Games as Representational Artifacts: A Media-Centered Analytical Approach to Representation in Games


Computer games and board games alike are cultural artifacts that reflect the ideas of their creators and the society in which they are embedded and played. Like cinema and literature, they may represent more or less familiar environments, events and beings. That said, there are great differences between these media, which also affects how they can be understood as representational artifacts. In addition to this, when considering a game such as Tetris, it is not even given that games represent in the first place. This raises the question of what it is that makes us consider games as representational artifacts and subsequently, which representational capacities, or better, meaning-producing capacities and practices we may associate with them? Furthermore, to what extend are games a medium and how do they relate to other media? This dissertation reviews theories of representation and their application to game analysis. Based on these theories, I propose a media-centered, and materialist framework for conceptualizing and analyzing games as simulations. With this, I will address games as objects, consisting of a multimodal surface expression that is governed by an underlying mechanical structure and realized in a material medium. The framework describes the basic qualities of a given game through what I call the material, structural, communicational and agential modalities. I will discuss the ways in which simulations refer to a target, a relationship which I argue is not intrinsic to the simulation itself, but remains relative to interpretation. Consequently, the study of representation should not only consider the game artifact in itself, but also the context in which it is produced and consumed. Therefore, the analysis will progress from the relatively formal analysis of games as simulations to a discussion of games as cultural artifacts that are discursively constructed as what I call qualified media. These qualified media have evolved side by side with other media, and are governed by a set of normative assumptions about what games are, what they should look like, how they should be played and by whom. Finally, the dissertation will offer a demonstration of the proposed framework in an analysis of the ways in which gender is represented in the computer game The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. This analysis will first consider the formal elements of the game, that is the material, structural, visual and textual aspects and how they are put into operation by a player. Next, the case study situates the game and its construction of gender in a broader cultural context in which games intersect with other media and are produced and consumed according to certain cultural conventions and norms.