Thursday, November 17, 2005

ABC Game On | "Kafkamesto" - A Scholar Replies

Now this almost borders on hilarity.

Arrive at work, receive the latest edition of "Digital Bites", the ABC Broadband mailing list. The lovely Nicola Fern from ABC New Media publicity runs through this fortnight's changes and additions, including, to my surprise, a Flash game called "Kafkamesto" based on the works of 20th century Czech author Franz Kafka. As anyone who's read Kafka will understand, my immediate response was "huh? You did what?!?" Because what I really want to do is play a game where I've turned into a giant cockroach and my family only puts up with my disgusting presence through social duty. I want to play a game where I run around a nightmare bureaucracy to clear my name from a crime that was never even committed, let alone by me. I want to hate my father like he despises me!

"That's it!" I thought, "Let's get the kiddies understanding the hopelessness and absurdity of life as a 20th century man, struggling through personal neuroses and social anonymity!"

It turns out to be a pretty basic adventure game (turn left, turn right, click on the items, talk to the bad guys, everybody hates me...) so in that respect it was kind of fun.

The amusing part, to which this post makes specific reference, is an academic response from "Emeritus Professor Janusz Kazmierczak, Reader in Comparative European Literature, Columbia University, New York." It seems that the authors of the game contacted the good professor to assist with the intellectual elements underlying their proposal and add his name as a "technical adviser." His reply is printed on its own page.

My immediate response to his comments began with surprise and amusement;

"Let me make it utterly clear from the outset that I have no time for games. I abhor crosswords, detest puzzles and absolutely loathe rebuses and the like. Even as a small child, I purposely shunned all forms of schoolyard hi-jinks, instead preferring my own company and the adventures of Huck Finn or David Copperfield to indulge in. And now, as a cultural scholar somewhat reluctantly approaching his ‘twilight years’, I maintain nothing more than passing academic interest in the decadent cultural declinations of the so-called ‘PlayStation generation’ and their persistent idle pursuit of instantaneous reward..."

prodded cautiously through the jungles of disbelief;

"I still remain tormented by this experience albeit only through my loose association with the correspondents as detailed above. As one of Kafka’s own characters remarks in his novel Der Process, “The main thing is to ask questions…” And indeed the questions abound. Why did these potentially talented lads waste their time (and government money, no doubt) employing designers, binary coders and the like to manufacture such a trivial and pointless pursuit? Who would ever take the time to ‘load’ this game, let alone attempt to engage with it on an intellectual level, when there are so many unread stories and letters that any true scholar of Kafka still has yet to savour? I shall never know the answer to such questions, nor will I stay up late at night pondering them."

and kind of finished up somewhere sitting on the fence between the fields of whimsy and derision;

"Long before the silicon surge of seventies’ games such as Space Invaders or Super Ethnic Brothers sparked the jaded imagination of a generation of idle youth - the “X-ers” as I am reliably told - the world’s first interactive medium was still abundantly available, yet vigorously ignored. I am, of course referring to the book. Instantly accessible, readily obtainable; its ‘program’ relying solely on harnessing the inexhaustible memory and imagination of the user, rather than driven by the finite power of any external operating system.

So in conclusion, to those of you with serious academic intent and purpose, I recommend you ‘log on’ to the ‘wide wide world’ beyond your ‘desktop’ and ‘download’ a truly interactive experience by simply visiting your local library and reading a goddamn book."

A very funny read on a number of levels, and I'm still not convinced that the good professor doesn't have his tongue placed squarely in his cheek.

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