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]

Videogames and Sociology: Twitter's pic of the day summary (36-40)

This is the eighth round of Pic of the day RECAP (36-40). To understand what all of this is about, check out the original entry.

36 - The Forest:  I love my guts
This out of proportions love for himself might be interpreted in two, kind of related, ways: one in a metaphorical sense and the other as quite literal. According to the former, he may be referring to his determination and boldness. Who does not love the strength to face obstacles and rise to the challenges? But the guy is actually lying - presumably dead - on a table in the middle of a dark cave. If that careless daredevil attitude got him in there in first place, why would he love those stupid guts? However, if he is alluding to his actual guts - those that we can observe sprouting from his belly, that's, at best, ironic. If fact, everything is just based on a false premise: that the guts were in the T-shirt before they were pulled out. Just like society: did it exist before sociologists say it was there? There's an important difference, though. I would never say 'I love my society'.

37 - Free to Play:  Gaming will be the death of you one day
If your aunt prophesies your death by the hand of gaming - and this happens in the film Free to Play (the prophecy, not his demise) - then you should start worrying (I would!). But since she doesn't specify what type of death awaits him, we can only speculate about it. Is it a social death? Gaming has traditionally been linked to social isolation, but lately, and Free to Play is a good example of this tendency, gaming has become mainstream. Is it a professional death? That's more likely, because if he wants to succeed in a eSports career, his time as a pro player will eventually come to an end. Nevertheless, he will still be able to work in other areas (related or not to gaming). Is it a final biological death? There have been reported some ludicrous deaths because of playing video games, but unless he spends more than two days in a row playing uninterruptedly while he solely drinks Mountain Dew (and, to be honest, we don't know if he actually does this), he's not going to die any time soon due to gaming. There is still one unexplored death. That of the inner self. The soul, say some. The subject, say others. In that case, he's already dead and is probably unaware of it.

38 - Faster Than Light:  Intruders detected
No matter how far we are from our local coordinates, spatial and temporal, we will always make distinctions between us and the others, the local and the foreigner, our own and the outsiders. Groups, nations, countries, factions, communities, guilds, gangs... wherever and whenever a collective of individuals exists, there will always be people seen as the intruders, which are fundamental to the definition of the group: its constitutive outside. 

39 - Penumbra - Black Plague:  There cannot be one, there can only be us all
I never get tired of a good old agency-structure debate. Is the individual detached from society a possibility or is just an illusion, a trick played by the collective imagination that creates it? Is society just the outcome of the addition of several individuals or is it something greater than the sum of its 'parts'? What the hive - that collective mind - says in the video game Penumbra is true and false at the same time. We, the sociologists, have been fighting this war for more than a hundred years. Too many casualties, too many efforts to solve the problem. Giddens's structuration theory (1984), Bourdieu's theory that links habitus, field and capital (1998) or Berger and Luckmann's description on how social reality is constructed (1967) have been some interesting and, to certain extent, successful proposals to overcome this problem. I particularly like Latour's elegant approach: "the social possesses the bizarre property of not being made of agency or structure at all, but rather of being a circulating entity" (1999: 17). 

40 - Far Cry:  Stay low and avoid contact if possible
How many times have we been given this sort of advice? Stay low, don't stand out. Avoid contact, people are dangerous. Is the man lying motionless on his own blood one of those who tried to step out of line? What if he was the one who played by the book and the one holding the gun is the smart guy who didn't listen to the same old story? You can try to avoid contact, but reality is all about connections. No escape there. And sometimes, staying low is precisely what attract all that unwanted attention. Here's my tip: stay low if you are passing behind a low ceiling and avoid contact in case there are sparks coming from it or you see a politician reaching out his hand.

Previous entries:
Videogames & Sociology: Twitter's pic of the day summary (11-15)
Videogames & Sociology: Twitter's pic of the day summary (16-20)
Videogames & Sociology: Twitter's pic of the day summary (21-25)
Videogames & Sociology: Twitter's pic of the day summary (26-30)
Videogames & Sociology: Twitter's pic of the day summary (31-35)

  • Berger, Peter L. and Luckmann, Thomas (1967). The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. New York: Anchor.
  • Bourdieu, Pierre (1998). Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Giddens, Anthony (1984). The Constitution of Society. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Latour, Bruno (1999). “On recalling ANT” en Law, John y Hassard, John. Actor-Network Theory and after. Oxford: Blackwell, 15-25.