So where does a game begin and end? Or a book? You could say it starts with the beginning and ends with the end or credit screen, but there’s a whole new world out there! Gérard Genette wrote about paratexts, the little things that surround a book – like copyright, chapter headings, cover, interviews, etc – which surround and extend a text (within the book = peritext; external to the book = epitext). Genette calls paratexts a “threshold”, an undefined zone that is neither in the text, nor outside, but frames the text and extends it. Genette is very obviously discussing books, but let’s see how it can work for games!
Finally, I got some free time to finish my mind-map of all the things that go into immersion or identification in video games! There’s a tonne of citations and resources there, should anyone be curious about certain concepts.
The picture above can’t be zoomed in like with Prezi, as WordPress doesn’t like embedding them, it’s just here to look at all the colours and lines!
One of my biggest pet peeves in reading gaming studies is when studies seem to patronise gamers, which can happen in various ways such as the researcher not even playing the games (or mentioning that they have ANY experience with games) or not allowing the player to speak for themselves.
Just for some context: my main area of study is around immersion and identification. I should also mention I use qualitative methods, not quantitative, so if you are a researcher reading this, going ‘WTF she on about?’ feel free to leave a comment about how it works in your discipline. Always happy to learn!
So pretty much my background the past ten years, apart from playing DOS games for the nostalgia factor, was mostly turn-based or real time strategy, but for the past few years all I have really played is World of Warcraft and The Sims. Due to the loss of story progression and the open world systems, I turned away from The Sims, and my raiding team died in Warcraft, so I’m back out in the bigbad world and playing *gasp* other things! I was curious about Dragon Age: Origins due to an article I read about how the player can establish romantic relationships with NPC’s. The article in question referred to how players begun to experience “bleed”, where the gamer to some extent feels what their character does. Being that I love reading romance anyway, I was all for this! So let’s see, this character creation screen.
At the moment, I’m starting to look into concepts around how readers (and gamers/viewers) connect with characters, or how identification happens.
There’s a few different thoughts around identification: does the reader want to BE that character? Do they imagine themselves AS the character? Or does the reader hold themselves outside of the character, observing and judging the situations and events?
It’s not as simple as “readers connect with the main character” (and definitely not that the main character has to be likable to be identifiable!). In some books, the main protagonist is the alienated viewpoint. Say, feed by M T Anderson – the main character, Titus, is this solipsistic teen in a highly commercial and capitalistic future. In this future, kids have an internet implant (the feed) in their brain (imagine having thoughts getting interrupted by ads). Except for Violet, who sees the world “as it truly is” without the implant and questions everything. Even though the book is written entirely through Titus’ perspective, empathy and identification goes more to Violet. The book is even dedicated “To all those who resist the feed.”
In film studies, identification is also complicated, with commentators distinguishing between primary identification (with the camera) and secondary identification (the character of empathic choice) (Clover 7-8).
Evil Dead awesomeness. Dem camera moves!
… just as attacker and attacked are expressions of the same self in nightmares, so they are expressions of the same viewer in horror film. We are both Red Riding Hood and the Wolf; the force of the experience, in horror, comes from “knowing” both sides of the story. ~ Carol Clover
I’m still fairly new to looking into video game studies, but in searching for stuff around this topic, I found an interesting study on identification in three ways: avatar identification (roleplay, customisation and escapism), group identification (socialising and relationships) and game identification (advancement and mechanics).
Identification is more than just “I like X”, but is important also in part because of the general perception that watching/reading/playing can influence you, the typical example being that playing violent video games makes you commit real world violence – which I totally reject.
Identification is also interesting in terms of genre. For example, with romance, it’s probably safe to say most people assume that the reader identifies with the heroine. And for a while the heroine as narrator was pretty established, however from perhaps around the 80’s this began to change as reader’s wanted to see the narrative from the heroes point of view. Author Laura Kinsale proposed in “The Androgynous Reader” that actually, the romance reader identifies with the hero, as the reader is represented by and also in competition with the heroine. Kinsale argued that “through her own and the hero’s eyes, the reader watches and judges the heroine” (35).
Which leads me onto what I’ve been looking at as a case study for all this: Twilight!On Meyer’s website, she states that “I left out a detailed description of Bella in the book so that the reader could more easily step into her shoes.” This goes back to the Mills and Boon adoption of “Lubbock’s Law”:
Lubbock’s Law was derived from Percy Lubbock, critic and author, who published The Craft of Fiction in 1921. Lubbock maintained that the best fiction, such as Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, succeeded in part because the author wrote from the heroine’s point of view. ‘to have lived with their creations is to have lived with them as well,’ Lubbock maintained. Fiction, he added, must ‘look true’.~ Joseph McAleer
How Meyer interprets how reader’s identify with Bella was also extended to the choice of casting:
For every actress that has been suggested as Bella in the past few years, there are always a slew of critics that cry, “But she doesn’t look like Bella!” (Which can often be translated thusly: “She doesn’t look like ME!”) To this I would like to say: “Of course she doesn’t!” Bella is a fictional character, and she looks different to everyone. As is the same with every actor who will be cast in the next few months, no one is going to match up with your mental picture exactly—or mine.
