William P. Wend
Position Paper #8
Jesper Juul's, in his article Introduction To Game Time, begins by stating that there hasn't been much discussion of theory of time in games. Juul argues that games “engage in a kind of pretense play” (Juul 131). By this Juul means that the player is playing as two different persona: the gamer plays as themselves and as someone in the world the game being played resides in. This is what Juul calls game time. Game time can be described further as “a duality of play timei and event timeii” (131). Play time and event time, Juul continues, have a different relationship in different kinds of games. An action game like Contra takes place in real time. Strategy games, like Axis & Allies, and Simulation games, like Sim City, often speed up time or allow the player to change the speed of time or stop it all together. In Final Fantasy Tactics a battle will continue to happen but wait until the player inputs commands for his soldiers to proceed. While waiting, rain will continue to fall, players will move in place, and time will not pass even though there is still action on the screen.
The player, Juul argues, takes on the duel role he refers to when discussing pretense play. Juul uses the example of Tomb Raider. When playing Tomb Raider, the gamer is hitting X, square, and the other buttons on the Playstation controller but they are also moving Lara Croft across the screen while doing so. This is, according to Juul, a much more direct interaction than how a reader would interact with a text or a viewer would watch a DVD.
Juul continues by discussing how game time can be used to examine the history of a game. Adventures games allow the gamer to explore a world in a “coherent” time (132). An action game like Contra allows the gamer to move from levels, or worlds, that aren't connected to the next level in various ways.
In the next part of Juul's essay he explicates the differences between play time and event time. Play time “denotes the time span taken to play a game” (132). In a game like Tetris, Juul argues, time moves forward in a straight line. Event time can be described as the duel role the game takes on while playing a game. The gamer is “themself” and Lara Croft at the same time. When the gamer hits X on their controller Ms. Croft reacts on the screen in another world taking place at the same time.
Not all games have only play time or event time. Juul notes that Sim City has both play time and event time. When I play Sim City on my Super Nintendo a series of commercial buildings are built instantly. Within minutes businesses move in, leave, and build bigger, more powerful, businesses. While only a minute or two has passed in the gamer's world, in the city created for Sim City weeks or months, depending on the speed of time change the gamer has set, have passed.
Juul describes play and event time's relationship as “mapping” (134). The gamer's input are projected into the world in which the game takes place. When I push A on my Super Nintendo controller a commercial area is placed on the screen. This happens in both the “now” which takes place in my world and the “now” that takes place in the world of my created city. In Sim City, as noted before, I choose how play and event time relate to each other by picking how fast or slow time progresses. I choose how quickly a game maps to event time.
Juul's theories about game time can also be applied to literature as well. When discussing pretense play I have to disagree with Juul about the lack of direct interaction while reading a text. While sitting on your bed reading Harry Potter isn't all that interactive, hypertext fiction and other forms of hypertext are. When reading These Waves Of Girls the reading is directly interacting with the text in front of them. The reader reads a page, but then the story does not progress until they click on another link to move to more of the story. In essence, this is much like the rain continuing to fall in Final Fantasy Tactics. The story is paused until the reader, or gamer, decides what their next move, whether using a spell or clicking a link, is.
Literature can progress at the same elongated speed described from Sim City. If the reader is reading Piers Anthony's For Love Of Evil, which takes place over about 800 years or so, time moves at the whim of the author. However, time can also move quickly if the reader reads the entire book in one sitting, or slowly if over a bunch of sittings. The reader cannot, however, change the actual time within the book.
Mapping also takes place when reading. When reading interactive fiction like Book & Volume the reader types in a command. She inputs “walk north.” Her typing happens in real time alongside the action on the screen, where the user controlled character in the game walks south towards a Starbucks.
Games like Contra, which allow the gamer to move from level to level that are barely or not at all related, don't have a lot to do with anything literary. It could be argued, potentially, that Contra is much like a series of non-related short stories, like Jorge Luis Borges' Labyrinths. Borges' short stories take place in starkly different and vast worlds much like Contra's nine levels are very different. I'm not so sure how good this argument is however. When I played Contra last night it didn't feel, even in the vaguest terms, literary.
i Play time is described by Juul as “the time the player takes to play” (131).
ii Event time is described by Juul as “the time taken in the game world” (131).