Who Controls the Speech Bubbles? Reflecting on Agency in Comic-Games
Comics and Agency
Digital games that strive to explicitly and deliberately evoke comics face one challenge right off the bat: movement. Since their beginnings, commercial digital games have been characterized by their use of moving images, usually displayed on a single screen, which connects them more to the tradition of animation than to that of comics. Hence, to be comic-specific in a formal-aesthetic senseas opposed to the adaptation of the content of comicsdigital games need to find ways to include some
... s characteristics. Daniel Merlin Goodbrey's (2017) groundbreaking study of the intersection of comics and games lists seven such characteristics: space as time; simultaneous juxtaposition of images; closure between images; spatial networks; reader control of pacing; tablodic images; word and image blending (Goodbrey 2017, 44). An artifact that exhibits all of these characteristics would be a comic; to judge whether it would be a digital game as well, Goodbrey turns to Jesper Juul's (2005, 36) classic game model and its six characteristics of rules, quantifiable outcome, valorization of outcome, player effort, player attachment to outcome, and negotiable consequences. Both definitions include a number of complex categories that would need unpacking, but precisely this complexity as well as the sheer number of factors already illustrates the challenge: Few artifacts fully qualify as, in Goodbrey's term, hybrid game comics. Despite my great appreciation of Goodbrey's work, I have recently taken objection to his strong reliance on the concept of hybridization (Backe 2020). To conclude that some gamesi.e., those that exhibit a majority of the aforementioned traitsbelong to a category of hybrid game comic is, at best, an intermediary step. As soon as such a category is establishedin a process that is necessarily based on interpretation, taste, and some unarticulated heuristicsit provokes the question of how the examples within the category relate to each other, which runs the risk of exposing differences between cases which might ultimately call into question whether they were part of a unified phenomenon to begin with. Furthermore, examples that exerted great influence on later games without belonging into the category itself would run the risk of being excluded from analysessuch as Telltale Games' The Walking Dead (2012) or The Wolf Among Us (2013). Still, it is irrefutable that a printed comic, an interactive comic, and a comicbased digital game are related without being the same phenomenon. So, how do Open Access.