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Does Author's Intent matter in literature or games?


While there are some progressive modernists that might argue that author’s intent doesn’t even matter in literature, I’m going to make the case that it does. A poem’s meaning derives from the mind of the poet, whereby they convey an idea or set of ideas particular to the message they want to send in written form. In order to truly understand the written piece, you must attempt to understand the original writer’s intent.

Now take the famous poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, for instance. If someone decided this poem was about hiking in the woods, they wouldn’t get much out of it. But by taking author’s intent into account, the reader is able to appreciate the nuances in Frost’s writing as a contributor to the poem’s allegorical message. While we can oftentimes discover the author’s intent merely from the poem itself, the goal is inevitably to view the poem through the lens of the author’s intent. 

Video games, however, are an exception to this rule. Take a game like Super Smash Bros. Melee, for example. Masahiro Sakurai specifically intended for Smash to be a party game. Melee features a host of Nintendo characters from other E-rated franchises, and includes a variety of cartoonish punching, kicking, and exploding sound effects. Based on its advertising, its target audience, and the game’s manual, its clear the game is oriented more to a casual audience. 

Or at least that’s the intention, anyway.

What Nintendo found was that fans of Melee, soon after the game was released, discovered that it was one of the most technical fighting games ever created. It was Sakurai’s beautiful accident, and by 2006, there was a fairly strong competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee scene.

In contrast to readers of Robert Frost’s poem, players of Super Smash Bros. Melee gained more from the game as an art medium through making it their own as a community, and virtually abandoning the author’s (Sakurai’s) intent.

What do you think about author’s intent in various art forms? Is it an important context to consider, or simply an irrelevant perspective of the past?

Does Author's Intent matter in literature or games?
David V. Kimball
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