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Title: Fake rules, real fiction : professional wrestling and videogames
Authors: Oliva, Costantino
Calleja, Gordon
Keywords: Wrestling
Games -- Design
Games -- Study and teaching
Issue Date: 2009
Publisher: Brunel University London
Citation: Oliva, C., & Calleja, G. (2009). Fake rules, real fiction : professional wrestling and videogames. DiGRA, London.
Abstract: Emerging from a legitimate contest regulated by a set of rules, professional wrestling is today a fictional product, where no actual competition takes place. Those same rules serve as a setting for a particular kind of narration: the kayfabe, the fictional framework for all professional wrestling’s narrative, a fictional world with the characteristic of having a 1:1 ratio between real time and fictional time. Professional wrestling and videogames deal in different contexts with the same elements: rules and fiction (Juul 2005) [13]. By combining aspects of narrative theory and game studies research, this paper will analyze the narrative of professional wrestling utilizing the tools commonly used or specifically developed for videogames. An understanding of professional wrestling elements is necessary to explain and criticize the different approaches that videogame designer have used when creating wrestling videogames, a popular sub-genre that present specific peculiarities. The first chapter will provide a background to the history and the evolution of professional wrestling tracing the transformation from wrestling as a legitimate contest to a constructed media spectacle. The on-going constructed nature of contemporary wrestling will be addressed using Chatman’s concept of narrative. We will then use the theory of scripted narrative and alterbiography (Calleja 2009) [4] to explain how the pre-designed elements in a staged match are only partially scripted. This will be the ground for three subsequent passages, each one enlarging the view on the object of study: what happens in the ring, what happens just outside of the ring, and what happens in the fictional world of professional wrestling. By considering the transmediality (Jenkins 2003, 2004) [11, 12] of professional wrestling, we will analyze those conclusions and see how they are used by professional wrestling videogames: the territory where real rules have to be fleshed out in order to simulate the “fake rules” of professional wrestling. The paper concludes that theoretical frameworks developed within game studies have produced useful tools that can be deployed in different contexts, in this case to understand the constructed story that so deeply informs the agonistic (Caillois, 1962) [5] aspects of professional wrestling. The concept of scripted narrative and alterbiography clarifies how the narrative is enacted in and outside of the ring, integrating previous studies about wrestler fan behaviour (Ford 2007) [8], and claryfing the role of the wrestler as both a storyteller and an actor. By considering wrestling as a serialized fictional product, it is possible to analyze the kayfabe as a unique narrative frame, capable of keeping narrative coherence operating with a 1:1 ratio between real time and fictional time. The concept of transmediality, also discussed in game studies, proves to be deeply affected by the kayfabe. Wrestling has strong transmedial narrative elements: it is sufficient to feature few elements of the wrestling enviroment to project the contents of the kayfabe. With that said, making a game out of the mixture of dramatization, physical performance, and symbolical meaning of professional wrestling is no easy task. A theoretical framework can be useful to approach design issues: wrestling fictional elements appears in videogames thanks to its deep rooted transmediality, but the subtleties of professional wrestling’s narrative are still understated in wrestling videogames.
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