Essay Archive

This essay presents an analysis of the deeply layered mythological, apocryphal and midrashic references in a faction of pseudo-/crypto-Jewish Giants (Nephilim and Rephaim) in the PBEM strategy game Dominions 3.
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Japanese video game titles represent a significant portion of the U.S. video game market. With such widespread representation of Japanese made games in the video game market, this presentation asks ‘What kinds of ideas are formulated by Western consumers of Japanese games?’ More specifically, what does the consumption and digestion of this media reveal and conceal about Japan to Western consumers? These questions directly address Edward Said's conceptualization of Orientalism both in the Western consumption of Japanese games and in Japanese games' depictions of Japanese-ness in the games.

Even when not actively perpetuated, Orientalism persists as the default framework through which gaming depicts Eastern cultures. This presentation will cover three dominant forms of Orientalism...

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The cyborg is a prevalent figure in modern fiction and science fiction as authors explore the implications of the continued development and integration of technology into the human experience. The concept of the cyborg itself presents a hybrid of organic and machine, two familiar elements that are fused into new, variable constructs. These cyborg constructs are ultimately alien in a nature, as the familiarity of the opposing components comes into conflict with their inherent differences, forcing the individual observer to re-evaluate their perception not only the cyborg, but the individual components as well. Essentially, the cyborg figure makes its familiar components--that of flesh and machine--each othered through the cyborg's hybrid form.

For video games, which rely on...

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American popular culture’s recent fascination with vintage sci-fi now extends to a medium that did not even exist when Martians first invaded American drive-in movie screens: the videogame. One game in particular, Destroy All Humans! (THQ, 2005), makes an unabashed foray into cinematic pastiche with its visual, musical, and thematic allusions to 1950s alien invasion movies such as The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), It Came from Outer Space (1953), and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1958). Frequently compared to director Tim Burton’s sci-fi parody Mars Attacks! (1996), Destroy All Humans! indeed employs very similar scenery and iconography. Yet, although certain criteria of genre would place Destroy...

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Nocturne_Alley, or N_A, is a LiveJournal-based Harry Potter RPG which ran for two years. NrAged is the discussion community created by fans a year into the game, and its forum for fan production completes a mutually defined reader-text relationship with N_A. Unlike more traditional RPGs, the players of N_A embody their characters, rather than perform them, as their 'real' identities are erased by a number of game restrictions: all players are anonymous, communicate with NrAged fans under the pseudonym 'a_player,' maintain the mystery of how the game operates, and uphold the illusion that the game is a reality, both for those playing and those watching. The players do perform, however, the ideal fan, by creating a believable paratext that represents the ideal fannish product. Likewise,...

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The imaginary of the networked, augmented self is unitary, but the practice of this multi-user self, this multiplicity of being in the cybernated, social dataspace is far from a cohesive, organic and maintained system. Networked identity is supplemental, like a link on a page, a page on a site, a node on a network or a server in a circuitous expanse. Not only is dataspace continually invaded by the process of this other, but this realm of media saturation requires and reproduces a myriad of othernesses that shed and collect in archives and databases. These fragments of self assault the perceived purity of identity. Networked identity embodies competing notions of fluidity and fixity, of limitation and expanse, augmentation, embodiment/disembodiment, multiplicity, temporal change and...

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How a video game player negotiates the alien environment of a new game requires the activation of cognition to direct action. As the player constructs game play in the foreign environment mediating cognitive skills are used to facilitate progression through the game. The activation of skills used to negotiate understanding of the alien environment is reflective of a player’s general experience and familiarity with gaming technology, indicating the role of experience in how cognition is engaged. This presentation will discuss the results of a study that identifies a continuum of cognitive skills used to engage a new game, or alien environment, based on the player’s experiential level. The recognition of video game play as a domain of expertise signifies the development of sophisticated...

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The very existence of a tabletop role-playing game that situates its players as the ghosts of Holocaust victims gave rise to this equally unusual academic project. White Wolf’s Charnel Houses of Europe: The Shoah is a supplement for their (cancelled) Wraith: The Oblivion roleplaying game. Charnel Houses of Europe is a meticulously researched book that tries to do something that may be impossible: deal respectfully with the holocaust while using it as part of a game.

We (Phil Sandifer and Tof Eklund) took this book, wrote a roleplaying scenario using it, and ran the scenario twice, once before and then again at the conference. The players were assigned roles as members of an extended family of victims gathered at the deathbed of their last...

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After creating an account and viewing the opening CG clips, a player's first interaction with an MMO game is usually the character creation screen. Without experiencing the subtle and complex mechanics of the game, the user's choices are influenced by visual information. Since they only have brief summaries of the game-play dynamics, players rely on style and fantasy-gaming conventions as they decide on the appearance, class, and race of their first character. Race has become a particularly important element of character creation, as many games distribute races into opposing factions. Massively multiplayer-online games have inherited the conventions of monstrous races from fantasy novels, movies and P&P settings. The term “indigimon” refers to digital indigenous monsters: the...

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Within the field of sociology, it is common knowledge that an individual gains an understanding of social norms, mores, mannerisms, and attitudes through means of socialization. Historically, this job has been undertaken by the parental figures, then later by educational authorities. With the infusion of media into mainstream American society, television and the silver screen both became primary sources of socialization, sometimes even stronger than the parental figures in this endeavor. Studies have been done regarding film and television regarding both socialization and representation of minorities, but computer and console games are typically overlooked as means for socialization. While video games may not have first been an effective tool for socialization – Pong had little to tell...

