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The player character as performing object

Westecott, Emma (2009) The player character as performing object. In: Breaking New Ground: Innovation in Games, Play, Practice and Theory. Proceedings of DiGRA 2009, 1-4 Sep 2009, West London, UK.


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Engagement in games is manifest through a player’s representation of action in game. The main mechanism for this engagement is through direct control of a player character. This control mechanism can be seen as a form of puppetry in which the player manipulates a game figure ranging from the abstract to the super-human. Through a focus on the player character, this paper posits that it may be productive to conceive of the player focus as one akin to that of the puppet artist, or puppeteer, and discusses one approach to unpacking the abstract sign systems of gameplay in this setting. The player character acts out the movements of the player and marks her progression in game. A doubling happens in this action, between the physical movements on the controller and the representation of agency on screen. As a
player I act, then watch the results of my action on screen,
always already audience to my own play practice. One
ongoing challenge for games studies is the framing of the
relationship between the player and her player character.
From a phenomenological perspective this has been
conceived of as an instrumental extension into the game
world [9, 18]. Using the ‘binocular lens’ [19] of
performance analysis semiotic work is necessary to balance
our sense of the improvisational act of digital game-play.
The player binds to the lived experience of game-play
through engagement with the sign systems at play in a
specific gaming experience.

Puppetry has existed across world cultures, as
entertainment, ritual and celebration, and broadly involves
the animation of inanimate performing objects. The
insertion of objects between the performer and the audience
allows for different, and deeper, levels of signification than
live actors alone can offer. Puppets consist a developed
form of performing object, one that moves. The fascination
with puppets reaches far back into history, revealing our
yearning to play god, to exert domination over our human
experience. Similarly, the seductive illusion of control plays
a central part in the appeal inherent in digital game form. In
the modern setting much work on puppetry remains
relatively hidden across a broad spectrum of fields, from

computer science to anthropology. However performance
theorists such as Tillis [20] introduce a broad semiotics to
conceive of the multitude of ways we engage with
puppetry. Other theorists have engaged in embracing digital
and mediated puppet form, not least in games studies in
areas such as machinima and alternate-reality gaming, yet
attention has been slow in broadening the application of
puppet theory to player characters. Tillis [20] offers a focus
on signs of design, movement and speech as core to
building an aesthetic of the puppet. For the player character
signifiers of affect and control require addition to any such
tentative schema. This paper argues that the metaphor of the
puppet offers a useful frame for the central figure of our
game-play focus by allowing for a kind of ‘double-vision’
[20] that enables a player character to be seen in two ways
at once, ‘as a perceived object and as an imagined life’ [20].
Using the tools of performance analysis this paper
addresses the liminal relationship between player and player
character in the flux of play. The intention is to offer an
explication of the range of methods, whether stylistic,
instrumental or kinesthetic, deployed in this relationship to
engage the player in the act of play.

Item Type: Conference/Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: player character, game puppets, puppetry, performing objects, performance theory, game studies, theatre semiotics
Divisions: Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Date Deposited: 14 Mar 2018 16:00
Last Modified: 20 Dec 2021 18:46
URI: http://openresearch.ocadu.ca/id/eprint/2195

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