Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

This is stuff I think I should think about and plan to.

But, yes: of course the Odyssey and the Aeneid are also monster-of-the-week plus big bad.

I think there's an issue (I am thinking about this wrt Orphan Black, e.g.) with open-ended TV shows that nevertheless assign a long term goal (the ten year seasonal goal), vs. the year, the six week plot arc, and the individual week.

So in The Fugitive, e.g., the main (Dr. Richard Kimble) is looking for the one-armed-man, and no way he's going to find him till the series is canceled. In Time Tunnel, the two protagonists are trying to get home, but can't while the series is underway. And it may be underway for a while.

But that's okay, I guess: the final goal doesn't govern plot so much as offer a beacon to navigate by.

But in Orphan Black or Lost or Homeland (or Life on Mars or Flashforward, to point to disappointments), there is something structuring the plot, part of its incident-to-incident structure. The MacGuffin matters, as it always should (which is what makes Hitchcock so good). But it's also endlessly deferred, reconceptualized by writers and producers who just want the show to go on, so that the significant plot moments, the sense that you're advancing towards a goal, always turns out to be a mirage. And that's vexing. Life on Mars and Flashforward bring out what's disappointing about this: they didn't end; they were canceled, and the didn't end because in fact there was no ending that underlay the whole plot structure. And that is, alas, true, of successful series as well.

Whereas I guess the point about a game is there is an end, when you finally get there. I suspect gamers wouldn't play games without an ending. So something that television series (and before that radio soap operas, and before that daily narrative comic strips) eroded in narrative experience may be coming back in games? I hope so.

wolodymyr would certainly have something interesting to say about these issues. I'll flag this post for her.

Edited at 2014-05-02 01:22 pm (UTC)

Excellent points all. (I'm curious - are you thinking of the US version of Life on Mars or the original, or both?)

Lee's Game of Death - which was, ironically, cancelled midway through production by Lee's own death - is an interesting case here. The original plot had him working his way up the pagoda, on the top floor of which was something of great value (unidentified, but think of it as an exquisitely carved jade McGuffin). However, once he's finally defeated all his opponents he leaves the pagoda without going to fetch it. To travel is better than to arrive.

When the fragmentary footage was later cobbled into a film in 1978 the pagoda was written out of the story, and Lee was shown as fighting to rescue Princess Peach his fiancee from some mobsters - which he does, in what is obviously a far more conventional story.


I watched both Lives on Mars, though I didn't get to the end of the original. (I should.)

I am not concerned about the question of novels which, with sufficient reductionism, may be reduced to descriptions of computer games.

But the first-published novel I've ever read that read like a transcript of a role-playing game, that had that ethos and atmosphere to it, was Arthur Rex by Thomas Berger. It was the relentless seeding and re-seeding of the knights which did it.

I'd not heard of Arthur Rex, so scurried off to Google Books to see if I could find out what it means by seeding. I don't think I found what I was looking for, but this is hilarious:

"Sire," said Merlin, "not all women are your kinsfolks."
"Yet," said Arthur, "who might tell, with all the seed my father did broadcast?"
"But," Merlin said, "Uther Pendragon did bed in the main the female issue of churls or defeated paynims, generally virgins of very tender age, as is so often the taste of kings."

"Seeding" as with tennis players or US college football teams: incessant calculating and recalculating of relevant standings. Knights keep track of who's the third, fourth, fifteenth, etc. best knight in the Round Table, meaning their fighting prowess, and every time they hold a tournament it's recalculated.

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Sterne would have loved the internet. Hell, he invented it!

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