A player-centered perspective on transgressive aesthetics

Skjermbilde 2015-04-11 kl. 14.46.48The GTA Project will use ethnographic methods such as focus groups, research diaries, forum studies, observations, and individual interviews to study how players experience transgressive content. But why is the player-centered perspective important?

Interpretation is a subjective and culturally dependent activity, and while one person or a group may have no problem with certain content, others may. There is never one “correct” interpretation that overrides others. Stating that one group reads the wrong meanings into a game ignores the fact that other people with other backgrounds may have different interpretations. Female players may find the representation of women in games questionable, while this may never have occurred as problematic for males. Also, some may find the inclusion of homosexual relationship in games offensive, while others may welcome it as an inclusion of diverse perspectives.

Indeed, claiming that a particular interpretation goes against the designer’s intended meaning ignores the fact that once released into the real world, a game is no longer only the product of a developer team’s intentions, but is given a life on its own. Modding, user-generated content, and fan fiction are examples of this.

Also, as interactive media, games are not actually realized until they are being played, and individual play styles will influence the way a game is being played and also interpreted. In role-playing games, different choices may potentially give the player not only different outcomes, but also different experiences throughout the game. Likewise, a GTA player who are testing out the limits of the simulation will have a different experience from the one only following the main quest, and also from the one playing the game just to drive around in cars to explore the environment.

Another argument for a player perspective is that how a game is experienced in the context of gameplay, may be radically different from how it is interpreted out of context by a person watching the game being played, or reading about it in the media. For this reason, it is important to understand how controversial, provocative, and offensive content is being experienced by actual players both when trying to understand games as a medium of expression and an art form, and when proposing game regulations and rating systems.

About Kristine Jørgensen

Professor in Media Studies at the Department of Information Science and Media Studies, University of Bergen. Project manager and principal investigator of the Games and Transgressive Aesthetics project.

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