Videogames and post-humanism: the death of the player

Sonia Fizek

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Panel: Videogames and Post-Humanism

Video games as instances of everyday technoculture, operate within the premises of digitality, technology, simulations and software. By their very nature, they break down the subject-object, organic-inorganic, and player-game dichotomies. They constitute ludic ensembles, “inter-species assemblages” (Dyer-Witheford, 2015) or “biological-technological-informational” collages (Stasieńko 2017, 44). The subjectivity of the player is redistributed during gameplay into a post-human network of human and non-human bodies and agentialities.
Post-humanist thought (Braidotti 2013) seems to be offering a promising perspective for digital games research. One, which invites theories and concepts looking at the game, the technology, the non-organic players. The very fact that games entail AI, procedural generation, complex agential relations between the player and the avatar, mean that strict divisions into subject and object, activity and passivity need to be rethought. It is fascinating, if not necessary in order to understand digital play and games, to move beyond the human and look at the phenomena of gaming from the point of view of the game instead. The examples of self-acting AI and self-playing games, make the technocultural and post-human dimensions even more pronounced.
Over a decade ago Seth Giddings opened a debate on non-human dimension of digital play, when he proposed to recognize technological agency and shy away from the anthropocentric assumption that agency resides solely in the human player (Giddings 2005). This year, at DiGRA 2018, we would like to open a new chapter in the post-human ludic debate.
In their talks, the participants of this panel we will address post-humanism in video games from numerous interdisciplinary perspectives, summoning the metaphorical death of the player in a Barthesian sense, exploring gaming in the post-anthropocene, addressing nonhuman agency in play, scrutinising the subjectivity of a game, and finally theorising a video game as a resistant (bio)object.
Braidotti, R. (2013): The Posthuman. Polity Press.
Giddings, S. (2005): Playing with Non-Humans: Digital Games as Techno-Cultural Form. Proceedings of DiGRA 2005 Conference: Changing Views – World in Play. [Accessed 14.11.2017].
Dyer-Witheford, N. (2015): Cyber-Proletariat. Global Labour in the Digital Vortex. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Stasieńko, J. (2017): Automaty, hybrydy, afekty – posthumanistyczne konteksty apartu gry komputerowej i praktyk grania. In Teksty Drugie, 3, 2017.

Proposed Talks

The Death of the Player (Sonia Fizek)
A game only exists once the player enters the scene and makes it happen. Supposedly. Beforehand, it is merely a potentiality, a possible world. Such a player-centric approach treats the human player as a necessary component in the process of ludic meaning production. However, when the game plays itself, the performative character of play is even more visibly negotiated with the system itself, where the “text” itself and its configurations are more important than the player’s actions within it. Once we take the human actor out of the equation, the game (e.g. Everything 2017) starts performing itself like “… an utterance [that] has no other content than the act by which it is uttered” (Barthes 1967, 4). In this talk I will symbolically “kill” the player to focus on machinic acts instead (Galloway 2006). After all, the birth of the self-playing game must be ransomed by the death of the human player (Barthes 1967).

Barthes, R. (1967/1977): The Death of the Author. In Image-Music-Text, Fontana Press, p. 142-148.
Galloway, A. R. (2006): Gaming. Essays on Algorithmic Culture. University of Minnesota Press.

Video Games for Earthly Survival: Gaming in the Post-Anthropocene (Paolo Ruffino)
We live in times of ecological, geological, economic, and political crisis. The Anthropocene, a.k.a. Capitalocene, brings us to reflect on human’s impact on planet Earth, and on the very possibility of thinking of our own presence in the Universe (Haraway 2016). The Anthropocene forces us to think of a time before and after the human, which is, by definition, unthinkable. It also forces us to think now, in the time in-between the beginning and the end. My research is concerned with the numerous and bizarre forms in which video games respond to these times of crisis. More specifically, my contribution to the panel will look at video games where the disappearance of human beings and the end of life from Earth becomes a narrative theme (The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask; Horizon: Zero Dawn), a design solution (idle games, ghost cars and Drivatars), a development choice (No Man’s Sky, Screeps), and a theme of artistic experimentation (Ben Watanabe’s San Andreas Deer Cam, Ian Cheng’s Emissaries).

