‘Would you kindly?’: Claiming Video Game Agency as Interdisciplinary Concept
The new issue of G|A|M|E proposes a re-examination of the concept of agency in games. They welcome contributions that address the idea of agency from a variety of academic perspectives, taking into account its interdisciplinary history and application, in order to expand our critical understanding of the concept more broadly. They therefore invite scholars from all fields to reflect on different notions of agency, not only in relation to physical and digital games, but also to other media and art forms as they impact on games and game studies. At the end of the influential first-person shooter Bioshock (2K Games, 2007), its critique of the rhetoric of choice and freedom emerges from the dialogue between the protagonist Jack and the visionary despot of Rapture, Andrew Rayan. Rayan’s seemingly innocent question ‘Would You Kindly?’ conceals a cognitive trigger that casts a shadow over the protagonist’s actions. By shattering the illusion of free will for both character and player, the game breaks the fourth wall and confronts the user with the question: who is being/has been controlled?
Already central to the fields of Human-Computer Interaction as well as that of design (e.g. Sherry Turkle, 1984; Brenda Laurel, 1991), agency was redefined more than twenty years ago in Janet Murray’s seminal volume Hamlet on the Holodeck (1996, p. 123) as ‘the satisfying power to take meaningful action and see the results of our decisions and choices’. To this day, the concept of agency is still prominent in scholarly debates on video game and game design: to describe a key ontological category that delineates the multiplicity of paths as well as the breadth of choices made available by interactive texts; and also –closer to Murray’s acceptation– to define a primary category of video game aesthetics, a textual effect attached to the pleasure of taking meaningful decisions within virtual environments.
On one level, agency informs media objects, texts and devices. Agency can be observed in relation to old and new game genres (adventure games with branching narratives, interactive movies, sandbox and open-world games); degrees of agency are provided by the affordances of VR/AR and mixed reality technologies (Oculus, PlayStationVR, HoloLens etc.); forms of agency are conceptualised across diverse media and art forms (interactive design, experimental film, on- demand TV, experiential theatre, museum installations) as well as in physical and digital hypertexts (Choose You Own Adventure books); agency is reallocated through new modes of distribution and fruition (VoD, streaming platforms and digital piracy); and agency is also embedded in sub-cultural practices and products (machinima, fan-fiction etc.).
On another level, agency is crucial to debating conceptual categories relevant to interactive digital media. Digital artefacts are immersed in a cross- and trans-media landscape, in which the interface constantly brings into question the relationship between objects, developers and users, blurring the boundaries between authors and audiences and questioning the sovereignty over these objects on multiple fronts. Here, agency provides an opening to explore aesthetic, social and political tensions (gender, race, class), and can be used to analyse discourses that challenge the role of the spectator/reader/player in relation to media object and their creators (art and exhibition, authorship, fandom, prosumer culture).
With its eighth issue, G|A|M|E wants to investigate the agency afforded by games, software and interfaces, as well as the agency claimed by players, users and spectators. Exceeding Murray’s original aesthetic understanding of the term, they intend to expand their examination of agency within and beyond the virtual borders of game studies. Agency is, in fact, a pivotal concept in philosophy, adopted to address relations of intentionality and causality between actors and actions (e.g. Anscombe, 1957; Davidson, 1963); as well as in social sciences, which locate agency within material and immaterial networks between human and non-human agents (Latour, 2005). In light of the vast interdisciplinary history of this concept, they seek contributions that can productively inform and renew our understandings of agency in gaming and play, while also using game agency to inform larger political, philosophical and cultural issues, developing current critical debates in game studies and in other disciplines.
Topics may include:
- agency in game studies
- agency and gaming technologies (VR, AR, mixed reality)
- agency and interactivity
- agency in video game criticism
- close textual analysis of games in relation to agency
- player reception and agency: modding, fandom etc.
- agency in traditional games: board games, sports etc.
- video game agency and issues of authorship
- agency as interdisciplinary concept, from games to: arts, social sciences, law and philosophy
- game agency in relation to other cultural forms (experimental film, cinema, art, architecture, design)
- agency and non-linear textuality
- politics (race, class, sexuality, gender, geopolitics) and video game agency
- agency and media ecologies
Scholars are invited to submit an extended abstract (between 500-1,000 words excluding references) or full papers by Friday the 19th of July, 2019 to firstname.lastname@example.org
Extended Abstract deadline: 19th of July 2019; Notification of acceptance: 25th of July 2019
All accepted authors will be asked to submit the full paper by the 15th of October 2019. We expect to release this issue in Winter 2019
Editors: Ivan Girina (Brunel University London), Berenike Jung (University of Tübingen)