Video Games and Ecocriticism

Hello everyone and welcome to my webpage!

I plan on using this space to work out ideas and to share interesting developments and news stories in the digital humanities (particularly in video game studies, my area of interest).

Currently, in addition to my dissertation project on gender and embodiment in elite gamer culture, I am gearing up for a stint as the Managing Editor of Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities.

This has got me thinking about the various ways that video games can be used as an ecocritical tool.

One of the most transformative insights of ecocriticism, for me at least, is the premise that “nature” is not merely something that exists “out there,” outside of culture and independent of it.  Nature is also a construct: something we define and describe through discourse.  That discourse, in turn, shapes our understanding of what nature is, what it is for, and what our relationship to it should be.  The stories we tell about nature, the images of it that we create, and even the software models of it that we produce have a profound effect on the behaviors that we individually and collectively exhibit towards our planet.  In this way, our mapping of the landscape can be said to be indirectly reshaping the landscape itself.

Video games encapsulate this insight on a smaller scale that students can easily grasp.  The environments in video games exist as a code, a set of rules in which a player-avatar is embedded and with which he or she must interact.  These environments are constructed, but  as the player acclimates to the game, its constructedness recedes to the background of our perception and the environment becomes “naturalized” in the sense that the arbitrary rule set it represents comes to be accepted as “just the way things are” in the world depicted by the game.  These rules bound and shape the possible set of interactions the player can have with his or her environment by discouraging or forbidding certain actions (punishing them with failure or simply not including them in the set of possibilities imagined by the coded rules) and encouraging others (via rewards like forward progress in the game’s story or an advantage against an opponent).

I am currently working on a short project examining depictions of nature in some of my favorite video games including Civilization II, Reus, Don’t Starve, Fate of the World, and Phone Story .  Do you have any favorite games with an interest in the natural world?  If so, post them in the comments or Contact Me to pass them along!

Tree as Video Game Monster in Don’t Starve (Image Source: Destructoid).

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