DIGC310: Clear Definition and Separation Between Media is Impossible so Frasca Should Stop Trying

In Simulation 101 Gonzalo Frasca argues that there’s a significant difference between simulation and representation. He says traditional theoretical modes and frameworks fall short in discussions of the manner in which videogames function. He particularly singles out theories of narrative and representation as insufficient to deal with the complexities of videogames, and instead argues that ‘simulation’ is a more fitting “rhetorical tool” (2). He says that theorists try to extend narrative theory and apply it to videogames by adding the concept of interactivity, but he believes this is trying to squeeze something too complex into a model that is no longer adequate.

It’s interesting that Frasca focuses in his article on the role that behaviour plays in setting videogames apart from more traditional media, pushing it from mere representation into the realm of simulation. He says that Sim City, for example, bares not only the characteristics of a city, but also behaves like a city because of the game’s specific ruleset: “as systems get more complex, simulations become a more attractive tool because they can model the rules that govern the system” (3).

In a previous post I said I wanted to discuss this article from my perspective as a Literature student, and although I can appreciate that Frasca draws attention to significant way in which videogames differ from traditional media, I still wonder if it really sits outside a narrative framework. By this I don’t just mean that there are both small and overarching narratives within any game. My argument is more that humans relate to the world through narratives, and that meaning is always inherently constructed through the stories we tell. Frasca’s flash simulated pipe (2) is a story in itself, with the illustrations and word choice (“Suck”) being a form of representational language. For someone to understand the simulation, they must lay narrative over top of it.

In the same kind of way, I think Frasca’s notion of behaviour also inflects traditional media. Videogames, film, literature, and even art all work and are experienced according to conventions and rules that have grown up to simulate ‘reality’ in a way that can be shared and understood. This reminds me of my thoughts surrounding what Chris (Moore for those of you reading who weren’t part of the course) said about affect. I think that simulation is ultimately less about the medium, and more about the sensation of, and the way in which you experience and emotionally comprehend, what is presented.

And because it’s relevant, I like it, and Chris wants me to take more advantage of the web format of this blog and the multimedia it can contain; here’s a video of Nika Harper talking about narrative and videogames.

Also, if you’re intrigued by the inescapable nature of narrative and how it relates to videogames, you might find Nika’s intro to her Story Mode series interesting.

The article this was in response to:

Frasca, Gonzalo (2001), ‘Simulation 101: Simulation versus Representation’


One thought on “DIGC310: Clear Definition and Separation Between Media is Impossible so Frasca Should Stop Trying

  1. What i got from the article was less about how games are experienced and more how they are created. He insists on how videogames won’t reach their full potential if they’re not viewed as simulations, in the sense that a narrative/top-down design (i.e. story first, like an adventure game) binds a game to a more traditional format, whereas a simulation/bottom-up design (i.e. mechanics first, like a puzzle game) must by definition draw on the uniqueness of the format.

    Frankly i think the whole thing is subjective and unconstructive, similarly to the game vs toy debate. “trying to force games into something that they are not” particularly strikes me the wrong way. The only potential outcome from trying to formally define a game is the arbitrary creation of restrictions, and i don’t see why that should be something to be strived for; it helps neither creators nor consumers. To be perfectly fair, though, the article is 14 years old and videogames are a uniquely rapidly evolving medium. Also, apparently i made a similar rant on Nika’s video back then.

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