Nintendo® and New World Travel Writing: A Dialogue

Mary Fuller and Henry Jenkins

This essay appears in Cybersociety: Computer-Mediated Communication and Community, ed. Steven G. Jones (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 1995): 57-72. It is used here with the permission of the authors.

Mary Fuller: We want to start by telling you two stories.

Henry Jenkins: Here's the first. Princess Toadstool is kidnapped by the savage King Koopa. Two brave brothers, Mario and Luigi, depart on a series of adventures to rescue her. Mario and Luigi, simple men of humble beginnings (in fact, Italian American plumbers), cross a vast unexplored space, encountering strange creatures, struggling against an inhospitable landscape. Finally, they confront and best the monarch and his minions in a life and death struggle. In the process, the Super Mario Brothers not only restore the princess to her people but also exert control over this strange new world and its curious resources.

MF: My story is really a collection of stories, which I can probably evoke for you in some form just by mentioning a few key words: Walter Raleigh, Roanoke, the Lost Colony, Virginia Dare. Or Jamestown, John Smith, Pocahontas, John Rolfe. I want to draw for the moment not on the complexities and particularities of these stories but on what is simple and popular, what can be evoked as an indistinct impression: the saleable, inaccurate, recurrent myth of the captive princess and her rescuers (Virginia Dare, the first child born in what was to become the "Lost Colony"; Pocahontas, a genuine princess who became a candidate for rescue--or kidnapping --thanks to her own gesture of rescuing John Smith; Smith himself, both a hero of humble origins and a kind of princess in drag who represented his entire career as a repeated experience of captivity and rescue by women; or, for that matter, Virginia itself, personified by English apologists for colonization as a virgin to be rescued from savages). Nintendo®'s Princess Toadstool and Mario Brothers is a cognate version of this story.

What we want to get at is not these alluring narratives of Princess Toadstool, Pocahontas, and Virginia Dare (or of Mario, Luigi, and John Smith) but another shared concern in our material that seems to underlie these more memorable fictions in a constitutive way. Both terms of our title evoke explorations and colonizations of space: the physical space navigated, mapped, and mastered by European voyagers and travelers in the 16th and 17th centuries and the fictional, digitally projected space traversed, mapped, and mastered by players of Nintendo® video games. Simply put, we want to argue that the movement in space that the rescue plot seems to motivate is itself the point, the topic, and the goal and that this shift in emphasis from narrativity to geography produces features that make Nintendo® and New World narratives in some ways strikingly similar to each other and different from many other kinds of texts.

HJ: This chapter is the result of a series of conversations we've been having over the past four years. Our conversations began with hesitant efforts by each of us to understand the other's area of specialization but have grown in frequency and intensity as we began to locate points of contact between our work. We hope that what follows will reflect the process of that exchange, opening questions for future discussion rather than providing answers for immediate consumption.

MF: This work is a confessedly exploratory attempt at charting some possibilities of dialogue and communication between the disparate professional spaces we inhabit. Yet the association between computer software and the Renaissance "discovery" of America is not exactly new. A computer software firm in Boston claims in its advertisement, "Sir Francis Drake was knighted for what we do every day . . . The spirit of exploration is alive at The Computer Merchant" (Boston Computer Currents, September 1990, p. 34). More generally, discussions of virtual reality have widely adopted a language borrowed from this earlier era: One headline reads, "THE RUSH IS ON ! COLONIZING CYBERSPACE" (Mondo 2000, Summer 1990, no. 2, cover).

HJ: The description and analysis of virtual reality technologies as the opening up of a new frontier, a movement from known to unknown space, responds to our contemporary sense of America as oversettled, overly familiar, and overpopulated. Howard Rheingold's (1991) Virtual Realitv unselfconsciously mimics the rhetoric of earlier promoters and settlers when he promises to share with his readers the account of "my own odyssey to the outposts of a new scientific frontier . . . and an advanced glimpse of a possible new world in which reality itself might become a manufactured and metered commodity" (p. 17). Or consider Timothy Leary's proclamation in that same book: "We live in a cyber-culture surrounded by limitless deposits of information which can be digitalized and tapped by the individual equipped with cybergear.... There are no limits on virtual reality" (Rheingold, 1991, p. 378). Virtual reality opens new spaces for exploration, colonization, and exploitation, returning to a mythic time when there were worlds without limits and resources beyond imagining. Technologists speak of the "navigational systems" necessary to guide us through this uncharted realm. The advent of this new technological sphere meets the needs of a national culture which, as Brenda Laurel suggests, finds contemporary reality "too small for the human imagination" (quoted in Rheingold, 1991, p. 391). Few of us have donned goggles and powergloves to become settlers of this new cyberspace, although both heroic and nightmarish accounts of virtual reality proliferate in popular culture. Many of us have, however, interacted with digitalized space through Nintendo® games. We felt it might be productive to take seriously for a moment these metaphors of "new worlds" and "colonization" as we look more closely at the spatial logic and "cognitive mapping" of video games.

