Looking Back & Looking Ahead

An Editorial from the Essays Editor

I have no idea where the field is going, but I can say where I’d like it to go in general terms. I hope to see a further focus on two concepts in particular, subjectivity and complexity. Subjectivity is important for the obvious reason that videogames are played by humans. A critical methodology that ignores subjectivity is, in my view, missing an important piece of the puzzle. As Stephanie Jennings puts it, “the critic’s subjectivity, experiences of playing a game, and even personal identity are… part of the game text under analysis.” The idea that objectivity is desirable or even remotely possible in criticism is, in my view, absurd. Sure, we can discuss the formal characteristics of a thing, but the characteristics we choose to examine and how we interpret them is going to depend on the person. Luckily, I think we’re at the point where the push for objectivity is disappearing and more or less confined to the comments sections for AAA game reviews. Still, the examination of subjectivities is something I’d like to keep seeing. Continue Reading

Blasto Sacer

Mass Effect as an Allegorithm of Sovereign Exception

Expanding state power has clashed repeatedly with the rights of citizens and non-citizens alike since 9/11; the political theories of Giorgio Agamben, specifically his discussion of the figure of the homo sacer and of sovereign exception, have stimulated much discussion on this topic. Underlying debates over the legality of government-sanctioned torture, assassination, and “extraordinary rendition” is a basic contradiction: Is it possible to write laws that allow us to break the law? Or, to put it more generally, is it possible to design a system with a rule that allows an agent within that system to break the rules? These questions can be especially interesting for videogame studies, not only because we can ask them about the representational aspects of contemporary video games that model extra-legal, state-sanctioned violence, but because we can also consider the deeper procedural implications of these issues. A look at the “Spectres” from the Mass Effect series offers a way to do both at once, and, when interpreted via Agamben’s work, the Spectres reveal some of the contradictions inherent in both the representational and allegorithmic aspects of games. Continue Reading

Take Me To Your Breeder

Charmed Circles of Sexuality in the Mass Effect Series

This commentary aims to raise questions about the mandatory performance and privileging of particular sexual identities in videogames, first through examining the explicitly heterosexual narratives of classic game series like Super Mario and then the more narratively and performatively diverse romantic side-quests in modern RPGs. Continue Reading