[This year I am completing a Communication and Cultural Studies Honours as both a capstone of my undergraduate studies and, most probably, a stepping stone into several more years of postgraduate study. In addition to some coursework, Honours largely consists of writing a 15,000 word dissertation by the end of Semester 2 (late October). As such, I will be doing less freelance writing and even less blogging this year as I work on my thesis. However, to make up for this, I might try to update here with my thesis-in-progress, both to keep the blog alive and to get some valuable feedback. While the academics in my school (in particularly my supervisor) are able to give me excellent structural and theoretical advice, few of them play videogames and even fewer engage with videogame academia. By placing my work-in-progress here, perhaps my arguments will become a little more watertight.
For now, here is an early draft of an abstract of my thesis. It gives a decent oversight about what I plan to write about this year. Needless to say, there is a very high chance that this will change in the coming months as I do more research, get more feedback, and actually start writing. But for now, this is my topic as it currently stands:]
Partners in Crime: The Mediating Effects of the Playable Character on the Videogame Player
Through a textual analysis of Grand Theft Auto IV (Rockstar North 2007), this thesis aims to complicate and complement videogame studies’ current understanding of the playable character’s role in shaping the player’s experience. Just as the player may define certain actions and characteristics of the character, so too do the character’s actions and characteristics helps to shape the player’s experience.
The videogame player interacts with the videogame text as a hybrid of navigable spaces: a procedural space defined by processes that the player must comprehend; a possibility space defined by affordances that the player must act within the confines of; a fictional space defined as an audiovisual world that the player must interpret and exist in. While most videogame scholars acknowledge the role of the playable character as a vessel through which the player navigates these spaces, rarely is its mediating effect on the player fully recognised. Many texts will use the terms ‘player’ and ‘character’ interchangeably when discussing the agent that acts within the videogame space. This uncertainty as to just who is acting highlights a gap in the existing literature on playable characters and their role in mediating the player’s experience.
Engaging with actor-network theory and cyborg theory to account for the existence of the playable character’s nonhuman agency independent of the player, this thesis explores how the agencies of both actors—player and character—intertwine and mediate each other to form a hybrid actor, the player-character, which is the actual actor that navigates the videogame space.
Grand Theft Auto IV and its episodic expansions “The Lost and the Damned” and “The Ballad of Gay Tony” engage the player with three distinct playable characters while the game’s spaces and mechanics remain more-or-less unchanged. An analysis of these titles will thus allow this thesis to explore the effects of the playable character’s agency on the player-character hybrid and, subsequently, on the player’s experience.