Level Up: A Media-Archaeological Study on the Rhetoric of Progress about Serious Health Games
Smale, S. de
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Examining the progressive and optimistic rhetoric about serious games in healthcare as a starting point, this thesis analyses the rhetoric of progress in medical media instruments and applications as recurring discursive building blocks in media history. It argues that the narrative of serious games history - a rhetoric that operates from within fixed values and beliefs about technological innovation - is part of a longstanding tradition in medical media history that shares particular ideological and imaginative premises about technology. Embedding the assumptions of serious health games within the tradition of medical media, the myth of transparency (Van Dijck 2005), present in medical's visual culture, is used as a lens to focus this media-archaeological analysis. The method proposed in this thesis is conceptualised as material discourse analysis, a novel approach that combines Erkki Huhtamo's discursive theory from the Anglo-American school and Friedrich Kittler's material theory from the German school of media archaeology. Using the microscope and the x-ray device as two media-archaeological case studies, the study illustrates several continuities and discontinuities in the ideas and ideals surrounding optimistic rhetoric, which contextualises a specific historical understanding of serious health games discourse. This study has several key findings: first, the optimistic rhetoric of progress about serious health games is a historical construction. Second, technological discourses are part of a recurring pattern of innovation driven by the desire for better vision and more knowledge. Third, games are heralded for their ability to immerse the player, but the novelty of optical technology has always been a site for pleasurable immersing practices. Lastly, the idea that games have the ability to visualise the body is part of a modern idea that instruments can capture objective truth. One important discontinuity is that ludic activities - pleasures of the flesh - and scientific practice - ratio of the mind - have converged in present-day serious health games rhetoric. The value of such a media-archaeological study of games in healthcare is twofold. First, the realisation that present-day rhetoric of serious games in healthcare can be understood by analysing how specific discursive building blocks transcend different technologies and histories. Second, this inquiry reconceptualises the history of serious health games from a longstanding relationship between humans and optical instruments.