MF: One has to wonder why these heroic metaphors of discovery have been adopted by popularizers of the new technologies just as these metaphors are undergoing sustained critique in other areas of the culture, a critique that hardly anyone can be unaware of in the year after the quincentary of Columbus's first American landfall. When John Barlow (1990) writes that "Columbus was probably the last person to behold so much usable and unclaimed real estate (or unreal estate) as these cybernauts have discovered" (p. 37), the comparison to cyberspace drains out the materiality of the place Columbus discovered, and the nonvirtual bodies of the pre-Columbian inhabitants who did, in fact, claim it, however unsuccessfully. I would speculate that part of the drive behind the rhetoric of virtual reality as a New World or new frontier is the desire to recreate the Renaissance encounter with America without guilt: This time, if there are others present, they really won't be human (in the case of Nintendo® characters), or if they are, they will be other players like ourselves, whose bodies are not jeopardized by the virtual weapons we wield. The prospect of seeing VR as a revisionary reenactment of earlier history raises issues that we address only in passing: One would be the ethics and consequences of such a historical revision; another would be to ask whether it is accurate to say that VR is unlike Renaissance discovery in having no victims, that at no point does it register harmfully on real bodies that are not the bodies of its users. These kinds of questions frame our discussion, which has a narrower focus on the specificities of Nintendo® games and voyage narratives as rhetorical and cultural artifacts. If the simple celebration of expansiveness borrowed from the age of discovery for virtual reality no longer seems adequate to the texts and experiences it once described, it seems no less important to map the narrative and rhetorical configurations of these texts themselves, which have provided model and metaphor for so much later experience, their authors', in Derek Walcott's (1986) words, "ancestral murderers and poets" (p. 79).

The kinds of New World documents I have in mind are ones like Columbus's Diario (1492-1493) or Walter Raleigh's Discoverie of the large, rich and beautiful empire of Guiana (1596) or John Smith's True Relation of such occurrences and accident sof noate as hath hapned in Virginia (1608)--that is, chronologically structured narratives of voyage and exploration, from ships' logs to more elaborate texts. At the outset, one might expect these narratives of travel to and return from what was at least conceptually another world to assume a different kind of structure than, in fact, they do: a romance or quest motif, the ironic contrasts of utopian fiction, or at least an overt "theme." Such expectations are largely disappointed. One literary critic complains that the travel journal underwent no sustained development as a literary form but conforms more or less consistently to a formulaic pattern: "The abstract reads, we sailed, did and saw this and this, suffered and were saved or lost, made such and such encounters with the savages, hungered, thirsted, and were storm worn, but some among us came home" (Page, 1973, p. 37). Part of the problem lies outside the texts, in that practical strategies embedded in the material diverge from the demands of narrative coherence: the same critic complains that the carefully prepared climax of Jacques Cartier's Brief Reedit is spoiled when Cartier decides to sail for home instead of waiting for a long anticipated Indian attack. Reading the voyage narratives from the perspective of conventional narrative expectations is an experience of almost unremitting frustration. Yet these texts, if they are not conventional narratives, are equally clearly not transparent records of an experience that itself demands no commentary. On the contrary.

And so one wants first to find a way of characterizing their structure and its shaping imperatives on its own terms and second, to account for their reception, their uses and pleasures for audiences then and now. This is material that was produced and printed in extraordinary quantity. Richard Hakluyt, one of the founding members of the Virginia Company, made a lasting name for himself by collecting and publishing documents of voyages by his contemporaries, documents ranging the gamut of possibilities from ethnographic survey to narrative poem to navigational instructions. Hakluyt's first collection appeared in 1582 as a slim quarto volume. By 1601, the third and final collection, The Principal Navigations . . . of the English Nation, took up three large folio volumes totaling almost 900 pages (12 volumes in the modern edition). Hakluyt's work was continued by Samuel Purchas, whose Hakluytus Posthumus, appearing in 1625, had expanded to 4,262 pages. Simply on the basis of volume, these documents would impose themselves on our attention, whatever their narrative shape.

HJ: Nintendo®, similarly, plays an increasingly visible role with the American imagination. By the end of 1990, one of three homes in the United States owned a Nintendo® system. My household was one of them, and I wanted to know more about how we might discuss these phenomenally popular games as cultural artifacts, as popular narratives, and as a new media for mass communication. As I discovered when asked to review two recent books on Nintendo® (Kinder, 1991; Provenzo, 1991; see Jenkins, 1993), current accounts lack any serious discussion of the particularity of Nintendo® as a means of organizing cultural experience; the writers fail to address what it meant to be playing the games rather than watching or reading them. Both books seemed interested in talking about Nintendo® for other reasons: in one case in terms of issues of pedagogy, in the other in terms of issues of intertextuality but both offered accounts that presuppose that traditional narrative theory (be it literary or film theory) can account for our experience of Nintendo® in terms of plots and characters.

