Ludic Materialism: Critical Interventions in Game Studies' Material Turn
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This thesis offers a series of deconstructive interventions in the academic field of game studies, inspired by the so-called ‘material turn’ that has slowly been gaining prominence within that same field over the last decade. Its central argument is that Johan Huizinga’s conception of play as a free and autotelic activity that is separate from ‘ordinary life’ is untenable, and that the notion of play as separable from the material stakes of ‘serious’ activity encourages a depoliticized view of the phenomena that game studies purports to study. Specifically, the field has been reluctant to engage with the politico-economic aspects of videogames. This thesis addresses the stated topic through a framework inspired by Marxism, post-structuralism, left-wing critical theory, feminism, and what it calls ‘critical-materialist’ game studies. Its interventions proceed to broadly cover three main topics, in the meantime engaging closely with the work of scholars such as Roger Caillois, Miguel Sicart, Espen Aarseth, and Joost Raessens. First is digital play itself—what does a critical-materialist theory of digital play look like? In order to understand how digital play is complicit in the reification of cybernetic capitalism we need to conceptualize digital play, following the work of Jean Baudrillard, as a fundamentally seductive world-making relation that is inseparable from the contexts in which it takes place. Second is the Gamer™, which is not an authentic identity but rather a designed technicity. This construct is not merely dependent on a set of identity markers but also on a set of learned behaviours and sensibilities with regards to the videogame medium which do not leave game scholars unaffected. The last investigation concerns game scholars themselves and the academic institutions they inhabit. Especially the Humanities and its students are crumbling under the incessant pressure of neoliberalism, and even those who seek to use cybernetic technologies to move beyond these dynamics remain caught up in them.