Transliterate Play by Souvik Mukherjee

Thank you for welcoming me into the Transliteracy Research Group. As I have always maintained, I love to read games and to play books. No, I haven’t mixed up my verbs. I work on stories in videogames and like every other player, I play, read and (re)write the stories that I come across in videogames. It’s not something that just I do or am joined in doing by some random gamers from my nearby cybercafé. You do this too. I’m sure you too have picked up your favourite book for the umpteenth time and read it playfully, replayed the story as your own imagination wills and probably turned it into a different story from the one you had read ten years ago in the same book. That is pretty much what you do in a videogame – you replay a story. As one plays a story, so can one read a game.  

Games, and I’m especially interested in videogames here, often demand a high level of transliterate engagement that becomes obvious when one reads a multiple ended narrative (how the story ends depends on how one plays it). I’ve often been asked, ‘so how do you read a nonlinear text such as Grand Theft Auto?’ My answer would be that such a reading  involves different parameters from the traditional set definitions of reading : you re-read GTA every time you play it and you read it with a joystick or a gamepad.  However, even the first time I played GTA: San Andreas, I was also immediately reading what I had read in books or watched in films like Training Day into my experience of the game’s story. The reading that I experience is deeply influenced by the technical specificities of the medium but this experience does not occur in a void.  My experience of GTA’s story is deeply grounded in my experience of other narratives and other media.  It is a transliterate experience and one that is hard to miss.

That is not to say that videogames do something terribly new in this regard or that they involve more of a transliterate engagement.  Videogames certainly make the experience of transliteracy quite obvious though and together with the transliterate, they also involve another of my interests – the transludic (to coin a term).  Within the experience of reading, writing and interacting across a range of platforms, one can also include the experience of playing across a range of platforms as well as that of the overlap of play and reading as we see in the videogame.

Transliteracy has always remained a complex process for me and that’s the fun of it. In a recent research study that I conducted with Professor Sue Thomas, we found that the ‘hidden hand of transliteracy’ was responsible for major positive impact on the improvement of small businesses and communities. Happily surprised as I was, this was another clear indicator of the complex and subtle ways in which transliteracy works.  While videogames make the experience of transliteracy more obvious, they also hold out the promise of exploring the complex workings of the concept much further.

With this in mind, I shall be exploring transliteracy from a Game Studies perspective in my future posts and am very keen on engaging in a discussion that will hopefully spill over into larger contexts of transliteracy. Thank you once again for having me in TRG. I am thrilled to be here.