This application of conventional models to an emergent form seemed unsatisfying because it ignores the way that game players discuss the experience of play and the ways that the games are marketed to their consumers. Plot is not a central feature of Nintendo®"s sales pitch. Ads talked about interactivity rather than characterization ("Nintendo® gives you power to choose") and about atmospheres rather than story lines ("awesome graphics"). Nintendo®, a 100-year-old playing card company little known outside Japan, revitalized the declining American video game market by moving from the simple, abstracted spaces of Pong or Pac-Man(TM) to create an ever changing and visually fascinating arena for play.

Nintendo®'s central feature is its constant presentation of spectacular spaces (or "worlds," to use the game parlance). Its landscapes dwarf characters who serve, in turn, primarily as vehicles for players to move through these remarkable places. Once immersed in playing, we don't really care whether we rescue Princess Toadstool or not; all that matters is staying alive long enough to move between levels, to see what spectacle awaits us on the next screen. Mario's journey may take him by raft across a river of red hot molten lava, may require him to jump from platform to platform across a suspended city, or may ask him to make his way through a subterranean cavern as its ceiling collapses around him. The protagonist of a sword and sorcery game may struggle against a stormy sea, battle a massive serpent, confront a pack of wolves who rule a frozen wasteland, or combat an army of the dead that erupt from the trembling earth, all in search of lost fortunes and buried gold. A game like Lemmings puts us in charge of an army of tiny creatures, willing slaves who live and die at our bidding and who dig tunnels or construct bridges to allow us to continue to venture deeper into the game space. For the most part, the technological limitations of the game systems mean that we move left to right through this space, but designers may simulate other kinds of movement, such as an elevator in the Ninja Turtles game that allows us to battle our way higher and higher into Shredder's command center or racing games that allow us to skim forward along a winding racetrack getting closer and closer to the glistening city that looms on the horizon. The more sophisticated Super Nintendo® system allows for multiple levels of graphics that interact with each other in ever more complex fashions. The art of game design comes in constructing a multitude of different ways we can interact with these visually remarkable spaces.

Most of the criteria by which we might judge a classically constructed narrative fall by the wayside when we look at these games as storytelling systems. In Nintendo®'s narratives, characters play a minimal role, displaying traits that are largely capacities for action: fighting skills, modes of transportation, preestablished goals. The game's dependence on characters (Ninja Turtles, Bart Simpson, etc.) borrowed from other media allows them to simply evoke those characters rather than to fully develop them. The character is little more than a cursor that mediates the player's relationship to the story world. Activity drains away the characters' strength, as measured by an ever shifting graph at the top of the screen, but it cannot build character, since these figures lack even the most minimal interiority. Similarly, plot is transformed into a generic atmosphere--a haunted house, a subterranean cavern, a futuristic cityscape, an icy wilderness--that the player can explore. This process becomes most visible when we look at games adapted from existing films or television programs; here, moments in the narrative trajectory become places in the player's itinerary, laid out as a succession of worlds we must travel through in order to reach our goals. Playing time unfolds in a fixed and arbitrary fashion with no responsiveness to the psychological time of the characters, sometimes flowing too slow to facilitate player interest and blocking the advance of the plot action, other times moving so fast that we can't react quickly enough to new situations or the clock runs out before we complete our goals. Exposition occurs primarily at the introduction and closing of games: For instance, the opening of Super Mario World reminds us that the Princess has once again been kidnapped. The game's conclusion displays the reunion of Princess and champion and a kind of victory tour over the lands that Mario has conquered. But these sequences are "canned": Players cannot control or intervene in them. Often, a player simply flashes past this exposition to get into the heart of the action. These framing stories with their often arbitrary narrative goals play little role in the actual experience of the games, as plot gives way quickly to a more flexible period of spatial exploration. Although plot structures (kidnapping and rescue, pursuit and capture, street fighting, invasion and defense) are highly repetitive (repeated from game to game and over and over within the game, with little variety), what never loses its interest is the promise of moving into the next space, of mastering these worlds and making them your own playground. So although the child's play is framed by narrative logic, it remains largely uncontrolled by plot dictates.

The pleasure of spatial spectacle may be most visible in games that do not seem to require anything more than the most rudimentary spaces. Street Fighter II (TM), one of the most popular Nintendo® games in recent years, basically centers around a kickboxing tournament that could have been staged in any arena. The game, however, offers players a global array of possible spaces where the individual competitions can occur: a Brazilian dock, an Indian temple, a Chinese street market, a Soviet factory, a Las Vegas show palace. In the Indian sequence, elephants sway their trunks in the background. Water drips from the ceiling into a Japanese reflecting pool. In Spain, flamenco dancers strut and crowds cheer as the combatants struggle for dominance. All of these details constitute a form of visual excess ("eye candy," as computer enthusiasts call it), a conspicuous consumption of space. Such spectacular visions are difficult to program, unnecessary to the competition, yet seem central to the game's marketing success.