Bella’s apparent blandness or blankness of personality was also picked up on by critics as a device for identification:
Unfortunately, the books are tough to defend. There’s no doubt, for instance, that Bella is a remarkably droopy, drippy character, and while her blankness could be justified as a device, enabling readers to identify with her (which has obviously happened to an extraordinary degree), she also has a weird clumsiness, a haplessness that means her vampire boyfriend has to rescue her regularly. ~ Kira Cochrane, The Guardian
Concerns about Bella’s passivity neglect to consider how the books invite identification with the main character. For this to be possible, there have to be certain gaps in her characterisation, but these gaps are designed to be filled in by readers with their own characteristics. ~ Catherine Strong, The Age
As Crawford examines in his chapter on the fandom and the controversy of Twilight, it is often claimed to be bad for readers, because if they identify with Bella (through such claims in fan reviews as wanting to be Bella or wanting to marry Edward etc) then they have a role model who has low self-esteem, is submissive, is passive and all that jazz – but then he asks “does the fact that someone identifies with a fictional character really imply that they view them as ‘a model for [their own] real-life choices’?” The argument against Bella and Twilight is also used for 50 Shades, such as with this article snarkily titled “Christian Grey is not real”. Crawford sees this argument as rather reductive, and also perhaps with implicit discrimination against readers (of Twilight) “because of their presumed youth and femaleness … often seem to be assumed, a priori, to lack the critical faculties necessary to distinguish between fantasy and reality.” This will be no surprise to fans of romance, or even young adult literature.
So TL;DR, there’s a bunch of theories of how identification works, but it’s important to think about because society thinks that identification with fictional characters will lead to bad things, particularly if the work is about about sex or violence or is aimed towards younger readers.
- Men, Women and Chainsaws by Carol Clover ~ A study of horror films from the 70’s to mid 80’s and how identification works (using a psychoanalytical framework) and how it is gendered.
- Passion’s Fortune: The Story of Mills & Boon by Joseph McAleer ~ A very detailed history of how Mills & Boon became one of the biggest publishing names in the world
- The Romance Revolution: Erotic Novels for Women and the Quest for a New Sexual Identity by Carol Thurston ~ A slightly older work, on how romance and women in romance were changing in the 70’s and 80’s due to the new wave of feminism.
- “The Androgynous Reader.” by Laura Kinsale in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance. Ed. Jayne Ann Krentz. ~ How reader identification works with romances (this is not an academic work, but rather from the perspective of an author of romances – however, quite a few academics pick up on this and extend the work, such as Amber Botts “Cavewoman Impulses: The Jungian Shadow Archetype in Popular Romance Fiction” in Romantic Conventions edited by Anne K Kaler and Rosemary Johnson-Kurek.)
- The Twilight of the Gothic? Vampire Fiction and the Rise of the Paranormal Romance by Joseph Crawford ~ awesome history of the paranormal romance, its gothic associations, and including a reader response chapter on “The Twilight Controversy”
- Player Identification in Online Games: Validation of a Scale for Measuring Identification in MMOG’s by Jan Van Looy, Cedric Courtois, Melanie De Vocht and Lieven De Marez in Media Psychology Vol 15.2 (2012).
There’s always the question of “why zombies?”. Zombies, people tell me, are stupid. In fact, popular culture is stupid. Reality TV makes you dumb. Romance is for bored housewives. YA is just dumbed down story (*shudder*). There’s no meaning to be found there. It’s all stupid.
Which is a rather narrow view that is really quite old and useless. So let’s re-evaluate your assumptions together!
“Culture is ordinary; that is where we must start”, Raymond Williams wrote. Culture is not defined within the theaters and operas, culture is common or shared meanings (something Stuart Hall agrees with). Culture is not something you DO, it is something lived. It’s not just the arts, it is in everything. It even includes furnishings, clothing, cars, appliances – as Gans says, most appliances are treated as necessities, but their forms, styles, material etc are a matter of culture.
High vs Popular culture is, in part, a sort of class warfare based on how rich and educated you are. In essence, they are stereotypes. In his introduction, Gans refers to a US report into the arts stated “cultural equality remains as elusive as social, economic and educational equality”. Research is not needed to point out that some people cannot afford to go the opera – of course! Culture is not just dependent on wealth or education, although social institutions definitely play a role, but it’s also about identity (age, race, gender etc) as well as personal choice.
Garrosh, previous leader of the Horde, thinks orcs are better than undead, aka the Forsaken, and looks down upon them. So for this example, Garrosh thinks orcs are high culture, and the undead are popular culture.
