I’ve been a scholar of adaptation for nearly 5 years. Well, that is amongst studying all kinds of vulgar things* like films, “culture” and other liberal arts. But in all honesty I’d like to consider that what I spent so much time studying was the universality of narrative.
The ability of stories to transcend things so trivial as medium, genre, style, time and all other arbitrary conventions. The reason why I said I studied adaptations rather than “universalities of narratives” is that, whilst the phrase “adaptations” is far from unproblematic, it is made implicit (or otherwise) in it’s definition that narrative is universal but not without needing changes (or adaptation).
Now I won’t bog you don’t with the politics of adaptations as a field of study, but I should outline a few basic “truths” before I proceed. The first; most prolific in any discourse involving adaptations is that of fidelity. The faithfulness of an adaptation to its source is the biggest bug-bear of the field, and it’s been discussed to a point of vilification – so now, rather than discussing it, academics and their ilk actually spend time discussing ways not to discuss fidelity, but I digress. The second most important thing to note about adaptations is (in a subservient way from point number one), that people love to hate adaptations. That as a genre, if it could ever be considered as something so specific, it’s always going to be considered negatively, always featuring behind or below some other text.
So, adaptations are governed by an almost impossible need for mechanical reproduction of the source, and that they’re always considered as derivative and bastardised, as such those who spend too much time concentrating on them receive appropriate levels of apathy. If you’re still struggling to appreciate what it means to be an adaptation just think of any recent movie to game adaptation, the GI Joe Rise of Cobra game is a very apt manifestation of this debate in game, or thereabouts.
This has never stopped me pursuing adaptations as a fascinating cultural entity. Up until very recently I’d spent the majority of my time on the “academic” side of this mix, to be the critic or researcher, asking people what they thought, avoiding any semblance of a value judgement on my part. Of course everyone else says the book is always better or the game adaptation is always terrible, but it was never my place to have an opinion on the subject. No, instead of making blanket statements, I have endeavoured to see how the over half live. It’s very easy to complain that your favourite character or scene is missing, but have you ever stopped to ponder as to the reason behind this? If the answer is no, then don’t worry, I’m not going to look down on everyone who doesn’t share some lofty academic ideals. Well, I have pondered this, for quite some time now but rather than pondering it any further, I intend to see it first hand.
I’ve strayed closely to adapting texts before; I remember a very dark adaptation of Poe’s Tell Tale Heart set in a hellish modern day old people’s home with a perplexing (read: convoluted) “twist” as the finale. For those who’ve had a poke around my and Mike Dunbar’s website, Chronoludic, you may have noticed some musings of based around adapting Crime and Punishment. Part of me is still very happy with the premise of the project, even if I feel hopelessly naïve when reading my work again. Either way, the adaptations of times-past never really became anything more than research, conjecture or simply play. Now I’m attempting to do something different.
For those of you who humour me by following my tweets will have no doubt noticed that I’ve been wrestling with a text adventure. Well, this text adventure is my grand project, my opus (?), my adaptation. In this instance I haven’t picked a source text by any grand authors, no moody horror writers or freezing Russians here – not now. I guess the alternative is slightly more self-indulgent as my chosen text for adaptation is one that I’ve just penned. This isn’t to say that I believe that my own text has more merit and worth being made into a text adventure over say, Tolstoy, but I do have another objective in mind. Rather than search the annals of literature for a story which fits this objective, I instead decided to write something myself.
For now I won’t discuss the objective, or the story I’m adapting, doing so would defeat it’s own purpose to a point. So until its public unveiling you’ll have to believe me when I assure you that there is indeed something coming that will (hopefully) be worth your attention. What I will tell you is that I’m in the process of learning the Inform 7 text adventure system, Infocoms style, that some of you may remember from your youth. This isn’t my boasting that I’m now a programmer too, far from it, but in addition to that I’m at least gaining more insight from this process than I thought I would. Rather than simply learning the process of adapting a short story to a text adventure I’m also learning to be a developer and designer as well as adapting the text itself. So far this has been a wonderfully enriching experience, and it’s something I’d advice to many a budding writer who has an interest in games writing.
All things going well, I hope to show some intrepid beta testers an early build of the game, so if any one has read this far and is interested to see what I’m working on, just comment or get in touch – I’d love to have as many eyes and ears on this as possible. Until then though, all you’ll have to go by is some ambiguous 160 character laments and/or boasts – more the latter no doubt – via twitter (@chrisgreen87).
*Irony – I’m sure most of you got it, but this is the internet, I’ve got to cover myself some how.
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