MF: It sounds to me as if not only space but culture is being consumed, used and also used up as local cultures from India to Las Vegas shrink into a procession of ornamental images. Each is "colorful," yet none is really alien. Certainly, the ability to register local differences varied among Renaissance travel narratives: The same image might begin its career as close observation at first hand and reappear in progressively more stylized and ornamental forms detached from its original reference, as John White's drawings of North Carolina Algonquians reappeared on the engraved frontispiece to Theodor de Bry's America and were, in turn, reproduced as illustrations for John Smith's adventures in Virginia. One might also think of the famous Rouen entry of Henri II, where an entire Tupi village was recreated, employed for a day or so as a place for the performance of Brazilian life, and then burned.

If Nintendo® feeds the appetite for encountering a succession of new spaces (as well as helping to create such an appetite), that same appetite was, of course, central to these New World narratives. In turn, there were pressures on texts to conform to a locodescriptive form, the equivalent in writing of Nintendo®'s scrolling succession of spaces. One precursor of the travel narrative would be the logbook, in which a grid divides the page into spaces for date, time, compass bearing, wind, speed, and, finally, notes. The logbook presents a succession of indexed spaces on the page that correspond to a succession of days and places. Implicitly, each of these spaces is of equal importance: The grid predisposes its user to make some notes in each space but not too many. Athough the logbook was a technical tool of long-distance navigation, its form strongly influenced landbased narratives that followed arrival.

As an instance of a locodescriptive project both in action and writing, John Smith's strategy of successively exploring and mapping all the rivers around Jamestown contrasted with the Virginia Company's desire to impose grander, more recognizable, and more goal-oriented trajectories on the travels of the colonists: to find a gold mine, a passage to China, or Raleigh's Lost Colony. These ultimate objectives, held as in suspension, enabled Smith's presence in Virginia and his day-by-day progress through the natural and human geography of the Chesapeake. This configuration, of "story" as pretext for narratives of space, is (as we suggested at the outset) a common one in this material. Voyages and narratives that set out in search of a significant, motivating goal had a strong tendency to defer it, replacing arrival at that goal (and the consequent shift to another kind of activity) with a particularized account of the travel itself and what was seen and done. Hernan Cortes (1986) walked into Tenochtitlan in 1534, becoming master of its gold and other resources; yet the bulk of his Second and Third Letters concerns not this period of achieved conquest and consumption but the survey of points on the way there and then a second survey of points passed through on the drive to reconquer the city through more conventional military means. Even goal-driven narratives like those of Raleigh or Columbus at best offered only dubious signs of proximity in place of arrival--at China, El Dorado, the town of the Amazons--phenomena that, interpreted, erroneously suggested it was just over the horizon, to be deferred to some later date.

Rhetorical as well as documentary goals bear on the narratives, which aim not only to describe but to persuade. That is, Walter Raleigh wanted to find El Dorado, and he also wanted to produce a narrative that would stimulate interest in Guiana and persuade Elizabeth to restore him to favor. The imperative that operates on his text in consequence is less that of coherence than of completeness, a (doubtless, loaded) inventory of what was done and seen, one that provided at once both an alternate, more diffuse kind of justification for the discovery and motives and informational resources for a repeat performance. Ralph Lane, one of the Roanoke Colony's governors, noted that the particularity of his account is "to the end it may appear to you . . . that there wanted no great good will . . . to have perfected this discovery"-- of a rumored mine the company never set out towards (Lane, 1979, p. 309). Even in the Discoverie of Guiana, a text whose teleology is announced in the title, the actual search for Guiana, the narrative concomitants of searching for something, get lost in a welter of details, of events and places that have little to do with El Dorado but that occupied the days of the voyage. The sequenced inventories of places and events replace, defer, and attest to an authentic and exculpating desire for goals the voyages almost invariably failed to reach.

Given the inconclusiveness I've described, it was the ability to move in space (rather than to arrive) that generated and structured narrative; John Smith wrote primarily about the times he was in motion, not the times he was sitting in Jamestown. The resulting narratives were, in turn, organized by elapsed time (sequences of dates) but also determined by it. Henry mentioned that "characters" in Nintendo® can be described less in terms of learning and transformation than in terms of resources gradually expended in the course of the game. This sense of a trajectory dictated not by change or crisis but by expenditure, the gradual running out of a fixed quantity of time or resources, is an almost universal feature of the narratives I study because it was an equally frequent phenomenon in the voyages and colonial experiments they document. Many documents record the consequences of poorly managing resources--the season for sailing passing as one sits windbound in an English harbor, a crew mutinying at the idea of sailing beyond Ireland, food running out in the middle of the winter or the middle of the ocean (this one over and over), having to write home hypothetical accounts of the treasures you would discover if you had better boats or more food or it were not so late in the year. These documents end not because some resolution or conclusion has been achieved but because something has run out. To give another example, John Smith's ability to trade for corn to feed a starving colony was unarguably more critical than the story about the rescue of the Lost Colony that the Virginia Company tried to impose on him or the story about Pocahontas that he recounted 16 years after the event and 6 years after her death.

