises video games using abstraction to rely on conventions from mediums such as film and television. This clearly allows depiction and navigation of interactive worlds to be more intuitive and diegetic, making it more familiar for the player to interact.

With a semiological analysis, this would have limitations on how I’m able to interpret my findings. Semiological analysis focuses on the “study of signs” (Wall & Long, 2012). Since both games have complexities within the narrative, my findings wouldn’t represent the broader issues of debate I’m covering. This means questions that would have been answered wouldn’t be fully justifiable.

To explain what rhetorical analysis is as a methodology, it’s defined by these two terms, rhetoric and language. Rhetoric is how language is manipulated to a particular purpose to evoke an emotional response. Whilst language is defined by how it’s constructed out of a single instance of communication being created from words and phrases (Wall & Long, 2012).

Issue(s) of Debate:

In terms of looking at the broader issues of debate within The Last of Us and Crash Bandicoot, one theme that’s drawn upon heavily is the convergence of narratives. The closest examples to both texts that are directly related to their respective mediums is the The Walking Dead and Nintendo’s long-standing video game franchise Mario. Wall & Long (2012) define narrative as the organisation of textual elements which are organised into a pattern in terms of space, time and perspective.

Frasca (2003) argues that “ludology” goes against the common consumption that video games should be viewed as “extensions of narrative”. Defining ludology in simple terms is a video game academic that studies games. However, since video game studies are still a relatively new area of study for media scholars. Ludologists using formal approaches comes with limitations, but it’s considered to be the easiest approach to uncovering structural differences between stories and games among academic video game scholars.

The issue heavily relates to postmodernism within video games, which links into the theme of abstraction.  Defining abstraction, it means to simplify material to its essentials without trying to reproduce it. With video games, the role of abstraction has changed over the years with the medium since it plays an integral and necessary part to the player’s overall experience (Wolf, 2003).

Unlike other mediums which try to avoid abstraction, video games have kept abstraction, resulting in newer conventions and experiences. For example, the main menu interface is integral to the overall playing experience. In the early years, main menu interfaces weren’t as intuitive as they were today (Wolf, 2003).

Game designer Nolan Bushnell had failed commercially with the first arcade game Computer Space (1971). This was down to players finding the controls very difficult to understand. Whilst PONG (1972) found success due to its simple control setup and basic graphics, in which the video game first found its critical commercial success (Wolf, 2003).

With using a rhetorical analysis for both texts, this enables me to critically analyse and challenge the postmodernism themes within the texts itself. However, one of the limitations with using a rhetorical analysis is its very subjective, which makes it open to other forms of textual interpretation. This makes justifying both narratives difficult since video games are a new medium for scholars to study from a postmodernist point-of-view. Since it’s an original piece, there can be unreliability over sources. For example, Wall & Long’s (2012) study over the government’s honesty over the Iraq war, which then contributed to the inquiries made about the British government’s use of intelligence.

Findings:

From my individual experiences of playing Crash Bandicoot 2 and The Last of Us, I found that they were striking differences between both texts in terms of narrative.  Both games were created and developed by the American developer Naughty Dog, which is part of Sony Computer Entertainment’s list of “first-party development studios”.

However, looking at the narratives of both Crash Bandicoot 2 and The Last of Us in depth, that’s where the similarities end. Take Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back as our first example and considering its 15 years older than The Last of Us, the video game industry was in that period starting to grow in popularity.

Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is the second instalment in the Crash Bandicoot franchise, the sequel to the original “Crash Bandicoot”. Cortex Strikes Back’s narrative takes place where Crash pairs with his former nemesis Dr. Neo Cortex to “save the earth from destruction” (Reece, 1997).

By looking at the narrative itself, the emphasis on postmodernism is placed on not simulating “hyperrealism”, but portraying a narrative that targets on the disruption of time and space, essentially creating an allusion. In the 90s, video games emphasised the focus on a “pick up and play” narrative, which Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back was no exception to this.

This also links into narrative theory in which it’s defined by the ways a narrative text communicates within the events, settings, characters and perspectives. The term “story” for example doesn’t have a specific meaning.  In Crash Bandicoot 2, there’s only one form of narrative in the game, which is good versus evil (Carr, 2006). This is where Crash Bandicoot teams up with his former nemesis Cortex from the first Crash Bandicoot to “save the earth from destruction” (Reece, 1997).

How the dialogue is directed is by using narrative discourse, which according to Chatman (1978) is a communicative mission. The transmission goes from what’s known as a sending position (the implied author) to the receiving position (the implied reader).This is very similar to the interaction between the player and gamer interacting with the text on the television screen (Carr, 2006).