Culture is not distinct from systems of power, as it acts as a hegemonic force. Hegemony for Gramsci is a continuous and uneven struggle by the dominant class, culture or other grouping to present their world view and sort of convince other classes or groups that it’s the normal thing to do. Essentially, they rule by a sort of twisted consent. How does this relate to culture? Well, everything is ideological. There is no singular dominant ideology, but rather a struggle of conflicting beliefs and ideas that work similarly to hegemonic power.
Vol’jin is now the leader of the Horde, which is made up of a bunch of different races. While the undead would like to go around murdering humans to create more undead, the leader of the horde often pushes his ideology onto them and say “Welllll that’s not really nice. So don’t.”
Hall, Gans and Williams all reject that culture is an enforced thing, but that it does have power and influence. Hall concludes that there is no need to restrict it; at the same time that cultural industries do have the power to rework and reshape what they represent, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone just blindly follows and accepts they see/read/do:
“These definitions don’t have the power to occupy our minds; they don’t function on us as if we are blank screens. But they do occupy and rework the interior contradictions of feeling and perception in the dominated classes; they do find or clear a space of recognition in those who respond to them. Cultural domination has real effects – even if these are neither all-powerful nor all-inclusive.”
So not all undead really go for that “don’t murder humans” thing. At the Wrathgate, when the Alliance and Horde united against the Lich King, some undead thought it was a brilliant time to plague-bomb the lot of them. Sylvanas, leader of the undead, was all “WTF bro?”
To be very particular, popular culture is actually considered as a site of cultural struggle. For Fiske, pop culture “contains both the forces of domination and the opportunities to speak against them”. Crawford argues that it is because genre, such as paranormal romance, is considered to be lower in status to high literature it is less controlled and allowed to speak more directly to themes and voices that might otherwise be silenced.
The Forsaken is a particular site of struggle. On the one hand, they cannot leave the Horde. They are too close to Alliance territory to go it alone. On the other hand, they will slowly die as there are no legit means to create more undead.
While cultural studies changes and morphs all the time, this is the general current theory that I ascribe to. Next time on TL;DR: Cultural Studies edition, I’ll go more into “but what does it meannnnn?”, looking at representations, a few different approaches on how it is thought representations work, and probably more selfies to fill up the space and give you something pretty to look at.
- Popular Culture and High Culture, An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste by Herbert Gans
- Anything you can find by Stuart Hall
- Huge borrowing from Representation 2nd Edition, edited by Stuart Hall, Jessica Evans and Sean Nixon.
- Williams, Raymond. “Culture Is Ordinary.” The Everyday Life Reader. 2002. 9
- Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci.
- Fiske, John. Understanding Popular Culture. 2nd Ed. London: Routledge, 1996.
- Crawford, Joseph. The Twilight of the Gothic? Vampire Fiction and the Rise of the Paranormal Romance 1991-2012.
Up on twitter, zombie peeps are having a discussion about their favourite zombie criticism/theories. Be sure to follow these people on Twitter and their academic works! If you want to read more about zombies, also go check out my Recommended Reading page (in which you’ll find these peeps!).
@zombiescholar (AKA Sarah Juliet Lauro):
- We ‘Are’ the Walking Dead by Gerry Canavan (@gerrycanavan) (Extrapolation Fall 2010, Vol. 51 Issue 3, p431)
- Monster Metaphors: Notes on Michael Jackson’s Thriller by Kobena Mercer (Screen, 1986, 27;1)
@DanHF (AKA Dan Hassler-Forest):
- Steven Shaviro’s (@shaviro) Capitalist Monsters Historical Materialism 10 (4):281-290 (2002)
- The Year’s Work at the Zombie Research Centre ed by Edward P Comentale and Aaron Jaffe (published September 2014)
@gerrycanavan (AKA Gerry Canavan)
- The Zombie Manifesto by Sarah Juliet Lauro and Karen Embry, boundary 2 Spring 2008 35(1): 85–108
@DrMoreman (AKA Christopher Moreman)
- Guess who is going to be dinner by Barbara Bruce in Race, Oppression and the Zombie (McFarland)
@Doctorofthedead (AKA Dr Arnold Blumberg):
- Braaaiiinnnsss!: From Academics to Zombies ed. Robert Smith
@VintageZombie (AKA me!)
- Plans are Pointless by Sara Sutler-Cohen in Zombies are Us: Essays on the Humanity of the Walking Dead. Ed. Christopher M Moreman & Cory James Rushton. McFarland & Company
@DrWalkingDead (AKA Kyle William Bishop)
- “Undead (A Zombie Oriented Ontology).” by Jeffrey J Cohen Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 23.3 (2013): 397-412.
@jamierussel74 (AKA Jamie Russell)
- Robin Wood “Apocalypse Now: Notes on The Living Dead”