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Interpreting Video Games through the Lens of Modernity


This dissertation interprets video games in terms of the theory and history of modernity, complicating the scholarly analysis of video games by examining continuities and discontinuities that arise between the video game medium and prior media forms (especially television) and between debates surrounding video games today and the theoretical contexts which have shaped these debates. This dissertation intervenes in game studies by expanding the historical scope of the interpretation of video games, focusing on questions of commodification, ideology, representation, temporality, interactivity, and graphical realism. Drawing on theories that examine postmodernity as an extension of the forces of modernity and capitalism, I analyze key ideas associated with modernity and modernism--the divide between popular culture and high art, theories of unified subjectivity, issues of aesthetic innovation and oppositional politics--in order to interrogate their reappearance within video game culture. Through a framework of Marxist ideology critique this dissertation uses the video game as a medium which registers continuations of problems that emerged in capitalist modernity while providing a locus for tracing transformations of these problems within contemporary culture. This dissertation not only broadens the interpretation of video games within the field but assembles an interdisciplinary approach that uses video games to investigate mutations within modernity itself.In chapter one I compare television flow to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's concept of psychological flow, using this comparison to examine the ideological construction of the gamer subject. In chapter two I investigate the independent game movement's relationship to Bertolt Brecht's aesthetic modernism while critiquing the ideology of innovation that suffuses alternative game production. In chapter three I analyze gendered differences between casual and hardcore games, comparing this divide with the separation between high and low culture in aesthetic modernism; this chapter critiques the devaluation of visual representation in game studies which tends to erase the importance of gender in game analysis. In chapter four I study the figure of clouds in the discourse of modernity, tracing the use of clouds in video games as figures for escape and as signs of a new interactive space which extends the perspective space of graphical realism.
Thesis (Ph.D. -- Brown University (2011)

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Soderman, Anton B., "Interpreting Video Games through the Lens of Modernity" (2011). Modern Culture and Media Theses and Dissertations. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.