Formations of Player Agency and Gender in Gothic Video Games.

Krzywinska, Tanya (2016) Formations of Player Agency and Gender in Gothic Video Games. In: Women and the Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion. Edinburgh Companions to the Gothic . Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh University, pp. 214-227. ISBN 9780748699124 (hdb) 9780784699131 (webready PDF) 978 1 4744 0951 3 (pub)

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Abstract / Summary

This essay contextualises and investigates critically the connections between the design of player agency and formations of gender within the Gothic video game. In order to help locate a general rather than specialist reader, it begins with a short account of the scope of the Gothic in video games and demonstrates how certain formal qualities of games shape the way that the Gothic is articulated. From this foundation, the essay goes on to argue that the conditions of player agency within many (but by no means all) video games drains power from the more radical and subversive gender formations often found more generally within Gothic fiction (in for instance Dracula [1897]or The Old Dark House [1932]). This thesis is supported by Gothic video game examples such as Clive Barker’s Undying, Typing of the Dead, Resident Evil, Plants vs. Zombies, Left 4 Dead. However, here the argument turns to place greater emphasis on the analysis of games where a more subtle, ambiguous or subversive approach to player agency is taken; where alternative methods and contextualising representations are deployed by game designers to create models of player agency that do not, through the usual trope of mastery, align with dominant notions of masculinity or a phallic economy. Examples include the use of masquerade and ambiguity in Castlevania, cosmic horror and webs of conspiracy within The Secret World, and agency had through an excess of rationalism in American McGee’s Alice.
This essay builds on existing critical writing that identifies power and, crucially, powerlessness as characteristic of the Gothic, and where that axis of power is correlated with a structural understanding of sex, sexual relations and gender (as in Sedgwick for example). Representation is considered, but our focus is mainly on the role of the player in the thick of the Gothic game text and the gendered, contextual economy of the power (or powerlessness) that they are afforded. To flesh that out a little more, within the confines of an abstract: within the context of most media, the audience’s experience of power and powerlessness is mediated; shout as we might, there is nothing we can do to save the hapless girl who with a relentless inevitability wanders into the terrible place oblivious to the signs of imperilment that noisily excites the audience. Games are different. Players are afforded agency (although it may be taken away or limited too). Some Gothic game designers are finding innovative ways of playing with and subverting the conventional, gendered plotting of power. It is therefore the principle aim of this essay to show how.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Uncontrolled Keywords: Gothic; gender
ISBN: 9780748699124 (hdb) 9780784699131 (webready PDF) 978 1 4744 0951 3 (pub)
Subjects: Technology > Digital Works > Digital Games
History
Writing & Journalism > Literature
Courses by Department: The Games Academy > Digital Games
Depositing User: Tanya Krzywinska
Date Deposited: 02 Mar 2017 15:12
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2017 16:07
URI: http://repository.falmouth.ac.uk/id/eprint/1926

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