Kübra Aksay is a lecturer, researcher, and Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at the University of Freiburg. She holds a bachelor’s degree in linguistics and a master’s degree in British and North American Cultural Studies. Her current research and dissertation project focuses on games as performance. Her research interests, other than game studies, are digital media, narratology, virtual spaces, heritage studies, and Star Trek.
“Work, Play, Escape: Freedom and Submission in Video Games about Office Jobs”
FROG 2022 – Talk
Video games, due to the diverse virtual spaces they can present in detail and their ability to allow their audiences to perform various roles in those spaces, are often associated with escapism. While other narrative media can also offer absorption into a fictional world, games are not only escapist because they are works of fiction, but also because of the “common perception of play and games as opposite of seriousness and work” (Calleja 2010). However, if virtual environments are designed to be a form of escape from everyday life, boredom, or environments that the players are grounded in, it is difficult to consider the non-navigable, lonely, constrained office spaces and stories about labor and submission featured in a number of recent video games such as Her Story (2015), Papers, Please (2013), and Orwell (2016), as popular images of a world many players dream about escaping to.
This study aims to analyze how representations of constrained environments and stories about labor can be attractive and engaging for the audiences of digital games. The study focuses on setting and narrative themes in digital games about office work. The concepts of familiarity with certain spaces through “transmedial storytelling” (Jenkins 2011) and the presence of the audience in the actual and virtual space at the same time are discussed, in order to show how the themes of work and responsibility, and restricted workspaces can create an engaging interactive storytelling experience, in a medium that is known for providing freedom and entertainment. The aspect of freedom, or rather the lack of it in the mentioned video games, is also examined in relation to the current discourses of metaverse and immersion.