HJ: Although we've noted the experimental nature of this chapter's juxtapositions, there is, in fact, a precedent for them in Michel De Certeau's work in successive books on New World discourse (Heterologies, 1984a) and on the politics of consumption in contemporary popular culture (The Practice of Everyday Life, 1984b). While we are claiming space as the organizing principle for two kinds of narrative, as what makes them different from novels, for example, De Certeau (1984b) lays out a grand claim for spatial relations as the central organizing principle of all narratives: "Every story is a travel story--a spatial practice" (p. 115). Our cultural need for narrative can be linked to our search for believable, memorable, and primitive spaces, and stories are told to account for our current possession or desire for territory.

De Certeau's analysis of "spatial stories" provides tools for talking about classes of narratives that have proven difficult to discuss in terms of traditional notions of plot or character. Consider, for example, the emergence of science fiction in the late l9th and early 20th century as a means of creating imaginary spaces for our intellectual exploration. The adventure stories of Jules Verne drew upon centuries of travel writing as they recounted a variety of trips to the moon, under the sea, into the center of the earth, or around the globe. The technological utopian writers often created static plots (a man from our present goes to the future) that allowed them simply to describe the landscape of tomorrow; one can draw a direct line from the moment in Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, where the book's protagonist stands on his balcony and surveys Boston's future, to the train cars that allowed visitors to the 1939 New York World's Fair to ride above and look down upon Futurama. Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories magazine was full of chronicles of "odysseys" across the uncharted wilderness of Mars or Venus and encounters along the way with strange flora and fauna. Writers often modeled these aliens' worlds after the American West so that they could cross-market their stories to both western and science fiction pulps. A focus on plot and characterization was slow to develop in this genre that seemed so obsessed with going "where no one has gone before."

A similar claim could be made for various forms of fantasy writing. Trips to Oz or Narnia or through the looking glass, adventures in Middle Earth, or quests for the Grail all seem to center as much on the movement of characters through space as on the larger plot goals that motivate and give shape to those movements. Maps appear in fantasy novels with the same frequency and function that genealogies appear in the great l9th-century novels, suggesting the relative stress the two forms give to spatial relations and character relations. It is not surprising that science fiction, fantasy, and sword- and-sorcery stories provide much of the iconography of the Nintendo® games.

Nintendo® may also be linked to another class of spatial stories, the amusement park rides that as early as turn-of-the-century Coney Island adopted popular fictions into spaces we can visit and explore. Walt Disney's Peter Pan becomes a ride by flying ship across the landscape of London and Never-Never-Land, Snow White turns into a runaway mine car tour, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is remade into a submarine ride. The introduction of virtual reality technology to the Orlando, Florida, amusement parks results in a succession of ever more intense "tours" of the stars, the oceans, the human body, the World of Hanna-Barbera, and the dawn of time. Nintendo®'s constant adaptation of plot-centered contemporary films into spatial narratives represents a miniaturization of this same process. The tamed frontier of the virtual new world has, from the first, been sold to us as a playground for our world-weary imagination, as a site of tourism and recreation rather than labor and production. Public interest in virtual reality is directly linked to the amusement park's long history of satisfying popular demand for spatial difference, spectacular attractions, affective stimulation, and sensual simulation. De Certeau's description of Jules Verne's stories as focused around the related images of the Nautilus's porthole (a windowpane that "allows us to see") and the iron rail (that allows us to "move through" fantastic realms) has its obvious parallels in these amusement park attractions that invite us to look upon and travel through but not to touch these spectacular spaces (De Certeau, 1984b, p. 112). What is a spectacle at the amusement park ("Keep your hands in the car at all times") becomes a site of more immediate interaction in the Nintendo® game that asks us to act upon and transform the places it opens to our vision.

MF: Voyage narratives were almost never presented as recreative texts, whatever they might become for later readers. Two exceptions are Richard Willes's Historie of travel (London, 1577) and Andre Thevet's Les singularitez de la France antarctique (Paris, 1558). Although a narrative like Thomas Harriot's Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (London, 1588) might offer a catalogue of America's abundant flora and fauna, the items of the catalogue were presented not as strange things to wonder at but as "marchantable commodities," goods for use and sale, the potential for industrious activity. Leisure in the New World was pejoratively characterized as idleness, associated with disease, mendacity, and social disorder. In most places the English settled, colonists had to do some work to feed and shelter themselves; when a company shipwrecked on the uninhabited Bermudas and found an Edenic land of temperate weather and dreamlike abundance, its leaders found means to take the company back to starvation in Jamestown. The project of colonizing itself was, in the English case, less a matter of acquiring a native workforce than of finding work for what contemporaries envisioned as the teeming masses of England's unemployed. Virginia's colonists were there (at least in theory) to labor, not to look, and labor was directed to activating the commercial potentials of the land.

