As usual, Geoffrey’s is making interesting and relevant interventions – I’ll try to respond in kind. I’ll start with his earlier post – “Struggling to Make Games”. The making of art can indeed be informed by the close reading of art. One of my favorite examples is Tarentino – he worked at a video store, and clearly he spent a lot of time looking at films, and just as clearly this is reflected in his own work. I recognize he’s not to everyone’s taste – either in content, values or style – but there’s no question, whatever you think of his work, he is a filmmaker steeped in the history of his medium.
However, there are two critical variables I would like to interject: rigour and purpose. I don’t know how Tarentino watched, but a close reading done well is done rigorously. Van Looy and Baetans rightfully set the bar high: “When close reading, the eyes are almost touching the words of the text. Every small discontinuity, contradiction or aporia is identified and written down for future reference … there is a sense of hostility between the reader and the text. The text is never trusted at face value, but is torn to pieces and reconstituted by a reader who is always at the same time a demolisher and a constructor.”
I don’t have this sense of hostility when I close read – which may be a fault of mine – but I do have the sense of closeness and attention – which I know is a virtue. Josh and I took notes every step of our reading of ME2 – a total of 54 pages of single-spaced pencil notes. We supplemented that with screen shots – about 360 in total. We then went over the set of notes, starred what we thought were important highlights, cross-referenced them to our analytical framework and produced a 7 page annotated summary of memorable moments tied to specific concepts. I’m not sure Josh would have needed to do this on his own – his memory and internal retrieval systems are superb, but I need this level of annotation to feel comfortable with my own close-readings. If a close-reading isn’t grounded firmly in the work, it’s pretty much hot air.
The other variable – which goes directly to your question of making “someone a good designer” – is the purpose of the reading. Close readings can have a variety of purposes. Your goal could be understanding the work through any number of lenses – political, sociological, historical, cultural. That’s what Brian and Darren did so well at the Concordia Game Narrative symposium. My own goal is poetics – and on this one, Bordwell is right. Close-reading for poetics – for design – is an empirical exercise. If you’re careful, and if you have a base understanding of the medium, you will figure things out. You will reverse-engineer the significant creative decisions, and in the process you will understand the design of the work – or at least that part that you have focused your attention on (as Jen pointed us to in her linking to the “micro-readings” or as Adam pointed out in his “Skyrim” example).
To finally answer Geoffrey’s point (my apologies for the length of this) – if you close-read for design, you will understand the making of the work, and if you push yourself, you will increase your understanding of the medium. In so doing, you will objectify the design process – and give yourself better tools for conceptualizing design. This won’t guarantee you’re a good maker, but if forty years of teaching filmmakers is any guide – it will darn sure help.