The Figur(ative) in Video Games … a beginning

As I have mentioned here before, I am taking my last PhD class (/cheer) entitled “The Figure in Film”. So far, it has been an interesting excursion into some very classic works from the ’20’s on – spanning avant-garde, experimental and Russian film (so far..). We have been looking at the role of metaphor, metonomy the figurative as visual representation (carrying over, appropriating and recontextualizing literary definitions). As a final project (and in class presentation) I have to  ” develop a discussion of the figure in relation to a film, a filmic corpus, audio-visual form or style or a theoretical approach to films, using the readings and discussions considered during the seminar”. While this is a pretty standard ‘demonstrate what you’ve learned in class’ paper, I am tempted to take it in the direction of my work – mainly video games. 

The project I have outlined would essentially be a comparative study – much like the beginning of the course in that it started out with understanding the figurative from a historical perspective and how it has been appropriated – theoretically – into film studies (and production). My question would be to ask what cinematic elements of figuration are carried over into v. games? What (if any) elements are purely ‘gamic’? And perhaps – does the figurative serve the same purpose in games as it does in film? I know these are pretty vague questions – but they are simply a point of departure so that I can start amassing some literature on anything related. And so – as always – if anyone has any literature to point me towards or suggestions / directions, it is always more than welcome.

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7 thoughts on “The Figur(ative) in Video Games … a beginning

  1. I am reading Discours/Figure (Jean-François Lyotard) for a seminary. Pretty hard reading and maybe difficult to relate to your approach, it states that the “figural” is not a discursive concept, but it is related to the “materiality” of the picture, and it can lead to sense but without signification.

  2. Thank you – I will check it out. Lyotard has been mentioned throughout the readings, but we haven’t read him proper in this course (although I have read – and enjoyed him – in Sociology). We have been looking at the idea of the image as non-signifier (through Eisenstein I think … been reading so much it’s been a whirlwind! I will have to double check) as well as the idea that the ‘cinematic’ is that which cannot be described – only seen (or sensed as you say).

    What I have been thinking – is that if there are images and situations that are specific to the ‘cinematic context’ (I am thinking loosely of the close -up, montage …) what (if any) is specific to the ‘gamic context’ that may give rise to the figurative in games specifically (beyond things such as interactivity and theories of embodiement for example)? What visual and /or spatial techniques are unique to the gamic experience?

    From what I can tell in cinema, alot of theory is spent talking about how cinema is similar yet different than painting in such and such a way, as well as photography; what the medium has kept, ditched and moved beyond. So for this project (to keep it under control, since I am also working on my thesis proposal) I want to keep it basic in terms of taking it from cinema and moving beyond (since I have to use the literature and discussions from the seminar).

  3. I used “sense” as “meaning” and not “hearing, sight, smell, touch, taste”. But it makes sense using it in the other way. Translation is difficult when specific terms are involved! Lyotard makes a distinction between “sense” (“sens”) and “signification” (I can’t say which one would be the good translation of “meaning”). He says “figure” can lead to “sense” without having to “signify” (where sense is found through a kind of “reading”).

    But I can’t see how to use it following your specific objectives. That way, it doesn’t seem to be specifically related.

  4. Well, the way that I see it relating directly to what I am thinking is to question what “figurative” elements are used in video games in similar and/or different ways than film – and which aim to serve the same or different purposes. Meaning (in english) can work with both ‘sense’ and ‘signification’ – both with different degrees of ‘meaning’.

    Essentially, you could say that the concept of the figurative exists in all ‘creative’ works that aim to convey something (often to a reader/spectator/viewer and in games, the player) either directly or indirectly. Perhaps the use of the term “figurative” and not simply metaphoric/metonymic/synedochic figure would make more sense in what I am trying to get at. If you think about it, to “play” a game requires the player the perform some sort of “reading” of it in order to understand and proceed. From this line of thinking what are the ‘figurative’ elements that allow the player to perform on any level beyond button mashing?

    This is what I am thinking … =)

  5. Following Lyotard, the figure leads less to reading than to an “indeterminate judgment”, because no sense is “embedded” in a figure. He argues that some pictural elements need to be read (medieval and perspectival works, for example), and others can be “indeterminately judged” (without any pre-theorical frame).

    I don’t know where I am going with this, but I hope you’ll find something there! It seems like I am too much “embedded” in this text…

  6. I worked on the question of the image in video games (and am still working, albeit a little differently from cognition and interpretation). Please send me your paper when it’s done (or call me and explain it over a beer!), I’d be very interested to see what you come up with. I’ve read two things that steered my thinking: Ernst Gombrich (from art history), Art and Illusion (monograph), and Mark J.P. Wolf, Abstraction in the Video Game (Chapter from the Video Game Theory Reader, which you may have read already).

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