I recently received Corentin Benoit-Gonin‘s book on Undertale (Third Éditions, 2023), and this morning I’m photographing it for you at home, in the café, on my lap. I literally savored this research work on Toby Fox’s game. It’s both amusing and amusing, and like the game, it touches and shakes us as readers, in the form of the product it offers, and in the subject it stretches over 200 pages. It was a joy to receive the book and go through it, even spoiling parts of it for myself by dipping into the thematic and historical entries – in short, by playing with the object and its temporality. I’m writing these lines because I’m awaiting the arrival of my own personal project, having spent more than a year working on my first book on the Final Fantasy VII Remake (to be published this year by the same publisher).
That same day, as my children were building kaplas architectures in the living room, carefully structured plans of ephemeral worlds (telling me that one place is home to animals, and another is a slide), I realized just how much Ad/ Vitam/ Etc/ had perhaps been born, unwittingly, from a reading: Paul Cox : Jeu de Construction (B42 éditions, 2018) . This collection is a blog published in bound form, written frantically while setting up an exhibition, and bears witness to a short stage in its author’s life, his creative processes, richly illustrated with his sketches, photographs and other graphic productions, in a daily narrative that reaches us in snatches, with multiple connections. I don’t know whether it was the weave of my living room carpet, combined with the circuits created by my daughter, that evoked the equally deconstructed cover, but it all came together very clearly in my mind. In Ad/ Vitam/ Etc/, I offer you a diary of my wandering thoughts, which I accumulate in the midst of images to form pretty packages – nothing less – so I claim to be Paul Cox – let’s go crazy.
Later today, I laid before you a heap of books, plucked from my various shelves, books collected over the years (sometimes more than 15), lying there for me, for us, and feeding our cravings.
I’ve never been much of a reader, and for good reason: I like books with pictures. I’m not a literary person to begin with; from a very young age I didn’t read, I just leafed through books. I’ve always loved the relationship between text and image above all else, the plasticity of things. So I must confess that before video games, I didn’t write. It was the video game that pushed me to become an author, of videos, articles and now a book – a real book.
However, I’m unable to talk seriously about game studies articles, theses or essays. Although I started buying a few titles like Espace et temps des jeux vidéo (Questions théoriques, 2012) in the mid-2010s. I myself sold my copies not long ago, as I no longer had any use for them. So yes, I need books to discuss video games, it’s even essential – but not these ones. There are few, if any, books that discuss video games as such, or at least theorize about them. This may sound a little silly, coming from someone who now designs games and theorizes about them, but paradoxically, while books devoted to a particular title can fascinate me, game studies fail to nourish me, despite many attempts.
In the summer of 2020, it was through a Vinted account that I finally discovered the books that would guide me in my research. Patricia Marmignon is a researcher associated with the CNRS, and guess what, there was a time when she sold her books on this very application. And I came across her completely by chance. In the midst of her dresses and pumps, she was also selling books by the crème de la crème of French research into Japanese spatiality. So I took the plunge, started by buying books from her (and then from others), discovered Augustin Berque (the leading light) and a book on the new wave of architects of the 2000s (exceptional), and even ended up asking her directly about some of her authors – notably Cécile Asanuma-Brice’s work on Japanese suburbs (a book that has become a bible for me). From this unlikely encounter, that of finding a researcher on an online bartering app, I began to use it in this way, not as a commercial site, but as a means of accessing all kinds of books on Japan, particularly on its space, urbanism, society and history. It was from this spark that my love of architecture was born. Although I’m a former graphic designer, I have no training in this particular field. With hindsight, the book I’m about to receive, which I designed myself, is infatuated with Japan, with its reality, which I saw with my own eyes, but also with what I fantasize about it, through its cultural productions. And it certainly wouldn’t have been the same without this unlikely encounter (and that of my friend Pierre Brissiaud). In fact, it was the most important turning point in my short career as a video game writer: I wanted to talk about Japanese games by connecting them to their society, to their history. I completed the very first stone of this idea in 2021, by devoting a video to Death Stranding. In it, I dissected the notion of kekkai 結界 (corridors, thresholds and entry locks – the country’s own transitions) with a purely Japanese tropism, reinterpreting the nature of the supposedly Icelandic spaces we travel through in Hideo Kojima’s game (and it was obviously a book on the beauty of corridor in Japan that enabled me to do this).
If someone had told me as a teenager that it would be my passion for books that would one day enable me to discuss video games in a different way, to find an angle that fascinated me, and that gave birth to my first book, I would never have believed it – I who was so resistant to this posture, unaware at the time that picture books would ultimately always be part of the game. Yet today, I can even say that, apart from the experience of the game (which I’d like to discuss), it’s all the knowledge I’ve accumulated about Japanese culture that keeps me going. Caught up in the images of a country I’ll never fully understand (at least not as much as Kipp0), living vicariously through this insular culture, and my video games.
This morning, I finished a good book on Undertale, I contemplated my children playing, I made a nice pile to tell you about the books I love – not complicated after all – I think that’s what Ad/ Vitam/ Etc/ is all about, acts, games, memories, desires,
& until next time.