With Crash Bandicoot 2, the player receives the messages in the form of dialogue (Cortex). It’s up to the implied reader to interact with what’s being sent by the narrator. The author is the one who shapes the overall intent of communication by using narrators (Cortex)  to interact with the player who’s controlling Crash when directed to the next bit of dialogue in the game (Carr, 2006).

Whilst on the other hand, The Last of Us is a completely different game to Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back. This is due to the fact that the video game industry has rapidly changed over the last 15 years, focusing more on “cinematic” playing experiences. The Last of Us focuses on interactive storytelling in the form of its two main characters Joel and Ellie. However, this form of storytelling has attracted mountains of erudite commentary and floods of creative energy, but little in significant results (Crawford, 2003).

In comparison to Crash Bandicoot 2’s simplistic narrative, The Last of Us narrative is more complex. Set in a post-apocalyptic United States where a terrible pandemic has struck, resulting in chaos and death. The government falls, but rebuilds itself through harsh martial law. The main protagonists in The Last of Us are Joel and Tess who work together as smugglers in this post-pandemic economy. However, they agree to settle on an old debt and that’s to smuggle a 14 year old girl (Ellie) to a fireflies base (Robbins, 2013).

Whereas Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back has a good versus evil narrative, The Last of Us focuses on a more human, postmodernist narrative that simulates a human-like atmosphere compared to the one-dimensional, cartoon narrative of Crash Bandicoot.

Whereas Crash Bandicoot 2 focuses on one element of narrative (good versus evil), The Last of Us has several elements of narrative that make up the story of the game. For example, at the start of the game, there’s a “cutscene” that sees Joel and Tess smuggle Ellie. There’s a strong emphasis is placed on allusions to create a human-like atmosphere. “You’re recrutin’ kind of young, aren’t ya? (Joel)”, “But I can’t come with you (Ellie)” (YouTube, 2013).

Filiciak (2003) states that if you’re playing a game, then “everybody’s a player” and that we’re doing everything to match our “self” to the conditions, thus to make ourselves play better. With The Last of Us, what gives the player the greatest pleasure is the complete control to evade the commands and bans seen in real life. For example, when Joel and Tess smuggle Ellie, it’s up to the player to have complete control of the characters because the player is one that’s making the decisions which are happening on-screen.

Looking at narrative theory, The Last of Us has a far more complex narrative than Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back. Essentially, The Last of Us is trying to simulate a virtual recreation of a “post-apocalyptic United States” (Robbins, 2013). Looking from a postmodernist point-of-view, Baudrillard (2002) argues that simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or substance, but a generation of models without any real origin or reality (a hyperreal). With The Last of Us and most video games, it’s trying to create a simulation of a territory that no longer precedes the map or survives it since its set in a virtual world that’s simulated to be hyperrealistic.

Similarily to Crash Bandicoot 2, The Last of Us also uses narrative discourse (sending to receiving method). With Crash Bandicoot, the player is instantly given dialogue by a narrator and has to interact with the narrative which is full of clichés and ellipses from both protagonists. The postmodernity narrative of The Last of Us creates a new approach to this, which fuses elements from horror movies and creates a “hybrid” of both mediums (Carr, 2006). This creates intertextuality between both The Last of Us and the horror film genre.

The postmodernity of video games such as The Last of Us fusing film-like elements into the game, creating intertextuality between both mediums. Since The Last of Us is a cinematic survival horror, adventure game, its basic problem is the fact that adventure games are nothing more than puzzle systems.  For example, Joel and Ellie wander into a room and the player spends most of the time shutting between rooms, finding objects that can be applied to solve other puzzles later on in the game (Crawford, 2003).

Whilst The Last of Us is very much an interactive storyline, past attempts to infuse narratives into past games have often failed because the games themselves had nothing narrative in their architecture. However, with the inclusion of cutscenes in most modern video games, this creates an impression of a more seamless integration, but the narrative structure of the game remains unchanged. However, the narrative of The Last of Us is that the player interacts through the non-narrative parts, which then you see some non-interactive story.  This alternates continuously, thus creating a bricolage between the two elements, essentially creating what’s known as an “interactive story” (Crawford, 2003).

Conclusion:

Whilst investigating my findings on The Last of Us and Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back using a rhetorical analysis methodology, this has helped me to find several theoretical frameworks with my research question on postmodernism.

