PhD (full-time) - currently registered
Agency In and Around Avatar-Based Video Games
Agency is an over-used and under-defined buzzword in discussions surrounding interactive entertainment media nowadays. Particularly in the case of video games, developers and journalists often use it as a qualifier to indicate the degree of influence players have over the virtual world created: the higher it is, the more power the player has, the more attractive and marketable the product is. Vast open-world sandbox multiplayer games populate today's market. But what, indeed, is this nebulous qualifier?
Whether the player is escorted along a linear path of progression signposted by narrative events or level design, or is free to engage with the gameplay mechanics offered by the game in a chosen order has an impact on manifestation of player agency. Equally, configurability of character appearance and skillset, and consequently, playstyle, as well as the gameworld, affects the player's possibility of exerting agency whereby it allows various degrees of designing the challenge, tailoring it to their preference. To speak to these variables, I propose to frame agency as an affordance of game design (Gibson, 1979).
My dissertation will examine how 'agency' is conceptualised in different discourses surrounding digital games: as discussed in Game Studies, as theorised by game design textbooks, and as referred to in practitioner discourse (based on ethnographic methods). The findings in these three parts will then be synthesised to create a heuristic framework for conceptualising agency in avatar-based games. Game studios with a particular design focus will be case studies to demonstrate the applicability of this framework, examining how agency is designed (textual analysis) and how designers think about how it is designed (paratextual analysis).
Such an approach will facilitate a way of discussing game design which does not get too tangled up in oversimplified notions of 'genre', 'rules' or 'narrative'. It will also incorporate the analysis of the language used to refer to these phenomena by industry practitioners, grounding abstract theory in production practices.
- Interactivity and Agency
- Digital and Media Literacies
- Video Games
- Media Industry Studies
- Genre Theory
- Interactive Storytelling
- Graphic Narratives
- Dr Liz Evans
- Dr Jan-Noel Thon
Primary Funding Source
Vice-Chancellor's Scholarship for Research Excellence
AHRC M4C NPIF fund
Research Institutes, Centres and/or Research Clusters Memberships
Digital Culture Research Network (DCRN), University of Nottingham
Conference Papers & Presentations
- Theorising Skills in Video Games and Industry Practices, CLAS Symposium, Nottingham, May 2017
- Fairy Tales Rebooted: Breaking Habits in Bill Willingham's Fables and Telltale Games' The Wolf Among Us, Cultural Crossings, Vienna, June 2015
- I am Superhero! Transmedial Metareference in Watchmen, I Am Graphic Novel! Special Conference Stream within The Graphic Novel Project, Dubrovnik, May 2015