Michael Valeur’s Seminar and Authorship

I must begin this entry with an apology. My Danish is not the best and so I sincerely apologize in advance if I misunderstood or misinterpreted Michael Valeur’s recent seminar. His presentation on moving from poetry to computer games demonstrated both the ease and complexity of being a creative producer in different forms of media. The title of the seminar itself was a bit of a misnomer as Valeur has been active as a punk musician, prose writer, poet and most recently as a co-creator of an interactive museum installation. Critical theories demonstrate relationships between many of these performative fields and from a postmodern perspective this concept of media convergence (to borrow and slightly bastardize Henry Jenkins’ term) is particularly relevant. This seminar was unique, however, in that the emphasis here was not so much on the similarities between media as it was on the artist himself as the fulcrum for production. As the seminar was partly geared toward Umeå University’s own scriptwriting program, this concern for how an artist is able to transfer his/her craft to different media was particularly interesting. All writing is collaborative, of course, but there are distinct differences between the author’s degree of control when writing a novel or a poem in comparison to writing a computer game, film script or piece of interactive theatre. Consequently, questions about how Valeur felt about working with different technical teams and about what it was like to consider his stories from a more visual perspective became prominent.

From an academic point of view, this aspect of collaboration has an effect on how I think about the works I examine. If I analyze a computer game then the concept of an individual author is relatively rare; games are usually produced by a whole team of individuals. If I then also consider game-play as means for the player to collaboratively author the game, as many theorists have argued, I have an even broader definition of authorship to examine. Undoubtedly this affects the work in question in many ways. Authorial intention, sophistication of purpose and artistry may reasonably be considered to be less unified. This is not because a group of people can’t work together but because even a highly focused group’s thoughts must be transferred via the reductive filter of language. On the other hand, normalizing factors in society might reasonably be assumed to be more readily present in games which are co-authored by a large team of individuals, especially if the team is relatively homogeneous. Specific considerations with respect to gender, age and other social factors come into play. A clear example of this is the ridiculous objectification of women’s breasts (and yes, I do mean just that part of the body) in many FPS games. Such a situation is likely to be produced by a co-authoring team favoring perceived masculine gender norms in a patriarchal society. It is also produced when the team of authors attempts to anticipate the preferences of an intended player/consumer/co-author. Not surprisingly, many players reject certain games because they do not find impossible-to-ignore-breasts appealing, rather the opposite, and they do not want to participate as the intended players of that game. Thus, an interesting dynamic appears in the creative production of some computer games: the author seems to be less defined while the player seems to be almost too defined to allow for truly collaborative game-play. Many literary theories suggest that the author is entirely unimportant with regard to the eternal existence of the work itself. It is worthwhile, though, to question how technology might be contributing to the death of the concept of “author” in a less philosophical and more mechanically determined sense.