INVESTIGATING A GAME GENRE: THE FIRST PERSON SHOOTER.

Rune Klevjer, University of Bergen. E-mail:  rune.klevjer@media.uib.no


The aim of the project is to explain how the computer game genre First Person Shooter (FPS) re-interprets popular culture, and how this highly distinct form of popular entertainment represents a unique aesthetic for the negotiation of myth, ideology and identity. On a more general level, the aim is also to provide more insight about the digital computer as a medium of cultural expression. The project will proceed through detailed analysis of central games and their cultural context, as well as their relation to other game genres. The FPS is a relatively stable and well-defined genre, one that acts out popular myths about the male hero, addressing conflicts and desires over individuality, power and the quest for knowledge. The analysis will focus around four key issues that are particularly - but not exclusively - relevant to this game genre:

1.The re-configuration of adventure stories and the frontier myth through the hybrid form of the FPS story-game. Drawing on recent theory on computer games (Juul 2001, Friedman 1995, Fuller and Jenkins 1995) and digital narratives (Aarseth 1997, Murray 1997, Ryan 2001), as well as cultural theory (Levi-Strauss 1968, Slotkin 1992) and film theory (King 2000, Wright 1975), I will discuss how the conflicts and interdependencies between narrative and play in the FPS story-game redefine the rhetoric and ideology of textual spaces. Informed by the ideas of Michael de Certeau (1984) and Henry Jenkins (2002), the project will investigate how central FPS-games create different ‘spatial narratives’ through adopting imagery and narratives of exploration and conquest from generic fiction - notably from science-fiction, adventure, agent stories, war, horror and fantasy.

2.The structuring of male gender construction. The question of how ideology of gender - and ideology of violence - operates within the hybrid aesthetic of the FPS deserves a separate focus. The play-world appears to be heavily coded as traditionally masculine, strongly supporting stereotype male fantasies of power and conquest. This part of the analysis will include references to film theory (Mulvey 1975, Tasker 1993) as well as recent theory on gender and computer games (Casell and Jenkins 1998, Kennedy, 2002).

3. The phenomenological relation between body, machine and illusion. This fundamental question will need at least a few preliminary and tentative answers, since the FPS characteristically offers a very immediate and bodily experience. The question also implies a consideration of the mechanisms of identification and distance implied by the FPS aesthetics, and to what extent the genre offers a playful negotiation of identities. Do we play with ideology, or do ideology play with us?

4. The spectacular. The FPS can be placed within a long tradition of magic machinery, visual spectacle and “motion rides”. Its spectacular attraction is not only based on the increasing representational power and sophistication of the digital computer, but crucially also relies on a particular kind of agency enabled by the procedural and responsive nature of the technological form. is informed by Tom Gunning’s “The Cinema of Attractions” (1990) as well as the ‘Game Archeologies’ of Aki Järvinen (2000).

 

REFERENCES

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De Certeau, Michael, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley, 1984).

Fuller, Mary and Jenkins, Henry, “Nintendo and New World Travel Writing: A Dialogue”, in Steven Jones (ed.), Cybersociety: Computer-Mediated Communication and Community (Thousand Oaks, 1995).

Friedman, Ted, ”Making sense of Software: Computer Games and Interactive Textuality, in Steven Jones (ed.), Cybersociety: Computer-Mediated Communication and Community (Thousand Oaks, 1995).

Gunning, Tom, “The Cinema of Attractions: Early Film, its Spectator and the Avant-Garde”, in Elsaesser (ed.) Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative (London, 1990).

Järvinen, Aki, Game Archeologies [version 2.0] (1999-2000), http://www.uib.fi/tlakja/GA/index.html.

Jenkins, Henry, “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” (MIT, 2002), http://web.mit.edu/21fms/www/faculty/henry3/games&narrative.html.

Jenkins, Henry and Cassell, Justine (eds.), From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games (Cambridge, Mass, 1998).

Juul, Jesper, “Games Telling Stories? A Brief Note on Games and Narratives” in Game Studies nr.1 (2001), http://www.gamestudies.org/0101/juul-gts/

Kennedy, Helen, “Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo? On the Limits of Textual Analysis”, paper presented at the International Game Cultures Conference in Bristol (2001).

King, Geoff, Spectacular Narratives. Hollywood in the age of the blockbuster (London and New York, 2000).

Lèvi-Strauss, Claude, “The Structural Study of Myth”, in Structural Anthropology (Harmondsworth, 1968).

Murray, Janet, Hamlet on the Holodeck. The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace (New York, 1997).

Mulvey, Laura, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Screen nr.16 (1975), p.6-18.

Ryan, Marie-Laure, Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity and Literature and Electronic Media (London and Baltimore 2001).

Slotkin, Richard, Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America (New York, 1992).

Tasker, Yvonne, Spectacular Bodies: Gender, Genre and the Action Cinema (London 1993).

Wright, Will, Sixguns and Society: A Structural Study of the Western (Berkeley, 1975).