Tuesday, November 29, 2011
THESIS: "Partners in Crime: The Relationship Between the Playable Character and the Videogame Player"
If you have been following me on any kind of social media network this year, you've probably heard me mention once or twice that I've been writing an Honours* thesis in Communication and Cultural Studies at The University of Queensland. Well, I submitted it about a month ago and today the marks finally got released. It would seem I got a First, which essentially means I received some mark above 80%. So this is great!
And now that marks are finalised, I can finally let you fine people read it, if you wish. If you want it, and if I have done this correctly, you should be able to get it from this link.
If in all my social media network rantings I never actually mentioned what I was doing, here is my abstract:
This thesis creates a space for videogame criticism to account for the playable character’s role in the shaping of the player’s experience. Just as the player defines certain actions and characteristics of the playable character, so too do the character’s actions and characteristics shape the player’s experience. The two exist in an intimate coupling where intention and action start with neither actor but in the flow of information and agency between them.
To account for how meaning is produced in videogame play the videogame critic must account not only for the player’s agency and actions but also for how the player is acted upon. Players interact with videogames textually as fictional worlds embedded with actual imperatives that afford and constraint different styles of play. While most videogame scholars acknowledge the role of the playable character as a vehicle through which the player navigates and configures this world, rarely is its mediating effect on the player fully recognised. In discourses surrounding videogame play it is not unlikely for the terms “player” and “character” to be used interchangeably when discussing the agent that acts within the videogame’s fictional world. This uncertainty as to just who is acting highlights a gap in the existing literature on playable characters and their significance towards the production of textual meaning.
Engaging with actor-network theory and cyborg theory to understand videogame play as cybernetic, this thesis demonstrates how the playable character’s nonhuman agency—independent of the player’s intentions—can be accounted for. It explores how the agencies of both player and playable character intertwine and mediate each other to form a hybrid actor, the player-character, which is the actual actor that navigates both the actual and fictional worlds encompassed in videogame play. Finally, through a textual analysis of Grand Theft Auto IV, this thesis demonstrates how the player-character hybrid can be deployed to account for the playable character’s role in the production of the videogame text’s meaning.
So there you go. If this sounds relevant to your interests, please give it a read and let me know what you think.
(*For those of you in countries where university doesn't have an Honours year, it is this kind of bridging, research year you do right at the end of your undergraduate degree, usually (though not always) if you want to go onto postgraduate work. So this isn't quite on the level of a Masters or PhD dissertation, so don't expect such a thing!)