By: Ren Westerman
On the topic of depicting video games as literature, I've decided to compare the process of analyzing a video game in a similar manner as someone might analyze a book. One approach to analyzing literature is picking it apart to find themes, motifs, and underlying meanings. This post is going to contain a number of spoilers, so read with caution.
Imagine if you went to a shady looking building to meet with a neurologist (of sorts) after you've suffered a concussion. This so-called neurologist takes digital images, or scans rather, of your brain. At least that is what the player is initially led to believe. It's a bit difficult to explain without fully examining the entire plotline of the game, but long story short, a digital copy is made of the player's mind. This digital copy is used as a template for future scans of the human conscience to be created. These scans can be integrated with different pieces of technology and essentially the conscience is transferred to the machine.
This transferring of consciences from one machine to another becomes an important obstacle which the player must overcome at a couple points through the story. The player's conscience has been attached to a type of diving suit with a mechanical internal skeleton. In order to progress into a deeper abyss and progress the plot, the player must transfer themselves into a suit with a higher resistance to pressure. The main character thinks that this transfer is a process of "cut and paste." What they aren't aware of is that it is more of a process of "copy and paste." When this transfer occurs, the conscience exists in both the old suit as well as the new one. The player is given the option to disable (kill) the conscience in the old suit. This is a minor choice left to the player to decide, but the main character blatantly has oppositions to this.
That should be enough backstory. A similar event occurs at the end of the game, but I'll leave that for you to play the game and explore for yourself. As far as our discussion here is concerned, I'm more interested in analyzing perhaps the biggest theme throughout the game, humanity. It's an ongoing discussion even in today's society as to what exactly constitutes humanity. You might get one field that defines humanity as a matter of genetics. Another field might lean more towards cognitive ability. It might be a matter of language, behavior, thoughts, dreams, ambitions, technology, stubbornness, etcetera.
We've seen software such as Siri and Alexa that use voice recognition in order to carry out predetermined functions such as searching for something online, shopping for us, or even starting our vehicles. Granted these functions don't equate to self-awareness or even a conscience for that matter, but pair these with similar pieces of software such as Cleverbot or Eviebot that use questions and responses provided by users to develop an ever-expanding bank to draw their own Q&A from. You'd essentially have something that both responds to the information around it while also building a reservoir of information to better adapt its responses. To a small extent I suppose you could call it a process of learning and adapting. This isn't strictly a human trait, but it would suggest a potential sentient trait. Even if a piece of software is able to behave in this manner, does that necessarily mean that it is on its way to becoming what we consider to be human? If AI advances enough to perfectly replicate the human psyche, does the fact that it is still AI prevent it from being considered human?
"SOMA" sparks this type of narrative in questioning just how far the player is willing to open their mind to an alternative definition of humanity. You can get similar narratives from both novels and films. I propose that just as the player must open their minds to a broader definition of humanity, we should take a shot at opening our own minds to seeing video games as a form of literature. After all it's the human thing to do.
"Alexa Voice Service," https://developer.amazon.com/alexa-voice-service
"Amnesia: The Dark Descent," http://amnesiagame.com/#main
"Frictional Games," http://www.frictionalgames.com/site/
"Hey Siri," http://www.apple.com/ios/siri/
This blog revolves around commentary, critique, and review. As such I am operating under the pretense that should I use an image that I do not own, I am protected under the principle of fair use in regards to this blog's focus on the above purposes.