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Paolo Ruffino: Contagious games: agency and affect in videogame culture

mercredi 01 sep 2021
Faculté des lettres - Humanités Numériques

The paper observes how videos and images are produced and circulated by videogame players across social media to negotiate their agency within the ludic simulation. It argues that players’ renegotiation of agency resonates with some of the visual responses circulated in relation to the COVID-19 crisis, particularly in relation to the assumed ableism of citizens and their capacity to exercise their will on the surrounding environment. The paper looks at the videogame Red Dead Redemption 2 (Rockstar Games 2018) as case study. In the game, set in 1899, the character Arthur Morgan dies of tuberculosis. The videogame does not provide a cure for the disease or a way to prevent it. It is presented as the consequence of an invisible action. The research is based on a number of YouTube videos and memes in which players respond to their loss of agency by claiming to have identified the moment of Arthur’s contagion, and elaborate strategies to prevent or cure the disease. The paratexts preserve a conception of agency based on representational premises, which assumes the storyline to be organized around visible and actionable narrative forks, and the non-playable characters to be disposable and instrumental to save the main character. The paper explores the performative and affective potential of these paratextual practices, and argues that the videos and their comments aim to remediate (intended in the double sense of restoring and healing) the wound separating the event of Arthur’s sickness from the absence of a representation of the contagion. It then concludes by exploring some of the recent visualization of COVID-19, for instance 3D simulations of social distancing, memes, and strategies of prevention, and the implications of imagining social spaces and sociality as taking place within a ‘gamespace’, where all possibilities are tied to the experience of able-bodied citizens.

Dr Paolo Ruffino is Lecturer in Communication and Media at the University of Liverpool. He is the author of Future Gaming: Creative Interventions in Video Game Culture (Goldsmiths and MIT Press, 2018), editor of Rethinking Gamification (Meson Press, 2014), and Independent Videogames: Cultures, Networks, Techniques and Politics (Routledge, 2021). His research focuses on independent videogame development, labor unions in the videogame industry, and the emergence of nonhuman and posthuman play in the digital age.

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