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The Protopolitics of Play: From Gameworlds to Playing-in-the-World


How might we understand the medium of video games beyond the static structures of encoded processes and audiovisual signifiers, and better articulate the ways that games meaningfully intervene in the lived space and time of individual players? This dissertation assesses games from a media theory perspective and argues for examining the embodied aesthetics of gameplay to extend existing proceduralist approaches to games as media texts. Those embodied aesthetics are articulated through an existential media phenomenology of gameworlds, where the game’s technical capacity to perceive the player’s perception through the interface allows for a full intersubjective encounter between player and game, and where each subject feels and responds to the other via playing-in-the-world. Rather than being clearly ideologically defined from the outset, this gameplay encounter is protopolitical, wherein embodied gameplay experiences create a variety of starting points for intervening in the public sphere. The dissertation considers questions of perspective and power relations through these experiences. One ideological framework for this intervention is gamification, which imagines that gameplay experiences can be cleanly transposed into more productive value-generating modes of action; however, its limited conception of the “real world” and inability to resolve the indeterminacy of gameplay experience prevent the idealistic extremes of that project from reaching fruition. Gamification’s most notable successes are better characterized as a form of player participation, a framework through which we can understand how player-subjects connect with each other through gameplay experiences in the discursive public sphere. Critical and enactive gameplay communities, although contested spaces for progressive and regressive forces, illustrate the possibilities for game experience to become public action. Ultimately, a phenomenological understanding of playing-in-the-world allows for analyzing the ways in which games rehearse, dramatize, and recontextualize our interactions with the range of technological interfaces that permeate everyday life. The dissertation closes by considering how the continuously-changing technical and social contexts of games culture call for methodologies attentive to how bodily experiences emerge within those spaces.

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