Scott McCloud delves into strategies graphic novelists use to draw us into their work in his book Understanding Comics. While Alison Bechdel makes use of some of these strategies in Fun Home, none of them were what pulled me into her story the most; the most luring aspect of Bechdel’s imagery is one that I’ve coined “The Video Game Effect.” The Video Game Effect is a graphical point of view that builds on some of McCloud’s concepts and inserts me directly into a character’s mind and body, while also calling attention to the exact gender stereotypes Bechdel is trying to demolish.
Bechdel creates what I call the Video Game Effect when she draws an image as if taken from a camera hovering behind the character’s head. She uses this technique sparingly in the novel, but with great impact. The reason why this point of view resonates so much with me is that it is the same point of view used in most video games; while playing a video game, the player assumes total control over every aspect of the figure on the screen, most often from this exact same point of view.
Even if someone has only seen a video game being played and never even played it personally, this personal point of view is bound to draw us in. That is why both video game designers and Alison Bechdel employ it. I have played video games, so I immediately and subconsciously associate this point of view, then, with not just engaging with the image, but with actually becoming the person depicted in the image. When I look at the graphics in Fun Home that utilize the Video Game Effect, I’m no longer looking at them; instead, I am catapulted inside the image and inside the character’s mind and body. I feel Allison’s father’s feet on my stomach; I grip the wheel of the Bechdel’s tractor; I’m standing on a New York rooftop; I’m walking into a Gay Union meeting for the first time.
While the Video Game Effect pulls me into Fun Home, Scott McCloud offers up his “Masking Effect” for accomplishing the same task in Understanding Comics. McCloud’s Masking Effect relies on the over-simplification of character’s faces and a hyper-realistic background in order to allow us to project ourselves into the story. He cites The Adventures of Tin-Tin and other Japanese graphic novels as successfully using the Masking Effect. And while this tactic can serve comics well, the Video Game Effect accomplishes an even better level of projection while not sacrificing any realism or creating any inconsistencies in the visual style.
Another strategy for pulling us into graphic novels which McCloud describes is called “Closure.” McCloud writes that “comics panels fracture both time and space, offering a jagged, staccato rhythm of unconnected moments. But Closure allows us to connect these moments and mentally construct a continuous, unified reality” (McCloud 67). Closure allows us to read in between the frames of graphic novels, and unlike watching a movie where closure literally happens before our eyes at 24 frames per second, we must actively create closure when reading comics. I would argue that the Video Game Effect is actually a form of closure. While it occurs within only one frame, the Video Game Effect does force me to construct a continuous reality within that one image. In a way, the Video Game Effect is actually just a more efficient, non-transitional form of closure.
The Video Game Effect’s impact does not stop at pure style and lure; it also calls attention to the very gender stereotypes which Bechdel is trying to demolish. In 2006, the year Fun Home was published, 60% of video game players were male. While this gap has closed somewhat in the years since, video games remain a historically male pursuit. In Fun Home, the Video Game Effect is bound to affect male readers more than female, or at least at a 20% higher rate. But the images which Bechdel draws you into with the Video Game Effect are often the very images that seem to be consciously discarding traditional gender stereotypes. Whether she intentionally does this or not, some of the male readers of Fun Home who are drawn in by the Video Game Effect are bound for an even more jarring experience when viewing Bechdel’s take on modern femininity and her rejection of gender and sexual stereotypes.
I’m not sure if Alison Bechdel intentionally uses the Video Game Effect. Whether or not she was aware of this point of view’s connection to video games, she clearly is aware of its emotional power; she used the effect on both the first and last page of Fun Home, two images showing some of the most profound emotional connection between Allison and her father we see for the whole story.
This point of view allows us to dive into Bechdel’s narrative. It calls attention to traditional gender roles. It allows us to live Fun Home, not simply just to read it.
Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print.
“Gender Split of U.S. Video Gamers.” Statista. Statistica, 2015. Web. 02 Oct. 2015. <http://www.statista.com/statistics/232383/gender-split-of-us-computer-and-video-gamers/>.
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994. Print.
Playing Assasin’s Creed. Digital image. Youtube. Youtube, 4 June 2012. Web. 1 Oct. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZrklEy9ohQ>.
Playing Grand Theft Auto. Digital image. Youtube. Youtube, 22 Sept. 2013. Web. 1 Oct. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKRGIiD3SOc>.
Playing Madden. 2015. PS Nation. Web. 1 Oct. 2015. <http://www.psnation.com/2014/08/26/review-madden-nfl-15-ps4/>.
Playing SBK 2011. Digital image. Video Game: SBK 2011. Speed Doctor, 30 July 2011. Web. 1 Oct. 2015. <http://www.speeddoctor.net/2011/video-game-sbk-2011-pc/>.
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