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Simulating Disempowerment: The Rhetoric and Reception of Social Realism in Video Games

Turpin, Benjamin (2020) Simulating Disempowerment: The Rhetoric and Reception of Social Realism in Video Games. PhD thesis, University of Essex.

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As the medium’s audience has diversified and grown, video games occupy an increasingly significant role in cultural and ideological fabric of society. As a result, the past two decades have witnessed a boom in video game research. Many studies associated with this field have been effective in identifying the role that video games serve as vehicles for ideology and political persuasion. Most, however, have been predominantly theoretical in nature, relying on the development of unverified frameworks and game analysis. This study seeks to expand this area of research with an empirically grounded methodology. It does this by examining the rhetoric and reception of two games, Cart Life (Hofmeier, 2010) and Papers, Please (Pope, 2013), that attempt to engage players by simulating experiences of disempowerment and which are notable for their politically cognisant content. Drawing on theoretical frameworks developed in the field of audience reception studies, the study examines the ideological encoding of these games before assessing their reception with accounts from participants who played the games. The study argues that the two games utilise experiences of ludic disempowerment, in a manner comparable to the narratological disempowerment utilised in traditional social realist media, to communicate a political message. The study proceeds, however, to identify how the distinctive features of the video game medium may cause the political content of these experiences to be overlooked or re-interpreted by audience members. In examining the roles of realism, polyvalence and emotion in video game reception, the thesis argues that whilst games of disempowerment can be effective tools for the simulation and exploration of complex political and social problems, the distinctive features of the video game medium may also serve to complicate the reception process.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: video games; game studies; social realism; audience reception; disempowerment; media rhetoric
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Divisions: Faculty of Social Sciences > Sociology, Department of
Depositing User: Benjamin Turpin
Date Deposited: 15 Apr 2020 12:39
Last Modified: 15 Apr 2020 12:39

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