For example, I explored in depth how narrative discourse is used in both texts. This helped me to investigate how the player interacts with the text on the television by using the sending to receiving model (Chatman, 1978). With both The Last of Us and Crash Bandicoot 2, they use the sending to receiving model by using narrators to guide the player through each level in the game, essentially giving the player more options to interact in the virtual world (Carr, 2006). Whereas Crash Bandicoot 2 focuses on a good versus evil narrative, the postmodernity of The Last of Us has a more complex narrative due to the evolution of video game narratives fifteen years ago.

With using a rhetorical analysis, this has helped me to understand how simulation is used within The Last of Us to create a virtual “post-apocalyptic United States” (Robbins, 2013).  Using Baudrillard (2002), he argued that simulation was no longer a territory, but a generation of models of a real without origin or reality (a hyperreal), which is prevalent in video games.

From the results I have collected in this report, this has helped me to explore the postmodernity of both narratives within Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back and The Last of Us. Since video game narratives are continually evolving, a rhetorical analysis methodology limited me by how I could interpret my findings. Since I was comparing a past and contemporary text, this limited me in how I was able to interpret my findings. This meant that my report will be open to other forms of interpretation.

Bibliography

References used

Academic texts/books used

  1. Baudrillard, J. (2002), in Baudrillard, J., Mourrain, J., and Poster, M. Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings. United States: Stanford University Press. ‘Chapter 7: Simulacra and Simulations’, pp 166-185.
  2. Carr, D. (2006), in Carr, D., Buckingham, D., Burn, A., and Schott, G. Computer Games: Text, Narrative and Play. United Kingdom: Polity Press. ‘Chapter 3: Games and Narrative’, pp 30-45.
  3. Chatman, S. (1978) Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. United States: Cornell University Press.
  4. Crawford, C. (2003), in Wolf, M. and Perron, B., Wolf, M. J. P. and Perron, B. (eds) The Video Game Theory Reader. United States: Routledge Member of the Taylor and Francis Group. ‘Chapter 12: Interactive Storytelling’, pp 259 – 275.
  5. Frasca, G. (2003), in Wolf, M. and Perron, B., Wolf, M. J. P. and Perron, B. (eds) The Video Game Theory Reader. United States: Routledge Member of the Taylor and Francis Group. ‘Chapter 10: Simulation versus Narrrative: Introduction to Ludology’, pp 221-237.
  6. Jameson, F. (1992), in Jameson, F. Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. United Kingdom: Verso Books. Chapter 1: ‘The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism’, p 1.
  7. Wall, T. (2012), in Long, P. and Wall, T. Media Studies: Texts, Production, and Context. 2nd edn. United Kingdom: Pearson Longman. Part One: Media Texts and Meaning: ‘Chapter 1: How do media make meaning?’, pp 34, 38.
  8. Wolf, M. J. P. (2003), in Wolf, M. and Perron, B., Wolf, M. J. P. and Perron, B. (eds) The Video Game Theory Reader. United States: Routledge Member of the Taylor and Francis Group. Chapter 2: ‘Abstraction in the Video Game’, pp 47-65.

Electronic files (journal articles, e-books)

  1. Robbins, M.B., (2013). Knack for Narrative: The Last of Us, Media Source, New York. Available from <http://ezproxy.bcu.ac.uk:2073/docview/1438968668?pq-origsite=summon>, (Accessed 3rd December 2014).
  2. Reece, D. (1997). Crash Bandicoot 2, Cortex Strikes Back. Billboard, Available from <http://search.proquest.com/docview/227074077?accountid=10749>, Issue 109(49), pp. 86. (Accessed 3rd December 2014).

Moving Image Texts

  1. YouTube (2011). ‘Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back – Cutscenes Part 1/2 + Introduction [HD]’. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2znl80-Glw>, (Accessed: 7 December 2014).
  2. YouTube (2013). ‘The Last of Us – Joel Meets Ellie’. The Last of Us – Joel Meets Ellie. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCXPE-mdQGg>, (Accessed: 3 December 2014).

Video Games/DVDs used

  1. Bushnell, N. and Dabney, T. (1971) ‘Computer Space’. Nutting Associates. Available at: <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0260820/>, (Accessed: 9 December 2014).
  2. Bushnell, N. (1972) ‘Pong’. Atari Inc. Available at: <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0360891/>, (Accessed: 9 December 2014).
  3. Druckmann, N. (2013). ‘The Last of Us’. Sony Computer Entertainment. Available at: <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2140553/>, (Accessed: 7 December 2014).
  4. Gavin, A. S. (1997). ‘Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back’. Sony Computer Entertainment. Available at: <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0181421/>, (Accessed: 7 December 2014).

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