HJ: For De Certeau (1984b), narrative involves the transformation of place into space (pp. 117-118). Places exist only in the abstract, as potential sites for narrative action, as locations that have not yet been colonized. Place may be understood here in terms of the potential contained as bytes in the Nintendo® game cartridge or the potential resources coveted but not yet possessed in the American New World. Places constitute a "stability" which must be disrupted in order for stories to unfold. Places are there but do not yet matter, much as the New World existed, was geographically present, and culturally functioning well before it became the center of European ambitions or the site of New World narratives. Places become meaningful only as they come into contact with narrative agents (and in the construction of the New World in Mary's Renaissance stories, only Europeans are understood as narrative agents). Spaces, on the other hand, are places that have been acted upon, explored, colonized. Spaces become the location of narrative events. As I play a Nintendo® game and master it level by level, I realize the potentials encoded in the software design and turn it into the landscape of my own saga.

The place-space distinction is closely linked to De Certeau's discussion of the differences between "maps" and "tours" as means of representing real-world geographies. Maps are abstracted accounts of spatial relations ("the girl's room is next to the kitchen"), whereas tours are told from the point of view of the traveler/narrator ("You turn right and come into the living room") (De Certeau, 1984b, pp. 118-122). Maps document places; tours describe movements through spaces. The rhetoric of the tour thus contains within it attention to the effects of the tour, its goals and potentials, its limitations and obligations. A door is a feature of a place, or it may be a potential threshold between two spaces. One of my favorite games, A Boy and His Blob, places the resources of its imaginary world fully at our disposal. The blob can be transformed into everything from a blowtorch to a stepladder depending on what flavored jellybean we feed him, and as a result, the mutating blob contains endless possibilities for acting upon and transforming the virtual playing space. The pleasure of the game lies in creating our own paths, tunneling down deeper and deeper into its cavernous world. The blob, the various levels, the jellybeans exist as potentials that only become narratively meaningful when we act upon them and bring them into our control.

De Certeau is thus interested in analyzing and documenting the process by which we "mark off boundaries" within the narrative world, by which characters map, act upon, and gain control over narrative spaces. Just as narratives involve movement from stability through instability and back again, narratives also involve a constant transformation of unfamiliar places into familiar spaces. Stories, he argues, are centrally concerned with "the relationship between the frontier and the bridge, that is, between a (legitimate) space and its (alien) exteriority" (De Certeau, 1984b, p. 126). He continues: "The story endlessly marks out frontiers. It multiplies them, but in terms of interactions among characters--things, animals, human beings" (De Certeau, 1984b, p. 126). Plot actions, he argues, involve the process of appropriation and displacement of space, a struggle for possession and control over the frontier or journeys across the bridges that link two spaces together. Such terms will, of course, be familiar to anyone who has thought about the discovery and colonization of America. Yet Nintendo® also enacts a constant struggle along the lines that separate known and unknown spaces--the line of the frontier--which is where the player encounters dangerous creatures and brutal savages, where we fight for possession and control over the story world. As De Certeau (1984b) notes, the central narrative question posed by a frontier is "to whom does it belong?" (p. 127). The frontier here is apt to be technological and urban rather than primitive and pastoral (or, as in the Mario Brothers games, a strange mix of the two) but then Mary's settlers were also mapping their adventures on spaces already occupied by someone else's culture. The frontier line is literalized through the breakdown of story space into a series of screens. The narrative space is not all visible at once. One must push toward the edge of the screen to bring more space into view.

The games also often create a series of goalposts that not only marks our progress through the game space but also determines our dominance over it. Once you've mastered a particular space, moved past its goalpost, you can reassume play at that point no matter the outcome of a particular round. These mechanisms help us to map our growing mastery over the game world, our conquest of its virtual real estate. Even in the absence of such a mechanism, increased understanding of the geography, biology, and physics of the different worlds makes it easy to return quickly to the same spot and move further into the frontier.

A related feature of the games are warp zones--secret passages that, like De Certeau's bridges, accelerate one's movement through the narrative geography and bring two or more worlds together. Knowledge about warp zones, passwords, and other game secrets are key items of social exchange between game players. More to the point, they have become important aspects of the economic exchange between game companies and players. Nintendo® engages in a playful yet lucrative form of "insider trading," selling secret tips about traversing the game space to consumers either through 1-900 hotlines or through subscriptions to Nintendo® Power magazine, which markets detailed maps of the many worlds and levels of popular games and tips for coping with the local flora and fauna or crossing difficult terrain.

The maps and charts that Nintendo® Power publishes are curious documents. Strictly speaking, they are not maps at all, not abstract representations of geographic places. The magazine simply unfolds the information contained on many different screens as a continuous image that shows us the narrative space from the player's point of view, more or less as it will be experienced in the game. (The closest analogy would be something like Japanese scroll painting.) Surrounding these successive representations of the screen space is a narration or "tour" that identifies features of the landscape and their potentials for narrative action, as in this text from a discussion of Adventure Island 3: "Lush jungle regions dominate Stage 2. However, a remote island to the southwest appears to be snowed under. How unusual! One of the largest waterfalls known to mankind will be encountered in Stage 2. Its cascading torrents may be too much for the loin-clothed island hero. To the south, Higgins will be lost in the mist". The text may also suggest possible ways of acting upon this space and point toward the forms of resources and knowledge needed to survive there: "The Spiders shouldn't give Higgins too much trouble. Some move up and down and some of them don't. There may be hidden Eggs in places such as this." At times, the text may also focus our attention back onto the larger narrative context, onto character disputes or goals that frame the game action: "The volcanos are erupting! Higgins had better act fast so he can rescue his girlfriend and get out of there. Because of the tremendous heat, the supply of fruit is shrinking. There won't be much time for decision making. The aliens, astonished that Higgins made it this far, will be waiting!" ("Adventure Island 3," Nintendo® Power, October 1992, no. 41, pp. 8-13)

