Tobias Unterhuber

Dr. Tobias Unterhuber studied modern German literature, comparative literature and study of religion at LMU Munich and at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2018, he earned his PhD with his thesis on the works of Swiss author Christian Kracht. He is a post-doc for literature and media studies at the Leopold-Franzens University Innsbruck. In addition to pop literature, literary theory, discourse analysis, literature & economics and gender studies, his research interests include video game research in the field of cultural studies. He is an editor of the game studies journal PAIDIA.

The loss and restriction of ludic and political agency in games

FROG 2020 – Short Talk

Agency is not only a central term in game studies but also “[a] crucial term in the theory and practice of feminism, as indeed any politics.” (Andermahr et. al. 1997, p. 13) What we are allowed and what we ought to do in a society is the range of our agency. Laws, implicit and explicit rules, ethics and authority limit it. Furthermore, tactics of marginalization, often based on race, gender and class, restrict people’s agency even further. Discriminatory behavior and structural violence thus can be described as attempts to restrict the agency of marginalized people. However, how is this related to agency in video games? The specific mediallity of video games always affords players agency. The range may vary but it is essential for games that players can choose their actions, to make choices – be it on the macro, micro or substructure level (Cf. Backe 2008). Video games offer players “the satisfying power to take meaningful action and see the results of our decisions and choices” (Murray 1998, p. 129). This has two consequences: 1. Society and games are both rule-governed systems, which give players and people agency. Therefore, ludic agency can act as a structural analogy of political and social agency. Players’ agency can represent the player character’s agency in a fictional world and society. 2. Since players are accustomed to having agency, the loss and restriction of their agency can be a powerful tool to show the aforementioned analogy and to let players experience, in a safe media environment, how people’s agency are not identical based on their class, their race and their gender. The presentation wants to show how games implement situations of agency loss and restricted agency to represent lost and restricted social and political agency and o not only show the players but let them experience how discriminatory systems work.


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