Production 9

For this final production, take the role of ‘cultural studies’ or ‘critical media’ theorist and critically analyze a video game (or game series) using some of the frameworks and ecological methods from Brock’s work (analysis of default avatars, modes of representation, player/AI relations; analysis of interfaces and game mechanics; analysis of game world/narrative; discourse analysis from in-game play or out-of-game communities, etc.). Genre: Pretend you are writing a short article for a games studies website, or educational website where technology is engaged critically.

Tools: Using Brock’s work as one model – as well as other readings in the course like Bogost, Gee, and Flanagan – what is the game (series) ‘doing’, at the level of reproducing or critically challenging ideological perspectives, ‘default’ identities and role relations, and dominant power-relations.

As explored in the readings, consider interface and mechanics and rules systems; identity and avatar construction variables; systems of representation (in relation to media culture more widely, too); the function of narrative and/or procedural rhetoric; game aesthetics; analyzing the game as a historical ‘text’ reflecting contemporary social relations or conflicts.

The following is not a ‘checklist’, but just a set of frameworks for game analysis. The checklist articulates some aspects of the What of Representation, the How of Representation, and the Who: Who has the power to Represent oneself or others in particular ways, relations and postures.

 Critical Media Issues & Critical Game Design


Alternative / Critical Games: Does the game overtly or tacitly engage ‘social issues’ or political conflicts/debates or activist aims? How does the game instruct, model, enact arguments, demonstrate, ‘raise consciousness’, include (or exclude), or mobilize further questions or inquires? See procedural rhetoric.

‘Reading’ the Game: What can be interpreted – or theorized – about the game as a cultural artefact, a pedagogical-ideological system, or commercial-cultural system that frames a kind of world? How do game mechanics work within that context/world to communicate, procedurally …And what ‘values in play’ are discernible at the level of design, avatar affordances, default characters/avatars, character relations?

Representations & Enactments: What/how/who does the game ‘represent’ (or misrepresent or exclude) (see Nolan and McBridee on the hidden and null curriculum)? What possible actions/reactions to environments, situations, identities, narratives or controversies does the game script or exclude? What forms of living – what kinds of worlds and what types of values – are structured (or subverted) by the game?

What/who are we embodying? What world(s) or narrative realities are being framed, represented, procedurally scripted (or subverted)? What types of (virtual) identities are in play? Modes of Address: Who are you ‘called’ to be or positioned to do?

Any issues relating to the ethics/politics or ‘ideology’ of game design? (See also: Persuasive Games/Procedural Rhetoric).

Power-Plays: How does the game represent or interface (intersectionally) with questions of identity, gender, race, economics and class, modes of consumption, modes of ‘social power’ (ways of being, naming, knowing, ‘disciplining’ and so forth…). How do game mechanics (or surrounding game cultures, paratexts) co-articulate “messages”, who is included/excluded in play, and what kinds of identities, values, roles and worlds are being ‘naturalized’ through play?

  • Ensure this analysis is detailed, connecting the particulars of games o theoretical frames (postcolonial theory, feminism, cultural studies, or Bogost, Flanagan, Gee, Brock, et al.)
  • Have fun!
  • 600-800 words.

If you want a fun model to work with from film studies, google a youtube video by Zizek on ideology in the film, They Live (John Carpenter).