I wonder if Northrop Frye played video games. It’s true that it’s difficult to imagine the doyen of North American literary criticism with his pouchy features shivering over the levers while the reflected white-line paddles of Pong tracked up and down his spectacle lenses; yet when it – the first true video game – hit the arcades, Frye was just sixty. Such was his longevity that before he died in 1991 he could have run through all the major platform games – Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros – and if he’d just taken a little better care of himself, and hung onto life a couple more years, his fingers might have twitched the course of Doomguy through the military base on Phobos, and manipulated him into killing the demons from Hell. I suspect Frye would have been more at home with Doom than with Pong. Doom was, after all, the first video game that featured immersive graphics, allowed for multiplayer gaming, and introduced the psychopathology of the first-person shooter to virtual reality.
[*] Prometheus, 325 pp., £22.95, January, 978 1 61614 501 9.
Vol. 34 No. 23 · 6 December 2012
From Don Coles
Will Self is surely right about Northrop Frye’s speed on the draw (LRB, 8 November). Frye, who lectured at me during five years of English studies fifty years ago, came second in a speed-typing competition in Chicago at the age of 17 or so. Along with his contemporary Marshall McLuhan he was so good at everything he touched or uttered (the two of them made a brilliant double-act, outclassing anyone I listened to at Cambridge a few years later), I only wonder which genius out-typed him.
From Vernon Greenling
Will Self describes Doom as ‘the first video game that featured immersive graphics, allowed for multiplayer gaming, and introduced the psychopathology of the first-person shooter to virtual reality’. I’m not sure what exactly he means by ‘immersive’, but Maze War, in which players appeared as giant eyeballs and shot their way out of a series of increasingly tricky mazes, featured primitive 3D graphics, a multiplayer ‘deathmatch’ mode and a first-person point of view. It came out in 1974, twenty years before Doom, and felt pretty immersive at the time.