And what an experience it is. It tells a story that wraps up within about 90 minutes, so the same as a movie, but you end up spending twice, thrice or four times that length thinking about it and listening to online discussions about it. No doubt about it, TBG is the closest any video game has came to being a complex piece of literature. There are multiple theories and interpretations to TBG, but the one I gleaned from it was that of the objective overanalysis of art.
I’m sure many of us studied a novel back when we were students. For me, it was The Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I believe that many of my stateside friends studied The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. For many of us, it was at the time a rather unpleasant experience of picking apart an otherwise great novel, deconstructing every sentence for themes, meanings, metaphors and symbols. By the end of the course, my copy of The Lord of the Flies was covered in notes and annotations and highlighter pen. The spine was so cracked that the lettering upon it was no longer legible. And in hindsight, it was an important experience. Though I would never analyse a novel to the same extent ever again, it did activate my ability to read into fiction at deeper level, to see the hard truths beneath the fluffy story. I can appreciate some of my favourite novels all the more because of that. The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud isn’t just a rollicking adventure around a magical alternate-universe of London, but a biting satire of modern politics.
But is there such a thing as overanalysis? My English teacher at the time I was studying The Lord of the Flies told me that “you can never read into anything too much.” That stuck with me, and I do agree with him. There is definitely value to be had in pausing over a piece of art now and then – not just books, but paintings, music, movies and poetry – and letting your mind wander around the possible labyrinth that lies under the surface. Those that would rubbish such things, that accuse you of ‘reading into things too much’ or ‘overthinking it’ are those who are missing out, who would prefer to take things at surface level and not delve into the rich layers beneath.
No, where the boundary lies is when that overanalysis is stamped with an objective truth. When one decides that the conclusions and meanings drawn are the real meaning that the author intended and begins pushing that onto others, dismissing others who would take a different view. The Lord of the Flies is forever damaged goods to me because of this: it was impressed upon me throughout that the metaphorical meanings behind William Golding’s novel were about the innate barbarianism of humans, the conflict between civility and savagery. I was never given the chance to savour the novel on my own terms, to decide for myself what it all meant. Even if it was the intention of the author himself that the themes were indeed what my English teacher talked about is a moot point.
Though I think some authors will disagree, when you put your work into the hands of another person, you are effectively surrendering total ownership and authority of that work. The reader deserves the right to read into your book however they wish. If one reader sees your novel as a swashbuckling adventure, and another reads it as a commentary on the decline of family values, and another reads it as a controversial metaphor for the abortion debate, who is right? The answer is all of them. Even if your intention had been to simply write a novel about a stranded astronaut finding their place in an alien society.
As the author of the work, we may deem it part of our duty to get our message across and allow little to no room for misinterpretation. But when this need becomes too desperate, it can manifest itself in bad ways: our own agenda being too on-the-nose in the narrative and coming off as preachy, and accusing our own readers of reading our work the wrong way. But that is the nature of quality fiction: every reader will navigate the labyrinth of your work differently (heck, some will even read into sections where you never intended any meaning in the first place), but this is an important and precious right of the reader. Your work becomes that much more personal and valuable to your reader because they will find something in it that they discovered; something that holds a mirror to themselves and their own values that will either reaffirm them or challenge them. Shoehorning your own analysis onto them is going to distance them from that experience.
Anyway, if you really want to push your own opinion on others, you should just get into journalism. Or start a blog.