«Begin at the beginning», the King said gravely,«Then proceed straight through to the end, then stop» (Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)
The anti-poetic: Interactivity, Immersion, and other semiotic functions of digital play
First published at COSIGN 2004
14 – 16 September 2004, University of Split (Croatia)
The essay examines some of the assumptions of early formalist theory and practice – particularly as regards the widely applied formalist concept of “defamiliarization” (ostranenie) – in order to extend the semiotic analysis of interactive media found in Myers (The Nature of Computer Games, 2003). That analysis describes new media interactivity as displaying semiotic functions formally similar (but often in functional opposition) to defamiliarization. The essay argues that, using a cognitive framework, formalist principles and assumptions can be comfortably extended to describe the aesthetic experiences associated with the use of computer-based media (most particularly computer games) – and, further, that the literariness of poetic language is formally similar and in opposition to the interactivity of digital media.
Aesthetics; close reading; computer games; digital media; formalism; interactivity; immersion; poetics; semiotics.
This essay discusses the importance of early formalist literary analysis to current analysis and understanding of interactive, computer-based media forms. I am particularly concerned here with an understanding of computer games as aesthetic forms or, as I would like to argue hereafter, as “anti-poetic” forms. First, a brief summary of early formalism.
2. Early Formalism
2.1 Important Figures
Historically, the formalist movement is most often associated with two separate bodies of work: that originating within a relatively radical group of Russian critics during the early 20th century – well described in Erlich’s Russian Formalism  – and the publications of the so-called “New Critics,” a cadre of (primarily) poetry critics working in United States academia during the 1920s.
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