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Simulation and interactivity, ideas inherent to video games, allow the player to engage in an act of impersonation, through an Avatar or not, and dialogue in real time with the universe he is momentarily part of. While this medium is able to provide a gateway to a vast range of roles and situations to be experienced by the user, for several reasons, there has been some constancy on the position given to the player – usually the role of an archetypal hero. Games, electronic or otherwise, usually present a situation of conflict between two or more parties, where the other is an opponent. In videogames, a dramatic tone is often employed through the depiction of a ‘good side’, controlled by the player, and an ‘evil side’, more commonly assigned to the artificial intelligence of the game....

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by Phil

The act of playing a video game can be, on a medial level, understood as an interplay of various and nested performative roles, each defined in terms of their other - avatar and game world, implied player and implied game, actual player and actual game, and so on. (Drawing these terms and roles from Reader-Response theory, particularly Wolfgang Iser, Wayne Booth, and Gerald Prince) These roles are locked into what can be understood as mutual interpollation - each one understandable only through the existence of the other in a particular performative role which is in turn defined by itself.

This paper looks at the intervention of the demo (in its various forms) into this sequence of dyads. The demo is a paratext, not just to the game, but to the hermeneutic of play, serving as...

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by Laurie

In video games, ghosts can refer to multiple instances: those within the game's machine, the software, those represented in the game narrative, and those that the ghosts represent. This presentation focuses on video games that represent the undocumentable past within game worlds through the act of haunting. Haunting occurs in all digital media through the act of telepresence with the predetermined possibilities set in place by the game designers, and then the traversal and exploration (and possible exploitation) of those possibilities by the player. More traditional notions of haunting occur in games with narrativized ghosts that exist within the game space. These ghosts are sometimes only shadows that cannot be accessed and serve to populate only the visual presentation of the game...

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My essay addresses Sid Meier’s Colonization, the oft-forgotten first sequel to Civilization. Released in 1993, Colonization places its player in the role of a colonial leader in the New World, starting in 1492, with a choice between four historically dominant nations. This game is inherently troubling. Its object is to grow crops, earn money, build a colonial foothold in the New World and – most importantly – carry out genocide, wiping out the player’s choice of Indian tribes that already inhabit these Americas. They inevitably get in the way of deforestation, road-building, and seizure of land. All of these activities reflect historical colonization, and all of them contributed to the eradication of Native American livelihood.

These native peoples serve as obstacles to what...

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When we play a single-player computer game, gazing intently into the face of monitor, to what extent is the computer an other? I propose to investigate this deceptively simple question by using the idea of alterity/otherness introduced by Emanuel Levinas in his work on the theory of ethics.

For Levinas, the basis of ethics lies in the face-to-face encounter with the other. The other calls the imperialism of my being into question, radically charging me to respect his/her difference. In most interpretations of this encounter, of course, the other is an other human being (though we must be careful not to assume too much in defining the human). But in a computer game the other may well be an AI program; moreover, we often perceive and treat the hardware as somehow personalized (a...

by zach

The appreciation of games as critical objects meriting scholarly attention is still fairly recent, yet games are still, significantly a medium for mass communication. In Digital Play: The Interaction of Technology, Culture, and Marketing, the authors contend that video and computer games are the ideal product in a post-industrialist “friction free” economy. Appropriately advertising and brand identities appear in the simulated play-spaces of video games. Attempts to understand the phenomena of both in-game product placement and “advergaming” tends toward the rhetorical or the phenomenological (see, for example, recent discussion on the weblog www.watercoolergames.org)...

by Laurie

Author's Note: Please note that this paper was written in 2001, so it's both outdated and a bit kludgy. I hope it might be of use in some way, at least in terms of the screenshots and descriptions.

by zach

This essay offers a close analysis of the video game XIII and the impliciations of its structural pastiche of the comic form and the nostalgic turn in media. The author draws the conclusion that XIII succeeds in demonstrating a key idea of postmodernism (in Jameson's terms) by enacting pastiche through both structural / formal means as well as through visual / narratological means.

Note: This essay was originally presented at the 3rd Annual UF Conference on Comics

This essay analyzes uses of space in Tetris and Myst in the context of Soja's 'Thirdspace' and Lefebvre's discussion of Everyday things. This analysis takes on three conclusions: First, games delineate themselves as such by the creation of their particular space, complete with boundaries, inclusions, exclusions and the stipulations of ideal use. Second, this definitional space is not the game, but the space of the game; the game is the practice of this space, and includes the possibility of transgressions, in form of incompetence (stepping out of bounds), misrecognition (cheating), and extraneity . Finally, these boundaries are only conventional, and therefore open to question and ambiguation by human actors and the contingencies imposed by the physical space...

by zach

This essay examines uses of generic labels, particularly regarding their reception, in the context of Rick Altman's semantic/syntactic approach to genre in Film / Genre. Taking the formalist leanings of common-sense thinking about genre to an extreme, the essay concludes with an arbitrarily designated generic framework extending from approaches to and interactions with Reality.

Author's Note: This essay was reprinted in Works and Days 22:43/44 (2004): 289 - 303.

by Laurie

The fragmentary nature of space leads to video games representing space in ways that necessarily change and transform throughout game play. Deleuze and Guattari's conceptions of smooth and striated space help illustrate the fluid nature of spatial representation in video games, especially those that seek to control the space as territorial games like Civilization do. For time’s sake, I primarily address Civilization and chess and Go, Chess and Go were Deleuze and Guattari’s game examples.

Note: Originally presented at the 'Form, Culture and Video Game Criticism' conference at Princeton, 2004.

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