In my dissertation, I make the argument that certain video gaming structures and elements allow one to reinterpret medieval French literature in such a way that reveals the game-like qualities of these texts; when considered as a whole, these characteristics represent the gamefulness of a text. For instance, the notion of aventure, or the chivalric, quest-based undertakings associated with many medieval romances, traces characters’ attempts to reach some sort of goal: something material and more tangible such as marriage, riches, a fancy shield, or, of course, the holy grail; something more abstract like renown, celebrity, or to awaken from a dream. Much scholarship has been written on aventure, but little has explicitly its goal-oriented nature can be mapped nicely onto video games of the adventure genre. These games are overwhelmingly popular.
In medieval texts where quests often drive the narrative forward, the protagonist-hero stands in as an avatar for the reader: as one reads, it seems natural to imagine oneself as the agent of a narrative, carrying out dangerous tasks and seeking adventure. One also seems to sympathize or try to empathize with the main character(s) of the narrative, putting oneself in a position of assumed control over the storyline (see Woods Weeping for Dido for more on emotion and empathy in reading texts in the medieval classroom). This empathetic engagement with both medieval texts and videogames is arguably enhanced by the multimodal interactions that these media invite. Console video games that require hand-held controllers ask players to manipulate their way through the narrative using their thumbs and a series of button pushes, trigger pulls, or joystick turns. Often game controllers, especially on more modern consoles, will vibrate in sync with various actions or events on screen. This haptic feedback is unique to gaming and absent from the assumed way medieval people read.
Reading practices in the Middle Ages are all but concretely defined, although we do have some visual and textual evidence, but a compelling argument has been made for the multi-sensorial significance of reading medieval manuscripts . Furthermore, medieval readers are believed to have gathered in groups to hear these texts read aloud; this participation echoes the social element of gaming. Several people can play one game at the same time, either locally on the same console using more than one controller, or, more likely today, online, which connects players virtually across the world. It is the local, multiplayer mode that interests me most in its similarity to putative medieval reading practices.