<b>Within the Mainstream: An Ecocritical Framework for Digital Game History</b> // Dentro del canon: Un marco ecocrítico para la historia del videojuego digital


  • Hans-Joachim Backe Associate Professor IT University of Copenhagen




Historiography, popular culture, entertainment, anthropomorphism, methodology, ethics, Red Dead Redemption, Dishonored // Historiografía, cultura popular, entretenimiento, antropomorfismo, metodología, ética, Dishonored


      Ecocriticism of digital games has so far engaged with a rather small corpus of examples, predominantly from a prescriptive perspective and with a quite limited methodological toolkit. This essay systematizes and historicizes some of these commonly found limitations of past research and proposes methods for a more historically and generically diverse exploration of ecological thinking vis-à-vis digital games. The majority of discussions of games from an ecocritical perspective has applied concepts and frameworks borrowed from literature and film studies, thus privileging surface semiotics over game mechanics. More methodically aware studies have oriented themselves toward the popular framework of procedural rhetoric (Bogost 2007), resulting both in a selection bias towards serious games and an author-centric, intentionalist slant inherent in the approach. In general, the discussion revolves around a small number of games with apparent ecocritical potential, such as Myst (Cyan 1993) or Farmville (Zynga 2009), resulting in a selective, a-historic and therefore distorted discussion of ecology in the diverse medium of digital games. This essay discusses strategies for dealing with a larger corpus of digital games through a descriptive matrix for identifying and analyzing the ecological dimension of digital games. It proposes an extension of the ecocritical toolkit by including a more user-centered, ethics-based theoretical framework based on Sicart’s Ethics of Computer Games (2009). The gain of engaging with representation and simulation of the natural environment in mainstream computer game history will be demonstrated in an analysis of two paradigmatic games. In both Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar San Diego 2010) and Dishonored (Arkane Studios 2013), we encounter game design geared toward producing ludo-narrative dissonances which are highly inductive of critical engagement with the ecosphere.



      La ecocrítica de los juegos digitales se ha centrado en un corpus de ejemplos muy pequeño. Asimismo, la ecocrítica se ha basado en un número muy limitado de métodos. La mayor parte de los debates sobre juegos han utilizado conceptos y teorías tomados de la teoría literaria y el análisis cinematográfico, haciendo prevalecer por tanto análisis semióticos superficiales sobre el estudio de las mecánicas de juego. Los estudios que aplican métodos de game studies suelen estar basados en la teoría de retórica de procesos (Bogost, 2007), lo que acarrea una selección de ejemplos sesgada hacia los serious games y los juegos de autor. En general, estos debates se centran en un número pequeño de juegos con potencial ecocrítico, como Myst (Cyan 1993) o Farmville (Zynga 2009), lo que deriva en una discusión selectiva y ahistórica de la ecología en un medio tan diverso como los juegos digitales. Este artículo presenta estategias para analizar un corpus de juegos mayor. Este artículo propone una matriz descriptiva para identificar y analizar la dimensión ecológica de los juegos digitales. Metodológicamente, este artículo opera con una extensión de la teoría ecocrítica que incluye un marco teórico centrado en el usuario y basado en The Ethics of Computer Games (Sicart, 2009). Los beneficios de centrarse en la representación y simulación del medio natural en el canon de los juegos digitales serán demostrados a través del análisis de dos juegos paradigmáticos. Tanto Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar San Diego 2010) como Dishonored (Arkane Studios 2013) producen disonancias ludo-narrativas que promueven una relación crítica con la ecoesfera.


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Author Biography

Hans-Joachim Backe, Associate Professor IT University of Copenhagen

Hans-Joachim Backe is Assistant Professor at the Center for Computer Games Research of IT University, Copenhagen. He holds a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature, English and American Literature, as well as a PhD in Comparative Literature, both from Saarland University, Saarbrücken, Germany. He was co-recipient of the International Comparative Literature Association’s Anna Balakian Memorial Award of 2010. Between 2010 and 2015, he was chairperson of the ICLA Research Committee on Comparative Literature in the Digital Age. He is co-founder of both the German Association for Comic Studies (ComFor e.V.) and the German Association for Media Studies’ Research Group on Comic Studies. Besides comparative media studies with an emphasis on game and comic studies, his research interests include literary theory, ecocriticism, and 19th to 21st century literature.






Articles: Green Computer and Video Games