Haraway D. J. (2016) Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Duke University Press

Toying with the posthuman (Seth Giddings)
Game studies has generated some of the most incisive contributions to the debates on post-humanism and related theories, theories that decentre the human body and mind from the study of technoculture. Studying and playing videogames reminds us that, whatever else new technological systems and futures may be and may become, this being and becoming is grounded in – and constitutes - everyday, lived collusions between human and nonhuman minds, bodies and environments. Taking as a case study my recent participant observation research on the development of a robotic gaming platform, this presentation will build on games studies’ address to nonhuman agency in play, and to the significance of play itself in the articulation of new and emergent posthuman environments and behaviours. It will focus on the collision of technological imaginaries of automata with the materialities of hardware, economies, and everyday life, and on the distribution of kinaesthetic, sensate and imaginative capacities across human and nonhuman bodies.

What does a computer game care about when playing a human being? - Extra-human perspectives on computer games (Sebastian Möring)
In line with central ideas of posthumanism I wish to question the anthropocentrism of game studies and to investigate the perspective of the computer game on the player in game play. Several authors argued for perspectives on play and games according to which games are not only played by human actors but also by animals (Huizinga [1937] 2004), that human players are not even the ones who are playing a given (computer) game but that it is the game playing the players (cf. Aarseth 1997), or that the real subject of the game is not the player but the game itself (Gadamer [1960] 2004, 106). In my contribution I aim to investigate how it is possible to understand the subjectivity of a game? We know that when playing games computer game players care about strategies, their avatar, or more-generally the well-being of the computer game (Möring 2013). But what does a computer game care about when playing a human being? For this I will refer to Bogost's speculative realism as presented in Alien Phenomenology (2012) in order to understand how dynamic objects like computer games perceive and relate to their environment. I am specifically interested in understanding how games take care of their players. For this I will specifically refer to Bogos's notion of metaphorism and project existential philosophical concepts such as the Hedegerrian notion of "care" on computer games and analyze them as if they were humans.

Aarseth, Espen J. 1997. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Bogost, Ian. 2012. Alien Phenomenology, or, What It’s like to Be a Thing. Posthumanities 20. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 2004. Truth and Method. London, New York: Continuum.
Huizinga, Johan. 1998. Homo Ludens. A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. London: Routledge.
Möring, Sebastian. 2014. Games and Metaphor – A Critical Analysis of the Metaphor Discourse in Game Studies. Copenhagen: IT University of Copenhagen.

A video game as a resistant (bio)object (Justyna Janik)
A video game is a resistant object. Players may be convinced about their own power over the game environment, but, in fact, their actions are always limited: if not by the conventions of the gameworld, then by the game’s script and glitches. Every time the game manifests its resistant power (agency), it reveals the illusion of the anthropocentric nature of its connection with the player. For Bruno Latour (2000), it is crucial to research this kind of resistant objects, because they ask their own questions and do not bend easily to the linguistic description. Here, I want to show that, despite being created by humans, the game is an equal partner for the player and a co-creator of the meanings that emerge from the gameplay. The complexity of this situation can be interpreted in the context of the bio-object created by Tadeusz Kantor, in which the object defines the actions and motives of the actor, while the actor brings the object to life (Kantor, 2004). Without each other, they just lose their purpose of being on stage. The same situation can be observed during play: the presence of the player animates the game, but it is the game that creates a frame for meanings emerging from the player’s actions. This continuous struggle inside the bio-object between human and non-human side results in tensions that generate new meanings (Pleśniarowicz, 1990). It is the most visible when the player starts to subversively explore the boundaries of the environment or when glitches appear. If the former is about establishing human domination, the latter is about the game’s agency. In the end, the game becomes our partner in play.

Kantor, T. 2004. Teatr śmierci: Teksty z lat, 1975-1984 [Theatre of Death. Texts], Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich.
Latour, B. 2000. “When things strike back: A possible contribution of 'science studies' to the social sciences.” British Journal of Sociology, 51(1), 107-123.
Pleśniarowicz, K. 1990. Teatr Śmierci Tadeusza Kantora. Chotomów: Ver
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jul 2018
EventDigital Games Research Association Conference 2018: The Game is the Message - University of Turin - Campus Luigi Einaudi, Turin, Italy
Duration: 25 Jul 201828 Jul 2018


ConferenceDigital Games Research Association Conference 2018
Abbreviated titleDiGRA 2018
Internet address


Cite this

Fizek, S. (2018). Videogames and post-humanism: the death of the player. Abstract from Digital Games Research Association Conference 2018, Turin, Italy.