Literary Gaming

Literary Gaming

By Astrid Ensslin

A new analytical framework for understanding literary videogames, the literary-ludic spectrum, illustrated by close readings of selected works.





A new analytical framework for understanding literary videogames, the literary-ludic spectrum, illustrated by close readings of selected works.

In this book, Astrid Ensslin examines literary videogames—hybrid digital artifacts that have elements of both games and literature, combining the ludic and the literary. These works can be considered verbal art in the broadest sense (in that language plays a significant part in their aesthetic appeal); they draw on game mechanics; and they are digital-born, dependent on a digital medium (unlike, for example, conventional books read on e-readers). They employ narrative, dramatic, and poetic techniques in order to explore the affordances and limitations of ludic structures and processes, and they are designed to make players reflect on conventional game characteristics. Ensslin approaches these hybrid works as a new form of experimental literary art that requires novel ways of playing and reading. She proposes a systematic method for analyzing literary-ludic (L-L) texts that takes into account the analytic concerns of both literary stylistics and ludology.

After establishing the theoretical underpinnings of her proposal, Ensslin introduces the L-L spectrum as an analytical framework for literary games. Based on the phenomenological distinction between deep and hyper attention, the L-L spectrum charts a work's relative emphases on reading and gameplay. Ensslin applies this analytical toolkit to close readings of selected works, moving from the predominantly literary to the primarily ludic, from online hypermedia fiction to Flash fiction to interactive fiction to poetry games to a highly designed literary “auteur” game. Finally, she considers her innovative analytical methodology in the context of contemporary ludology, media studies, and literary discourse analysis.


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262027151 216 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 21 b&w illus.


  • Literary Gaming is a fascinating and detailed scholarly exploration of this fairly new field of academic inquiry.



  • In this wise and insightful book, Astrid Ensslin makes a good start on a new literary criticism, one that sees beyond the mere facticity of digital mediation, deep into the substance and operations of important works. The book is exemplary, both in its keen grasp of textual theory and, perhaps more crucially, its smart and sensitive engagement with demanding, often baffling texts. Perhaps close reading is no longer possible for works so nontrivial in their configurative requirements. Ensslin offers an intriguing substitute, call it deft reading, a criticism answerable to the great, protean demands of texts relentlessly in play.

    Stuart Moulthrop

    Professor of English, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

  • It is easy to say games contain narratives and easy to say that narratives are playful. Saying so does little other than repeat existing rather poor metaphors for games and narratives. Astrid Ensslin does something much harder and more rewarding: she takes on all the works occurring on the spectrum from games to literature (what she calls the L-L spectrum) and provides the first rigorous descriptive vocabulary for reading these works. I was surprised and informed by the diversity and invention found in the works examined. More than this: I was persuaded and even amazed by the rich and fine-tuned readings Ensslin offers. Literary Gaming sets the standard for understanding literary ludicity.

    Sandy Baldwin

    The Center for Literary Computing, West Virginia University

  • Literary Gaming moves beyond tired debates as to whether the playful and poetic are compatible, and instead offers detailed readings of specific projects, illustrating a range of ways that compelling artistic experiences combine the ludic and literary.

    Noah Wardrip-Fruin

    Associate Professor of Computer Science, University of California, Santa Cruz, and author of Expressive Processing