Touching the heart of video gamers

'What kind of impact would you like to have on the people who play your video games?' This is a question I have been posing lately in my interviews with developers within the video game industry. My aim is to understand what developers, who usually define themselves as gamers, are trying to achieve with their video games in terms of their influence on video gamers. I have found out that there is a similar pattern in their answers, which can be summarised in the following quote:
It's really hard to explain but it's just... if you can touch somebody's heart (...), if you read that last page or you get to the end of the movie or whatever, you just feel like you've really been touched somehow... I guess I just call that, you know, that there is heart in it and that's what I look in for when I'm able to put it into my work.
Actually, this cite does not come from my interviews; it's the answer that Jane Jensen, the famous video game designer and writer, gave to a question I put on Youtube's comments when they were streaming their launch party for the 20th anniversary edition of the video game Gabriel Knight. Here is the video fragment where she expresses her views on the subject (sorry for the quality of the video!):

In any case, it accurately represents most of the answers I've been receiving in my fieldwork. For instance, they speak about having the same impact on people that they had when they were growing up playing games, making  people "emotionally accelerated to play the game", or delivering "powerful emotions" to players. It's all about affecting the individuals who will play their video games in a deep emotional way. At least, two main ideas can be developed from here.

Firstly, video game designers and developers seek to reproduce on others the emotional and meaningful impact they had in the past while they were playing other video games. All of them, without exception, define themselves as being gamers. Video games are a fundamental part of their identity. This means that, intentionally or not, they are participating in the reproduction of the gamer subjectivity, the gamer identity.

Secondly, this approach could be linked to a more general question with regard to the contemporary political rationalities of our time, as it is sustained by Nikolas Rose and other neo-Foucauldian theorists. I'm focusing on a specific consequence of the generalised neo-liberal political rationalities that traverse our today's societies, the ethico-politics:
Ethico-politics reworks the government of souls in the context of the increasing role that culture and consumption mechanisms play in the regulation of forms of life and identity and selftechniques (Rose, 1999: 188).
If ethico-politics are understood as the set of processes and methods through which it is possible "to shape the conduct of human beings by acting upon their sentiments, beliefs, and values" (Rose, 2007: 27), we will find ourselves in an epoch in which, in governmental terms, there is an explicit - though not necessarily intentional - approach to ethical, cultural and identity construction issues (which are not the outcome of other objectives any more: disciplinary - control of passions - or biopolitical - maximisation of the social forces). 

In sum, gamers's identities are  being addressed - whether they succeed or not - by designers within the video game industry in contemporary societies. There are many ways to allude to it: their soul, their emotions, their heart, their identity, their ethos. No matter what term is used, they all want to touch it, shape it, affect it. The debate on what a gamer is or how a gamer identity is constructed is officially open.

  • Rose, Nikolas (1999). Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Rose, Nikolas (2007). The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
[An extended version of this post in Spanish can be found here at Deus Ex Machina]


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