Italo Calvino was one of the most influential figures in the literature of the 20th century, and probably the most important intellectual and cultural exponent of the second twentieth century of our country, together with Pasolini . In the conceptual, ideological and philosophical evolution of his vision of the world it is possible to outline a path that ranges from neorealism to postmodernism, capturing numerous points of contact with the interactive entertainment sector and even laying the foundations for stylistic and structural parallels anything but trivial. Let us therefore briefly summarize the evolution of the thought of Calvino gradually setting up the possible theoretical links with the modern videogame: the analysis of the author's literary genius could definitively show us how the videolidico medium is the most postmodern among the various forms of mass communication.
Italo Calvino: precursor of videogame language
First of all, it should be clarified that, although his career is characterized by radical changes of perspectives on the role of literature, some elements of his poetry remain constant. Among these, perhaps the most relevant is his being one of the first profiles of " communicator " to replace the old style "author" figure. Calvino is in fact aware of the fact that his works have the primary function of interacting with potential readers, who will interpret the meanings independently, regardless of his will " autoriale "
Starting from this assumption, Calvino begins his career by exploiting a double level of reading, which is able to communicate different concepts to different audiences: for the most educated or savvy, a certain paragraph could be interpreted in a profoundly different way compared to the most distracted or with less technical tools. This double level of reading is a substantially ubiquitous trait even in the video game, which among the types of modern entertainment is the " comunicativa " and not " autoriale " par excellence, since it requires mandatory player interaction to actually be completed.
Consider the construction of a level and its necessary interpretation by those who will move inside it: even a small detail could be grasped in a way that is profoundly different from the different users, and push them to evaluate it positively or negatively depending on the direct experience. In a soulslike, for example, the difference between those who experience it as trial and error and who as a symbol of a perfect level design often resides in having noticed that small spot of blood that indicates an ambush just around the corner, or a careful analysis of the ceiling of the room we are about to enter.
Write stories and draw levels according to who will read them or who will interact with them: post-modern traits present both in the Calvinian poetics and in the vast majority of videogame works. However, if this technique is already present starting from the first works of Calvino ( The Path of the spider nests ), it is in 1980, with the appendix " Under that stone " of the collection "A Stone Above", that this consciousness manifests itself in all its evidence, telling a Calvino who is perfectly clear his being in a position of equality, and not superiority, with the reader.
At the end of his career, after having having developed profound reflections between the Marxist approach, the structuralist and the semiotic one, Calvino understands that there is no communication so effective as to represent a single message that cannot be interpreted, and accepts willingly and with a certain irony ( distinctive character of all his works) the possibility of being misunderstood, or even having wrongly set his message. It is difficult to find a similar phrase expressed by a game designer, yet there is nothing more suitable to describe the potential destructive approach (in the sense of breaking the rules) that possesses the soul of the player when he is about to interact with a new video game.
How many times have we read or written " are you playing badly "? As if a certain conceptual direction of the author or studio could harness all the extraordinary creative will and freedom that the videogame medium can express. Of course, the game director can direct us towards a certain approach to his work, but if he leaves the player somehow to experiment with his rules, you can be sure that he will do it: the desire of each person to interact with the narrations of others (which can also be video games) it is one of the principles behind postmodernism, and which characterize not only the poetry of the last Calvino, but the videogame all, from the beginning.
For the last Calvino, who came into contact with French semiology and therefore with concepts such as the death of the author of Barthes and the hyperreality of Baudrillard the language has replaced reality, for the human being. We no longer (if we ever had them) the tools to understand the real, but we rely on a filter (the language) to try to simulate reality itself.
If it reminds you of something, it is because this concept could better represent of many others the reason why we often bind ourselves so much to video games: digital and interactive realities in which patterns and rules make us more capable than normal of evolving our potential and building a path of progression and personal improvement, without the risk (net of bad game design) of getting stuck in misunderstandings and bad interpretations of the message or its rules.
Combinatorial narrative and interpretative freedom
If therefore " the same order that man tries to see in the world is not that abstract or artificial " (Luperini, 2017, Why literature) of language, then reality is unrecognizable: the approach to the interpretation of the world results in a linguistic game. From this iron conviction, which will no longer abandon Calvin until his death, the combinatorial narrative is born, which will characterize much of the subsequent Calvinian literary production.
