The Ludic Subject and the Ludic Self: Analyzing the ‘I-in-the-Gameworld’

Daniel Vella

Research output: Book / Anthology / Report / Ph.D. thesisPh.D. thesis


It is a defining quality of the category of games fitting under the label of the ‘figure game’ that they not only establish a world to be explored and experienced, but also a subjective identity for the player to inhabit in relation to this world. It is this subjective identity within the gameworld, termed the ludic subject, that this dissertation takes as its focus. The question this dissertation sets out to answer is: What is the nature of the ‘I’ that exists as a subject in relation to the experiential world established by the game?

The investigative approach that shall be adopted with regard to the question of
subjectivity is that of phenomenology. A twofold understanding of subjectivity is drawn upon – both as the ‘subject’ of experience in its first-personal givenness, and as the objectified ‘self’ that emerges in a second-order act of reflection upon first-order subjective experience. With regard to the ludic subject, these two dimensions of subjectivity are integrated in the development of a double perspectival structure of ludic experience, by which the player inhabits both a perspective internal to the gameworld as the ludic subject, and a perspective external to the gameworld, which frames the ludic subject as an object of perception.

This twofold understanding provides the structure for the two-part claim this dissertation makes with regard to ludic subjectivity. Firstly, the player’s involvement with the gameworld through incorporation in the form of a playable figure (containing within it the senses of both ‘avatar’ and ‘character’) reflects the experiential and existential structures of embodied being-in-the-world. Secondly, the capture and representation of this ludic subjectivity within the frame of the game as a textual unity sets in motion an aesthetics of subjectivity, by which the player’s own in-game ‘I’ is offered back to her as a represented ludic self.

In addressing these dimensions of the ludic subject, this dissertation, firstly, engages in an analysis of the formal mechanisms by which the player is located within a specific ludic subject-position in relation to the gameworld, and is thereby determined as a ludic subject. The phenomenological investigations of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty are brought to bear upon this stage of the investigation. Secondly, this dissertation interrogates the nature of the ludic self that is enacted in the player’s engagement with the gameworld from the standpoint of the ludic subject-position, that the player identifies
as ‘I’ within the gameworld. Here, the notion of a narrative self developed by Ricoeur and Zahavi is integrated with a literary-theoretical approach to character as a means of conceptualizing the ludic self as it is constructed textually through the game’s representation of the player’s actions and experiences as a ludic subject in the gameworld. Thirdly, on this basis, the dissertation maps out the web of relations – of identity and difference, proximity and distance, selfhood and otherness – that play out across the gap
between the player outside the game and the ludic subject in the game, and which represent a formally-enshrined foregrounding of the experiential structures of subjectivity and selfhood.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherIT-Universitetet i København
Number of pages464
ISBN (Print)978-87-7949-330-8
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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