A New Challenger Approaches! (Intertextuality) – Ryan Rotella

Intertextuality, an oft used literary term, finds its digital home in a game series that most people don’t associate with literature: Super Smash Bros. This game is one of the most well known fighting games in existence. A large reason for Smash’s popularity (aside from being contagiously fun) is due to the unity of so many different video game characters from so many different kinds of games on one simple game. Super Smash Bros. has a history of having famous and lesser known Nintendo characters included. The first iteration (Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64) had 12 playable characters (four of them having to be unlocked during the game), having famous flagship characters such as Mario and Pikachu to characters such as Ness from the quirky SNES RPG, Earthbound (source: http://www.ssbwiki.com/Super_Smash_Bros.) In this latest version for the Wii U, the game has 58 playable characters (7 who are only available as downloadable content) with a variety of non-Nintendo characters like Mega Man, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Solid Snake. A majority of these characters have stages (where the game is played) that reference other characters and imagery from that world’s series. The sheer range of the players available (and games referenced) emphasizes how Smash functions as a space unlike any other, where characters from very different universes can interact with each other and worlds of different games can communicate with each other. 

Bowser (Super Mario Bros.), Link (Legend of Zelda), Village (Animal Crossing), Fox (Star Fox), Mario (Super Mario Bros.), Pikachu (Pokemon), Donkey Kong (Donkey Kong), Kirby (Kirby’s Dreamworld) on a stage in homage to Super Mario Galaxy

Now, the main point of intertextual communication in this game is twofold and both folds are not what is thought of as “literary.” First, the large roster of characters and video game worlds represented reward experienced video games with allusions and references to all these other games. This gives the dedicated gamer a chance to show off all his video game knowledge in front of his friends (thanks, Nintendo). Second, all these characters participate in the age-old question: who would win in a fight? This question has been discussed in most other mediums with any character tied to power or violence: for books, who would the gods favor in a one-on-one match up: Achilles or Aeneas; for comic books, Superman and [insert any comic book character]. The list could go on indefinitely.

Primitive version of Super Smash Bros. on a Grecian urn

With video games being such a diverse and sprawling horde of action-oriented games and genres, the question of who the most powerful/best/awesome character acquires a special weight. It has this weight to it because in a game like Smash, players can answer it for themselves in a way that ultimately rewards one player’s skill and opinion. Unlike the function of intertextuality in literature which uses another text’s ideas as auxiliary support or contrast with a text’s ideas, intertextuality is a main foundation of Super Smash Bros. In a way, this representation celebrates all the different kind of characters and games the gaming world has to offer. All sorts of games unite under one fun fighting game to see which characters the players (AKA the audience) can relate to, despise, laugh at, or love. Also to see who can strike the best pose (hint: it’s King Dedede).

(Soft jazz plays)
(Soft jazz plays)

Lonely Humor in Portal

Everyone who’s played Portal knows its humor. GLaDOS supplied gamers (and subsequently, the internet) with memorable, dark quips of the Emancipation Grid—”which may, in semi-rare cases, emancipate dental fillings, crowns, tooth enamel and teeth” (Tanner 1)—and the promise of cake amidst incredibly dangerous test chambers. Moreover, within the game, humor is such an important part of the playfulness of Portal. The player experiences quality comedy then gets to dart across a room by shooting portals everywhere. Portal reeks of joy and fun, but on this play-through, I also noticed another essential part of the game that I never caught: the loneliness and creepiness of Portal’s game world. 

It makes sense that I didn’t catch that aspect the first go-around. I beat the game in three or four hours, and at that point, I was the kind of player that wanted to beat the game and progress through the story as quick as possible. I never bothered to explore a game or examine how the game was designed, other than it possibly hampering my progress. This time around, when I soaked in the world again with new analytical lenses and slower play, Portal became much more unsettling. Aside from the interactions with GLaDOS, the soundscape of Portal drilled into my head emptiness and the fact that nothing else was with me in this world. Other than the occasional button push or whooshing of the portals, all of the rooms buzzed mechanically and dully. Additionally, the context of having played this game previously and knowing that GLaDOS killed all of the scientists (hence, why Aperture is empty) unsettled me even more. Aperture is a dangerous abandoned facility where I play a character that is essentially the plaything of a rouge AI. That sounds like a horror sci-fi premise. Playing this game alone and slowly (with a frustrating touchpad) made my experience dizzying, to the point that I had to exit the game and do something else, usually to talk to someone. 

Yet, in that creeping loneliness, the humor of GLaDOS works very effectively. I felt lonely enough in the test chambers that anytime I heard dialogue from GLaDOS, I relished it. I loved the overt dark humor and slips of a deceiving, passive-aggressive AI. The humor really cut through the tension of loneliness and provided a space for latent social feelings to emerge. The obvious awareness of sinister things at work in the writing of GLaDOS’s lines and jokes helped me connect to an otherwise kind of foreboding world. Having a humorous antagonist along with great mechanics against a lonely atmosphere really fostered an interesting evocative competition between creepiness and playfulness. It also helped me appreciate the connection that so many players have to the delightfully crazy and murderous GLaDOS. 

Work Cited

Tanner, Nicole. “Top 10 GLaDOS Quotes.” IGN, 25 Mar. 2011, http://www.ign.com/articles/2011/03/25/top-10-glados-quotes?page=1. Accessed 6 Sep. 2016.