Date of Award

5-2007

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Communication

Advisor

Eric E. Peterson

Second Committee Member

Kristin M. Langellier

Third Committee Member

Nathan Stormer

Abstract

Situating video games and the meaningful practice of playing video games for future study by the discipline of communication, this eidetic phenomenology centers the focus of such inquiry at the site of the body. As video game studies have heretofore largely ignored or presupposed a bifurcation between player and video game, a phenomenology is likewise crucial to investigating the lived experience of video gaming as an embodied activity by theoretically eschewing such subject/object distinctions and methodologically generating genuinely new, heuristic spaces for thinking about this phenomenon. In particular, the existential phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, which emphasizes the body as necessarily enworlded, offers an insightful conceptualization of the video game player’s intentional and meaningful endeavor. Merleau-Ponty’s latter work specifically details the intricacies of a body’s sense of touch, outlining three specific modalities: “a touching of the sleek and the rough,” a “touching of the things,” and “a veritable touching of the touch.” The notion of touch is also key in portraying the already-imbricated nature of player and video game. Using these modalities as frames for organizing experience, I enact performative playings of the video game Animal Crossing: Wild World by Nintendo. This study proceeds methodologically by way of the three-step phenomenological method outlined by Merleau-Ponty – one that necessarily entails a description, a reduction, and an interpretation. Performative playings generate descriptive data later thematized as capta in order to synthetically produce acta, or an interpretive orientation toward the data/capta relationship. Each of three phenomenological reflections respectively examines one of these modalities. The first reflection (upon “a touching of the sleek and the rough”) explores the ways in which the sensual touch of the player both intersects with a new material technology that facilitates game play (the Nintendo DS video game console) by way of a touch-sensitive interface, and “crisscrosses” with a player’s embodied sense of sight. Framed by the human-technology-world relations outlined by technoscience philosopher Don Ihde, descriptions of these intersections and crisscrosses yield interpretations of a corporeal schema with specific embodied preferences for action in various gamic spaces: a being-in-the-(game)world. The second reflection (upon “a touching of the things”) interrogates my interobjective relations with other enworlded body-objects. While I have a body that interacts with this technology, I also am a body – a material object grounded in the self-same flesh of the world. By way of Vivian Sobchack’s philosophy of interobjectivity, I recognize that I am a passionate video game player, and literally re- cognize my primordial, immanent and embodied abilities as both subjective object and objective subject to interpret my experiences being “touched” by the objects of the game world (whose inhabitance I detailed in the first reflection). The third reflection (upon “a veritable touching of the touch”) uses the first two as an experiential ground to explore the ways in which I and other players “keep in touch” by playing video games. My descriptions of these video gaming experiences indicate the presence of Roman Jakobson’s six elements and correlative functions integral to an understanding of human communication, specifically situating video games for study by the discipline of communication. Playing video games is an interactive practice that synthesizes the analog (both/and) logic of human player-subjects and the digital (either/or) logic of game-objects as they emerge from an undifferentiated, chiasmic interrelationship. Operating from a digital-analog logic allows players to convert contexts of choice into choices of context.

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