“A game is a problem to be solved.”But not always the other way round, obviously, otherwise a sudoku or crossword puzzle is a game. Now, Raph Koster might be happy with that, as he says:
“Games are puzzles.”But, you know, love is a puzzle. A story is a problem to be solved (if you listen to Hollywood screenwriting gurus, anyway). What use are those definitions? Sid Meier says:
“A game is a series of interesting choices.”Which I like, but it essentially requires that you understand what gameplay is before you experience that smile of recognition at his definition. The barer truth, of course, is that a game is anything that’s marketed as a game. But then that raises problematic expectations. If I were to review Dear Esther and rate it as having little or no actual gameplay, wouldn’t I be missing the whole point?
And then there’s replayability. A true game is almost endlessly replayable, precisely because those choices are interesting – that is, there’s never one right decision. But, much as I enjoyed Dungeon Siege or Assassin’s Creed, I’m never going to replay them. On the other hand, I will happily re-read a great novel or watch again one of my favourite movies, and they’re not games at all.
You can probably see why I chose to be a creator, not a critic.
Getting back to the monster in this particular lab, Frankenstein is certainly structured like a gamebook. It’s 155,000 words long (by comparison, a typical Fighting Fantasy gamebook is 60,000 words; Choose Your Own Adventure rather shorter) and at a rough count it’s got about 1200 sections. A monster by anybody’s standards.
I have been asked if it has multiple endings. In fact there are several, as subtly different as the question of whether Clarence lives or dies at the end of True Romance, or whether Deckard gets to drive around in Shining woodland with Rachael, his replicant love. The ending question, though, to my mind misses the point just as much as do considerations of gameplay or replay(re-read?)ability. Every choice is an interaction with the main characters. It affects your relationship with them. Where a novel ends is a tiny part of the whole experience. People enjoyed the meaningful multiple endings of Heart of Ice, but those work because of the route you take to get there. It’s the same with Frankenstein.
Do you get to play the monster? Not really, but yes, is the best answer I can give to that. Do you get to play Victor Frankenstein? No, but you will get to know him. Imagine your best friend is going through a crisis. (Hopefully unrelated to having created a potentially homicidal new lifeform – but this blog has a lot of readers, so you never know.) Your friend asks you for advice. He may or may not trust you enough to confess certain things to you. Would you call that a puzzle, or problem-solving? Or even a game? Yet it is undeniably interaction.
That type of interaction, in the Frankenstein book, will engage you emotionally, intellectually, politically, aesthetically and maybe spiritually. When you have finished, everything you’ve read will be laid out there behind you – a complete novel, the precise text of which will be unique to each reader. I could say the experience will be unique to each reader too, but that is after all true of any novel. Yes, ebooks and book apps are a whole new era, a revolution, a tipping point, yada yada. But at the same time: plus ça change…