Screw the Grue: Mediality, Metalepsis, Recapture

Terry Harpold (Game Studies 7.1) uses Zork as one example in this article.

Common threshold structures of the world – closed doors or windows, elevators, magical portals – often fulfil this dual function. Segmenting spaces of the world in a way that is easily accepted by the player, they may also mask computational latencies (the rendering engine must be given time to catch up, a new portion of code must be loaded into memory) or limits of the game’s database (transporting her avatar to a new “level,” an elevator also redirects the player’s attention away from the fact that there is no inter-level space beyond the elevator’s compartment, as nothing there is computationally-defined). Crucially, the threshold matches the program trait to the gameworld trait concurrently, or with such close approximation that their difference is not noticed much. In this and similar moments of play, the user’s attention is primarily on the gameworld rather than its software and hardware correlates; there is entanglement, but its expression tends toward a reification of one plane of gameplay. We may say that by some mechanism, which may vary from game to game and in the degree of its openness, the gameworld recaptures traits of hardware or software, repurposing them to its own ends and masking their potential disruption of the world with information that is notionally distinct from it. The back-directed orientation implicit in the term “recapture” is appropriate to the concept because, as I understand it, recapture takes place on the cusp of a sort of crisis in representation: exactly at the moment where entanglement threatens to bring forward the game’s determinism by its definite technical situation, that determinism is turned back into the gameworld, so as to seem to be another of its (arbitrary but consistent) rules.