Pacing The Click – Possibilities of a Visual Novel Critical Vocabulary

Since it’s a normal past-time of film scholars to come up with all sorts of names for formal techniques applied in film – I figure I should do one for Visual Novels as well.

I call this – ‘Click Rhythm’.

This is one of the subtle aspects of the Visual Novel as a medium that people don’t seem to really touch on. It’s what demarcates the text in a VN from the text in a novel. Essentially, it allows for the writer to ‘sculpt’ a part of the time that a reader takes to read a certain stretch of information.

Now, you can’t control the click speed of a reader in a Visual Novel of course – so it’s different from ‘sculpting in time’ in the sense that it occurs in film. There are actual moments in VNs where the click speed is controlled (e.g. the concert in White Album 2) but those are sparse. Yet, this element alone allows more control over information compared to a novel.

In a novel, the text takes up an entire field (unless you’re reading House of Leaves or something) – which allows for your eyes to jump around. Although we may scroll through the text linearly, you can be sure that our eyes are shifting from here to there sometimes – unless you’re a really concentrated reader of course.

But imagine if you had to read a text that said:

He walked down the corridor. The monster appeared. It ate him

Versus.

He walked down the corridor. The monster appeared.

It ate him.

Versus.

He walked down the corridor.

The monster appeared.

It ate him.

Versus (in VN format)

He walked down the corridor.

(Click)

The monster appeared.

(Click)

It ate him

Now, if you had been reading a text normally, your eyes would probably be able to grasp all those elements at once, and so there’s less of a tension. On the other hand, with a Visual Novel – there’s a greater form of suspense that comes with the click. You sculpt the reader’s reaction by having the information go out piece by piece. Combined with a nice bit of scary OST and a CG of a monster – the tension is ramped up a lot more.

Now, look at this extract from Sakura no Uta:

The Heart and Nature are, also, in a circle. Therefore, these aren’t separate things. They’re the same. And, of course, the scenery we see and get used to every day – always contains the past, present, and future. Every phenomenon that changes over time – collects within that process. A thing like that cannot be static. The World is dynamic. Removed from that. It isn’t the World. Therefore, we can continue walking as usual. We can speak to one another. We can think about painting.

And imagine the impact if every sentence was split up with a click in between them.

When you lump together all that stuff in one paragraph – it looks like the rantings of some new age hippy. On the other hand, by splitting the paragraph with click-rhythm, its significantly smoother and more poetic.

Of course, this strictly applies to the ADV format – but there are novels that swap between ADV and NVL, such as Dies Irae battle scenes. When seen from Ren’s perspective, it enters into ADV that is paced to his speech patterns. When it segues into the omniscient Masada narration, it frequently becomes NVL and barrages you with prose. The same thing occurs in SubaHibi with certain important scenes.

One of the best usages of click rhythm comes from Zypressen in Sakura no Uta – with Rina’s Monologue of course. The lines skew into poetic fragmentation, while the screen becomes swathed in a completely new art style. It grants a beautiful melancholic quality to the whole recitation.

In a way, this quality of click-rhythm actually slightly mirrors enjambment in poetry. Lines can be broken into pieces across the click the same way lines can be broken up in poetry. Poetry is also about precise control of information per line to create a powerful effect. Click-rhythm skews the notion of the normal rules of readability.

So – in order to create better analysis of Visual Novels and their effects, a renewed critical vocabulary is required. One that combines elements from Film Critique (for CG), Literature (for content), Comic Books (for matching of text to image), and Games (for systems, win-states & choices). Lack of such terminology & awareness results in stuff like Bobduh’s critique of Gakhthun where he misses out on the aesthetic qualities of click-rhythm combined with sound and image – going for a normal literary analysis. The fact is that there are some scenes in Visual Novels that only work as Visual Novels – and they read horrible if applied to a book format (Forest is full of these)

But, really – who the heck has the free time to do something excessively academic like that?

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