Thursday, March 1, 2012

Cup of Death and Chrono Trigger

Note for whoever edits this. I did not include very many quotes, so suggestions on how to implement them well would be highly appreciated. Additionally, I wanted to form some kind of a discussion on how video games are much more interactive than Choose Your Own Adventure novels, but when the idea came to me I realized I was too far into this essay to include such a discussion. If you could please give me guidance on either, that would be greatly appreciated.



Active participation in Sharon Gilligan’s Cup of Death allows the reader to have the primary role in the story being told, with numerous paths possible based on the reader’s actions. As the introduction states, “You and YOU ALONE are in charge of what happens in this story.”(Gilligan). Even when compared to the more in-depth medium of video games, Cup of Death allows readers the ability to experience a narrative in a manner that would be impossible in a traditionally-written story due to its interactivity, which allows the reader to maintain a level of control over what unfolds. This interactivity is highly reminiscent of that of the medium of video games – most notably the classic SNES game Chrono Trigger.

For example, even though the path the reader can take varies significantly throughout the book, certain details remain the same and provide the reader with information as to which paths are good in subsequent readings. The first time going through Cup of Death, I knew nothing about any of the characters or the situation itself and guided myself purely based on luck. This changed in the second, third fourth, and many other readings I participated in. The more paths I tested, the more about the various characters, including that Mrs. Oda was in some way responsible for the stealing of the bowl. The interactive nature of the book allowed me to deduce information about the story that led to a different understanding of what mattered in it, allowing for a completely different way of reading and absorbing information when compared with a traditional, linear book.

The concept of different textual events occurring via different endings in Cup of Death and other Choose Your Own Adventure novels brings to mind the 1995 Square video game Chrono Trigger, in which six (or seven depending on the playthrough) heroes throughout time gather together to defeat the foe Lavos, who destroys the world in the year 1999. The interactive nature of the game allows, you, the player to interact with other characters to learn the story and to use these interactions to decide your own path. For example, at the beginning of the game, Crono, the protagonist attends the Millennial Fair, in which he can partake in various actions before rescuing Marle, who has accidentally been transported back in time. At the fair, you can make various decisions as Crono, including whether or not to pick up a particular necklace before talking to Marle, and whether or not to move or stand still while she looks at candy. A few hours later in the game, Crono is tried for abducting Marle by her father, the king, and the seemingly insignificant actions above that he performed at the fair due to your actions are factored into the jury’s decision. Innocence results in solitary confinement and guilt results in the same, but with a scheduled execution. The player can then choose to break out or to wait out the time, and breaking out makes the next section of the game significantly more difficult, as there are no other party members present to assist Crono. Later on, the game presents numerous other dilemmas, including whether or not to save Crono from death before beating the game, what centuries to open chests and what sidequests to do – all result in different endings like in Gilligan’s Choose Your Own Adventure novel.

All of these endings can be unlocked in Chrono Trigger via the “New Game+” feature, which allows you to begin a new game with all items, equipment, and character levels maintained from the previous playthrough. Like the changing knowledge of the subject material in Cup of Death throughout various readings, information obtained from a single run in Chrono Trigger influences your choices and perception of the game in subsequent playthroughs. Perhaps you want to figure out how to access an alternate ending, want to perform sidequests in a different order, or even want to change the past and save a character’s mother during a critical scene. All of this is possible due the interactive nature of the medium.

Interactive media as a whole allow the participants as much control over the exploration, decision-making process, and interactions of their fictional worlds as the author desires, which is impossible to implement in a traditional narrative. Participation is not simply encouraged, but mandatory to partake in either a video game or a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. And it is this participation that allows for the perception of the media as a whole.


Kira Scammell said...

I think your main point is in your second to last paragraph. "Perhaps you want to figure out how to access an alternate ending, want to perform sidequests in a different order, or even want to change the past and save a character’s mother during a critical scene. All of this is possible due the interactive nature of the medium." I like this point and it strengthens your argument about Chrono Trigger being interactive, but simultaneously shows how Cup of Death is not lacking in this type of interactivity.

Perhaps to take your idea to the next level you could touch on what we talked about in class, maybe introducing the idea of thinking critically versus thinking operationally, parallel to the idea of making decisions that affect short term and long term scenarios.

As for quotes, I'm not sure that I could identify a place that you necessarily needed them, and perhaps for a paper of this kind they are unnecessary.

Adam said...

Even at the start, it would be good to be more clear about why Chrono Trigger is especially interesting in relationship with Cup of Death.

While you aren't exactly providing a definition, it's interesting to note how you define interactivity in terms of an ongoing or repeated relationship with a text or artificat. It's interesting already; formalizing it further might ahve benefits (I think there are arguably philosophical dimensions to the importance you're placing on repetition here).

You use "interactive" in a very difference sense when you start talking about Chrono Trigger ("interacting" with characters. It's confusing!).

Too much of your discussion of Chrono trigger is tautological - a game with multiple decisions has multiple decisions. Maybe talking about it in terms of the *experience* of playing multiple times (at least in the sense of dying and restarting/reloading) would clarify what you're actually trying to say here.

In the last paragraph, you give in even further to tautology, by celebrating interactive works for being interactive - but you're vaguer than before, getting away from the idea I thought I detected earlier (and at least sporadically throughout) that repetition, doing and redoing, engaging and reangaging, is at the heart of what *you* mean by interactivity. That idea is swallowed up in vagueness at the end.

What this most needs is to be rewritten around your working definition (which I might not even be right about!) of what interactivity is in the first place - or at least interactivity as far as it is useful/valuable/etc. You repeatedly fall prey to doing some fairly uninteresting summarization - and yet there's potential here in the idea of embracing doing and redoing something as a different kind of experience. I'd like to see you articulate that and bring it to the forefront. Writing more clearly about the experience of playing Chrono Trigger, rather than summarizing the experience that one *can* have when playing it, might be very helpfu.