The first few unsolicited comments are in for SpaceInvaders, Act 1732:
Video games present archetypal narratives, and to this day the stories told in video games pale in comparison to the lamest of pulp novels. (Take a spin around a video arcade: I think my assertion holds up.) Nevertheless, it is obvious that the public, and particularly the young, are captivated by the thumb activating thrill of interaction with computers. So it is high time that the narratives be evaluated, improved upon, and connected to discourses other than game advertising.
The abundance of film and literary criticism is matched only by the paucity of insightful writing about video games. Yet the video game industry has become as lucrative as the movie business even as it delivers products that, one can only hope, will appear as simple and silly tomorrow as the original "Pong" games seem today. Because most video games present caricatures of familiar narratives, it may be constructive to pursue connections between video games and other, better developed forms of narrative. James Combs' comments on the invasion theme in contemporary film, for example, are illuminating with respect to video games such as "Space Invaders", "Galaga", (and "Space Invaders Act 1732"):
What is striking about these emerging post-modern images and themes in the movies is that they seem to posit catastrophe as a given. It is here, I think, that movies are most useful to us as a form of art that offers us popular evidence of subtle and changing conceptions of power. Popular movies can be studied as "rituals of power," in which we can see a spectacular vision of trends not only in consciousness, but also in the concomitant forms of power that characterize a society at a given time. Think of the sci-fi movies of the Fifties (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Invasion from Mars, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) that constitute a significant cluster of films specific to that political time, the heyday of the Cold War. Although "displaced" into space, they consistently displayed a formuloaic ritual of recognizable alien invasion bringing the threat of either annihilation or dehumanization, something that spoke covertly to the political fears of the age. For even though the powerful threat from the surrogate Red hordes was always great and menacing, it was always somehow thwarted, with at least the hope that the status quo of American nornmalcy would be restored, however tenously. The Invasion of the Body Snatcher' famous added-on ending makes rescue even more ambivalent, but one assumeed in 1956 that the peaceable community would eventually be saved through heroic action. But in the wake of the Sixties, genres such as science-fiction and horror became more apocalyptic in the negative sense, with no clear triumph of good over evil and indeed often the vision of the recrudescent power of evil, ineradicable and recurrent as an avenging force in summer camps and on Elm Street. Writing in 1982, H. Bruce Franklin noted that futuristic films since 1970 had become "overwhelmingly pessimistic, when not downright apocalyptic. Whereas the alien and monster films of the fifties showed our worthy civilation menaced by external powers, these movies typically project our awful future as a development, often inevitable, of forces already at work within our civilation." Notice the difference: the earlier fifties sci-fi flicks posit a crisis that through American political power and virtue will be averted. The later futuristic films assume a world in which not only will American power not be equal to the task, the fundamental problem is not an externally-imposed "crisis" (cf., the missile crisis, the Iran hostage crisis, and so on) that can be managed, rather it is that the socio-logic inherent in the development of the system itself will lead to a catastrophe that is internally-induced. Since 1982, our movie vision of catastrophe has become more complicated, immediate, and domestic, but not any more hopeful. Movies have returned to the depiction of manageable crises, foreign (Heartbreak Ridge, climaxing in Grenada) or domestic (Wall Street climaxing in the prosecution of insider-traders) without satisfying systemic reaffirmation: Eastwood whips the Marine unit in shape, but for a preposterous military endeavor; Michael Douglas presumably goes to jail, but the system of values and practices which gave rise to him remain. Catastrophe lurks in the shadows for a military willing to commit to struggles in which it can become hopelessly entangled, or an economic institution committed to unlimited greed, since the fatal flaw is fundamental and systemic and not an aberration imposed from outside or by an ideosyncratic individual(1).
To be continued...
1 Combs, James. "Pox-Eclipse Now -- The Distopian Imagination." Crisis Cinema. Christopher Sharrett, Ed. Maisonneve Press. Washington, D.C., 1993.