In Castle of crossed destinies for example (but also in the tavern of crossed destinies), the narrative progression is entrusted to the use, by the protagonists, of playing cards. Recovering the structure of Decameron Calvino tells the story of a group of travelers who arrive at the same time in a castle, and since they all seem to have lost their word, they tell each other stories using the images on the playing cards they have available. On the basis of their arrangement on the table, tarot cards can however be read in different directions, or with orders of meaning that change according to who observes them. Consequently, the stories begin to overlap, become confused, become unrecognizable and indistinguishable from one another: the author's "mania" for control remains, but as Calvino himself says, it is still always of "mania", of an unrealistic desire with respect to the fluid reality of language.
Even in this case, it is impossible for a gamer to evoke in his mind the synthesizing sensation of a Telltale adventure or Quantic Dream after some time, especially for those who play them: the pieces of the story are modeled, added together and confused , all merging into a set of stories that change according to the user.
But if for modern graphic adventures this may seem obvious, this concept can easily be extended to even the most structured stories: even an Assassin's Creed, based on our style of play, can present radically different rhythms, contents and themes, to depending on how we arrange the "cards" (chapters, map areas, secondary missions). In fact, going from one main mission to another without engaging in farming could tell us a much more tense and rhythmic story than those who want to clean up the map of every possible icon, while at the same time the adventure could be much slower for the latter. , or maybe easier, if the game has a progression system at levels, for example.
As you can see, the combinatorial narrative is essentially a compulsory element, or almost, in the world of videogame or interactive writing.
The saga of crossed destinies is only the beginning of a path of metanarration and combinatorial writing: to follow, with Invisible Cities Calvino creates a real novel made up of paragraphs, thematic titles, frames and pieces that can be read from different perspectives, freely chosen by the reader and without rigid indications on the part author. The text, which rewrites Il Milione by Marco Polo from a postmodern perspective, is the story of the cities encountered along the journey of the Venetian writer to Kublai Kan, the emperor of the Tartars.
The point is that each city is not inserted in the text according to a chronological order, but thematic: the cities and the signs, the cities and the memory, etc. Furthermore, these thematic itineraries are re-proposed along the text, suggesting a different reading from the traditional one of a literary work, inviting the reader to build his own individual path. The author does not educate (vertical perspective) the reader, but communicates with him (horizontal perspective) a content that he will then interpret.
The indispensable contribution of the user
We then come to " If a winter night a traveler ", an ironic, closed and traditional novel, whose only functionality is to collect other novels of completely different genres (from the yellow to the political) that have a beginning but do not have an end, and are therefore incomprehensible, but to which the reader can add, thanks to his language, a meaning (as with reality).
The entire current of the " enviromental storytelling " of the videogame world is inspired by this idea: rather than authors, the game designers of those experiences are architects of worlds that communicate stimuli and suggestions to those who interact with their works, which will then enrich them with interpretations, debates, opinions and digital commentaries, giving or space for creative freedom rather than the ability to intercept someone else's message. Again, " If a winter night a traveler ", one of the most important novels in the history of literature, relates to readers like a game: perfectly aware of this, of the rules laid down by reading of the text, these cannot identify themselves, because they clearly perceive their being on a metatextual level, outside the story. Game, rules, identification: terms that are essentially omnipresent in the videogame world, obviously used in different ways but linked by the same conceptual link, that is the constant dialogue between author and reader, which actually become communicators within the same process.
Finally, Calvino himself has recognized, throughout his career, a natural and stylistic inclination for visual solutions in his writing. Its syntax lends itself very well to cinematography, because its scientific, practical and clear approach translates into speed, precision and cutting for details. The idea behind this style, which despite its changes in perspective has always characterized his writing, is based on a clear structural concept: " to favor the gaze to stimulate reflection " (Luperini, Why the literature, 2017).
And what other medium links with greater strength and constancy the interpretation of the visual language with the textual interpretation of the rules, if not the video game? In " The day of a scrutineer ", a decisive novel for the intellectual evolution of Calvino, are only the images that convince the comrade Amerigo of the impossibility of dealing with the discovery of reality with rational categories. It is in the images around us (reality), and in the means we use to interpret them (language), that lies the expressive power that links what the eye observes and what the mind suggests.
In the decades of rapid evolution of the videogame medium, we have often been led to think about concepts perceived as new by the sector, such as the role of the author in the video game (Kimmich, Warren Spector, etc.) and its adaptability to the traditional story , typical of cinema or literature. Personal stories and artistic careers such as those of Calvino teach us that the rediscovery and deepening of the past, as well as a multimedia passion for storytelling and narration, could give us lots of tools to reflect on structures, qualities and the peculiarities of the most used entertainment medium in the world.