Book Announcement: Playing Dystopia

Hi everyone,

I want to draw attention to my newly published book—“Playing Dystopia: Nightmarish Worlds in Video Games and the Player’s Aesthetic Response”—which is now available (as a book and ebook) via Transcript and soon in the US/internationally through Colombia University Press.

(You can read the introduction and table of contents following this link)

In “Playing Dystopia” I describe the genre of the video game dystopia and the player’s “aesthetic response” to its nightmarish gameworlds (discussing games such as Metro 2033, BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us, and many more). I thus follow up on the question “what effect” dystopian games have on us, and how they are able to “change players’ perceptions of their contemporary surroundings.”

The main purpose of this study, then, is to scrutinise how the “utopian impulse” manifests itself in dystopian games, but also the underlying game structure that outlines dystopia’s “aesthetic effect.” To do so, I analyse the tripartite dialectic between “(dystopian) game, player, and culture (world),” and how the “empirical player” steps in a creative negotiation and trial action with the “implied player.” The implied player is described as a structural construct and the affordance and appeal structure of the game which outlines play and, potentially, drives players to catharsis.

Although primarily dealing with dystopian games, the study branches out to formulate a “theory of aesthetic response” for game narratives in a wider theoretical sense. It takes inspiration from representational art (Kendall Walton) and literary theory (Wolfgang Iser) and describes the gameworld as a structurally incomplete construct that necessitates the players’ interactions to come to life. How “gaps” and “blanks” are filled through play—through imaginative and ergodic means—is thus the main focus. This describes well how players implicitly compare the fictionally enacted events to their empirical surroundings—not only to make sense of the game but also to decipher dystopia’s warning.

As such, the study intertwines a discussion of fiction/fictionality/narrative in games to illuminate how “meaning is experienced” in the act of play: when the “fictive” permeates the gameworld and distorts its connection to the empirical world through doublings and distortions, and the “imaginary” takes shape in the player’s imagination and ergodic actions to negotiate what the fictive has outlined. Meaning is thus experienced in and through play and in the player’s “acts of ideation,” which are informed by empirical reality (the “real”) but restructure its perception.

There are a couple of different prices floating around the Internet: the cheapest version of the book I found is this:  Bü

Moreover, I have uploaded a fair amount of presentations on utopias and dystopias in games, which are mostly based on my PhD thesis and that I gave throughout the years.