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Stranger in a Strange Land. Representing and Simulating Alterity in Computer Games

Research output: Conference Article in Proceeding or Book/Report chapterArticle in proceedingsResearchpeer-review

  • Hans-Joachim Backe

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In digital games, contact with the Other has traditionally been depicted as a moment of conflict. Invaders from outer space, supernatural monsters, and demons from other dimensions epitomize the extremity of Otherness usually encountered in games, which is infallibly associated with the uncanny in the form of an existential threat resulting from total cultural incompatibility: communicating with this type of abject Other is no viable option (Kristeva 1982). Even if the encountered alterity is less an existential one and more based on nationality, language, or ethnicity, such stark dichotomies remain in place. Most games have their avatar travel to foreign places to avenge, rescue, or conquer, and the complete alterity of the encountered peoples and species usually leaves no room for peaceful communication or even coexistence. While most games exhibit such a colonialist thinking, some break the simplistic patterns. In recent years, an increasing number of games confront their avatar and thus the player with situations which, while provoking the same basically negative reactions to the other, force them to acknowledge their own alterity and even abjection. Especially games that favor a realistic setting over Fantasy or Science Fiction often go beyond a mere thematic treatment of Otherness by implementing game mechanics that further this effect. In games such as Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar, 2010), Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days (IO Interactive, 2010), Max Payne 3 (Rockstar, 2012), and Spec Ops: The Line (Yager, 2012), the player’s usually unimpeded possibilities for perceiving the game world and interacting with it suffer from the avatar’s alienation in an unfamiliar society. The dynamics of intercultural encounters are thus, at the same time, a topic in the representational aspect of the games and a rule-modifier in its ludic dimension. Both in terms of procedural rhetoric (Bogost 2007) and the ethical dimension of game design (Sicart 2012), these games encourage and sometimes even enforce reflection upon identity and otherness, both of their players and themselves in their ‘gameness’ and the resulting difference from real-life experience. The paper will analyze the methods used in these games to intentionally produce a degree of self-awareness in players hitherto only achieved through emergent phenomena or transgressive play.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the XXth ICLA World Congress
Place of PublicationParis
PublisherClassiques Garnier
Publication date2013
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes
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    Research areas

  • Other, Alienation, Abjection, Ethics, game mechanics

ID: 79293453