A Play of Bodies: Read My PhD Thesis

The PhD thesis I have spent the last four years working on is now finished and available for anyone to read. It is about videogames, what bodies do with them, and what they do with bodies. It’s an accumulation of my thoughts and ideas over the past five years on what videogames are, how we engage with them, and how we might talk about how we engage with them.

I would like to think I’ve written it in a manner that a non-academic and even a non-gaming reader might get something out of it. At least, insofar as that is possible for a PhD thesis. The genre that is the PhD thesis requires a certain denseness as you both have to prove you read all the correct things and be defensive of your position. That inevitably means the writing isn’t the most exciting thing to read.

But despite that, I am really happy with how it turned out, and I truly believe there is some significant stuff in here for both videogame studies and videogame criticism. I am really excited for you to finally be able to read it!

If you don’t want to read the whole thing or if you are just generally curious to see a deadline, this is how the thesis is structured:

The Introduction accounts for the importances of considering the player-and-videogame as a single object of analysis, rather than distinguishing them into a player/game hierarchy.

Chapter One introduces a bunch of theory and argues that how the participatory nature of videogames does not render them immune to textual analysis.

Chapter Two tries to find a more complex way of thinking about how we engage with virtual worlds through actual bodies without any sort of reductive and idealist way of presuming the player just ignores the actual body that the construction of the virtual depends on. A case study of casual mobile games is looked at to do this.

Chapter Three performs a close, descriptive account of the various complex ways the learned player’s fingers become adapted to the gamepad controller (and how gamepad controllers become adapted to player fingers) to forward a notion of ’embodied literacy’. I do this to challenge the reductive notion that gestural controls like wii-motes or touchscreens are ‘more embodied’ than gamepads or keyboards.

Chapter Four makes the argument that ‘action’ is too reductively considered when we talk about videogames and that ‘looking’ and ‘listening’ are acting in their own right. To say a play ‘does nothing’ during a cut-scene greatly misunderstands how bodies engage with moving images. This chapter looks at and compares Audiosurf and Slave of God to do this.

Chapter Five is about temporality through the lens of character death. I look at the various ways character death is depicted as either permanent or impermanent and how this influences the player’s perception of temporality.

Chapter Six is a manifesto of sorts that is essentially saying that now that the previous chapters have challenged a bunch of ways we think about and evaluate videogames, this is what we can do now. Namely: we can account for and appreciate a much broader range of videogames that are obscured when we reductively and mechanistically think of videogames as simply digitalised non-digital games.

And that is what my thesis is about! Any of the chapters could be read on their own and would make some sort of sense, I think. But hopefully at least some of you are interested in reading the whole thing. If you do read it, do let me know what you think!