Such representations of virtual space bear close resemblance to De Certeau's description of early maps that "included only the rectilinear marking out of itineraries (performative indications chiefly concerning pilgrimages), along with the stops one was to make (cities which one was to pass through, spend the night in, pray at, etc.) and distances calculated in hours or in days, that is, in terms of the time it would take to cover them on foot. Each of these maps is a memorandum prescribing actions" (De Certeau, 1984b, p. 120). Much like these earlier maps, the Nintendo® documentation focuses on the specific narrative actions to be performed upon these spaces, purposes to be pursued and sites to be visited, rather than a universalized account of the possible places that exist independent of the reader's goals and desires. In most cases, however, the game company withholds crucial information, and the final stage of the game remains unmapped and undocumented. Players must still venture into an unfamiliar and uncharted space to confront unknown perils if they wish to master the game.

MF: As Henry's citation from De Certeau suggests, we might locate Nintendo®'s treatment of space in relation to a history of cartography. The Renaissance was, in fact, the moment when mapmaking shifted from providing locally oriented maps of previous trajectories and observations by coastal navigators (rutters) to the universalized overview of the Mercator projection. Yet the "universalized overview" was still conceptual rather than actual; the information needed to map the globe was still being gathered in arenas of intense competition and secrecy.

I've suggested that the particularized accounts of travel offered by narratives like Smith's or Raleigh's more or less deliberately replaced arrival with the details of travel as a process. These details, of course, were not only substitutive but also served practical purposes of their own, guiding both future voyagers and investors in the voyages. Printed books like Richard Hakluyt's collection of voyage narratives or Smith's General History were routinely carried by ships on voyages of trade and settlement. Observing this weight given to narratives, one might describe a shift in the center of value from things to be discovered to information about the terrain covered en route. When Hakluyt describes the capture of the Portuguese carrack Madre de Dens in 1592, among its spins was a 1590 treatise on China in Latin, found "enclosed in a case of sweet cedar-wood, and lapped up almost an hundred fold in fine calicut-cloth, as though it had been some incomparable jewel" (Hakluyt, 1598-1600, vol. 2, p. 88). Information itself becomes the priceless commodity. J. B. Harley (1988) links the censorship of cartographic information in early modern Europe to the economic transformations that accompanied the beginnings of overseas empires.

In a period when the foundations of the European world economy and its overseas empires were being laid, absolute monarchs were also "merchant kings," pursuing economic objectives through the trade monopolies opened up by their navigations. As in the case of the nation-state, the essence of empire is control. For such commercial monopolies to survive and for the policies of mare clausum to be implemented, there had to be a monopoly of the knowledge that enabled the new lands and the routes to and from them to be mapped. (Harley, 1988, p. 61)

Christopher Columbus and John Smith withheld information on true distance traveled from the rest of their parties; Francis Drake was restrained from making charts or descriptions of his voyage, and his narrative was held back from publication for eight years. Raleigh's ( 1848) Discoverie broods over the impossibility of keeping any new knowledge secret, an impossibility that justifies his decision not to explore a potential gold mine:

I thought it best not to hover thereabouts, least if the same had been perceived by the company, there would haue bin by this time many barks and ships set out, and perchance other nations would also have gotten of ours for pilots, so as both our selues might haue been prevented, and all our care taken for good vsage of the people been vtterly lost. (pp. 59-60)

Information itself became a valued commodity to be accumulated, withheld from circulation, and given out strategically.

HJ: When I watch my son playing Nintendo®, I watch him play the part of an explorer and a colonist, taking a harsh new world and bringing it under his symbolic control, and that story is strangely familiar. De Certeau reminds us that one traditional function of narratives is to define a people's relation to their spaces, to justify their claims upon a certain geography.

Cultures endlessly repeat the narratives of their founding as a way of justifying their occupation of space. What is interesting about Nintendo® is that it allows people to enact through play an older narrative that can no longer be enacted in reality--a constant struggle for possession of desirable spaces, the ever shifting and unstable frontier between controlled and uncontrolled space, the need to venture onto unmapped terrain and to confront its primitive inhabitants. This holds true for all players. For children, Nintendo® further offers the image of personal autonomy and bodily control that contrasts with their own subordinate position in the social formation.

