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Transcoded Identities: Identification in Games and Play


This work foregrounds how technologies create and emerge from sociocultural, economic and political discourses. My use of transcode, a term introduced by the semiotician A.J. Greimas and carried into the digital realm by Lev Manovich, refers to how cultural elements such as assumptions, biases, priorities emerge within programming code and software. It demonstrates how cultural norms persist across different mediums and posits that, in many ways, the capacity to be flexible defines cultural ideologies. At the software level, programming languages work like performative speech: grammar which produces effects. When cast as speech, coming from a

body (or bodies) instead of hardware, information structures can be perceived as acting within regimes of corporeality; when cast as software, information structures demonstrate and advertise the capabilities of hardware.

Although often aligned with veracity and stability in its proximity to (computer) science,

software is not culturally neutral. Building on this this foundation, my dissertation challenges the notion of democratic virtual space by showing how normative—limiting and limited—categories of identity continue to emerge in media despite methodologies like keyword tagging and crowd-sourcing and customizable avatars in videogames. Foregrounding lived identity is necessary to analyze media architectures and representations, such as videogames, software structures, and online forums. As one example, avatar customization sequences in videogames (and some social media sites), conflate identity with visuality and notions of a stable self. This flattens the lived experience of racialization, for example, and the nuances associated with affiliation and

identification to mere taxonomies of color.

A wide range of critical theories such as performativity and transnationalism, globalization, digital theory and construction, sexuality and erotics, cultural difference, gender codes/coding, and intellectual property persist across this work. I bring together work by Ian Bogost and Diana Taylor, which respectively introduce concepts of procedural rhetoric and vulnerable archiving processes subject to external influence. In so doing, I show that social identifications are inextricable from sites investigated here, including interactive media, site specific installations, and live performance.

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