Video Games as Literature: FromSoftware (Part 1 - Game Studies) (Panel)

Cultural Studies and Media Studies / Interdisciplinary Humanities

Brent Matheny (Graduate Center, CUNY)

Connor Spencer (Columbia University)

Since the unexpected success of their 2011 title Dark Souls, Japanese studio FromSoftware has become known for creating video games that combine, on the one hand, punishing difficulty with, on the other hand, a ludonarrative design philosophy that subverts the forms of straightforward narrative exposition typical of mainstream, “triple-A” games. FromSoftware games invite players to comb through minor digital artifacts to archaeologically piece together their own understanding of the games’ worlds, characters, and themes. This core gameplay mechanic, for many players, pushes beyond the game into other virtual spaces. Across scrupulously detailed and often speculative wikis, video essays, and Let’s Plays, players have collaboratively constructed meaning from the games’ ergodic text. This panel asks how a niche game series, amidst the standardized narratorial and ludic forms certified by the video games culture industry, became a multimillion dollar bestseller and critical success. What makes these games so compelling as to lead players to create communities beyond the game itself? What sort of interpretive practices to the games cultivate in their players, and which are by design part of their narrative form? What can the study of FromSoftware games contribute to the study of interpretive practice for literary studies, media studies, cultural studies, and related disciplines?

This panel is interested in ludonarrative genealogies, analysis of non-traditional storytelling, affect studies, analysis of para- and meta-texts, materialist histories, fandom studies, and engagement between videogames and traditional intellectual disciplines.

This panel engages video games created by Japanese developer FromSoftware, creator of critically acclaimed works such as Dark Souls (2011) and Elden Ring (2022) that subvert many of the ludic and formal conventions of mainstream video game design despite their bestseller status. Examining the collaborative narrative forms of FromSoftware games, which induce interpretive practice from the inside-out rather than outside-in, this panel asks what the study of these games can contribute to traditional literary and media hermeneutic practice.