MF: The notion of simulating this early colonial experience was not born with Nintendo®. The Victorian editor Edward Arber (1885) writes in his preface to The Three Earliest English Books on America that in them

One is able . . . to look out on the New world as its Discoverers and first explorers looked upon it. Nowadays, this Globe has but few geographical mysteries; and it is losing its romance as fast as it is losing its wild beasts. In the following texts, however, the Wonderment of its Discovery in all its freshness, is preserved, as in amber, for all time. (p. v)

And if late l9th-century editions of American voyage narratives offered readers like Virginia Woolf a vicarious experience, America in the 16th and 17th centuries famously offered to the unlanded or disenfranchised youth of England an alternate arena of possible advancement and acquisition. But the offered autonomy was ambiguous. Advertised in some documents as a place where a young man's hands could be his lands, offering unique opportunities for social and economic mobility, America at other moments offers to England a place where potentially subversive elements--heterodox ministers or "masterless men"--can be sent, where the backbreaking labor that subdues the body will necessarily lead to a conformity of the exhausted spirit. The theory contemporaneous with the voyage, as well as the writings of colonists, represents America ambiguously as a place of acquiring mastery and of being mastered.

The time-honored representation of the English voyages has been a confident, masculine "thrust outwards" and expansion of, among other things, an enlightened English rule. The prestige that the voyages retrospectively acquired under Victoria was solidified by accounts that linked territorial expansion to the flowering of literary achievement represented, especially, by Shakespeare (also Marlowe, Sidney, and others). In contrast to this celebratory reception, the mastery of children playing Nintendo® is valued only within restricted circles and largely trivialized, if not stigmatized, within the larger culture. But if, as we argue, Nintendo® plays out in virtual space the same narrative of mastering new territory that these earlier texts repeatedly record, it has also been argued that Renaissance England was preoccupied with its own littleness, insularity, and triviality (Knapp, 1993). It also seems to be the case that most of England's early voyages and settlements were characterized less by mastery and success than by forms of incompetence, failure, and incomprehension. It is difficult to locate unambiguously in these narratives either what is masterful, prestigious, and monumental or what is trivial, disgraceful, and subordinate. Although our two subjects have acquired different cultural meanings, they are in important ways fundamentally the same narrative, the same kind of experience, one real, the other simulated.

HJ: Our purpose in talking about Nintendo® next to these older texts is not to make a claim about direct causal links between the two traditions nor to borrow cultural authority for Nintendo® by brushing it against works with a more prestigious status. A comparison against periods minimally allows us to think more creatively about forms of narrative that privilege space over characterization or plot development not as aberrations or failures to conform to aesthetic norms but as part of an alternative tradition of "spatial stories," a different way of organizing narratives that must be examined and evaluated according to their own cultural logic. Because all ways of organizing narratives presuppose ways of organizing social and cultural experience, there are ideological implications as well in seeing Nintendo® games as sharing a logic of spatial exploration and conquest with these earlier works. Nintendo® not only allows players to identify with the founding myths of the American nation but to restage them, to bring them into the sphere of direct social experience. If ideology is at work in Nintendo® games (and rather obviously, it is), ideology works not through character identification but, rather, through role playing. Nintendo® takes children and their own needs to master their social space and turns them into virtual colonists driven by a desire to master and control digital space.

Just as the earlier narratives played a specific role in relation to the economic and cultural imperialism of Renaissance Europe, Nintendo® games must also be positioned against the backdrop of a new and more complicated phase of economic and cultural imperialism. Critical theorists have often oversimplified this issue: American-based multinationals dump their cultural goods on the rest of the world, producing an international culture that erases indigenous cultural traditions. In this scenario, cultural power flows in one direction, from the West to the East--terms that provide a sharp reminder of how present a Renaissance geography still is, reaching Japan by traveling east, locating direction in relationship to the Old World and not the New. Nintendo®s success complicates a unidirectional model, suggesting ways that the appropriation and rewriting of these cultural goods may become an alternative source of cultural and economic power.

Nintendo®'s much disputed bid to purchase the Seattle Mariners represented a public acknowledgment of the increasingly central role of Japanese popular culture in defining how Americans play. Japan's longtime adaption, appropriation, and reconstruction of Western cultural traditions enables it to sell its cultural goods in the American marketplace, much as in another age British pop stars ruled the American music scene. What exactly is the cultural status of a Nintendo® game, based partially on American generic traditions or adopted from specific Western texts, drawing some of its most compelling iconography from Japanese graphic art, licensed by Japanese corporations, manufactured and designed by corporations in both the Americas and Asia, and for sale to both Japanese and American marketplaces? What are the lines of economic and cultural influence when we see Bugs Bunny, Hulk Hogan, and Bart Simpson existing side by side with samurai, sumo wrestlers, and Mecha- men? Does Nintendo®'s recycling of the myth of the American New World, combined with its own indigenous myths of global conquest and empire building, represent Asia's absorption of our national imaginary, or does it participate in a dialogic relationship with the West, an intermixing of different cultural traditions that insures their broader circulation and consumption? In this new rediscovery of the New World, who is the colonizer and who the colonist?


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