Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This study argues that the chronotope—literally “timespace”—is a useful, flexible heuristic for understanding how video game timespace is ideology, often encoding hegemonic norms of heteronormativity, misogyny, sovereign power’s control of bare life, and dualistic thinking. Adapting and reforging Mikhail Bakhtin’s “chronotope of the threshold,” I track the topological movements of threshold chronotopes across a series of games and game genres that reveal threshold experiences of play, ontology, and justice. This work of theory takes into account video game mechanics, interfaces, narratives, iconography, and materiality within the context of a player’s experience as a player-reader given to a bodily-rooted play with semiological signs. Rather than creating another taxonomy of game time and space, my chronotopic analysis undertakes a series of slow readings of timespace configurations across a variety of genres, including games as diverse as Dark Souls, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Dungeons and Dragons, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, The Sims, The Binding of Isaac, Amber’s Magic Shop, and Borderlands to name a few. These readings deploy a variety of theoretical interventions (Marxist, psychoanalytic, and post-structuralist, primarily) toward better understanding how dominant cultural issues of consumerism, gender, sexuality, control societies, and justice confront players in chronotopic threshold moments of decision, crisis, and rupture. Each reading is then doubled by a “deconstructive” turn against these theoretical guardrails. As I adapt it, the chronotope is given to contingency and mutability in response to the dynamic and topological essence of the video game medium.
The chronotope of the threshold—and related threshold chronotopes of the bonfire, the abject, the fart as pharmakon, madness, and coupled love analyzed in each chapter—serves as a passe-partout to understanding threshold experiences through video games’ marginal content, including loading screens, transition screens, skill trees, marginal objects, and other intertextual elements. The chronotope of the threshold offers a topological entry point to consider the relation of in-game and out-of-game threshold experiences: simulated thresholds like doorways, portals, and spawn points map onto their metaphorical threshold counterparts in moments of ethical dilemmas, activism, and decisions. In this way, the analysis of chronotopes in video games is crucial to understanding how spatiotemporal forms are ideological content. Since all ideology is mediated by timespace itself, video game timespace can—and does—encode hegemonic (and oftentimes toxic) norms of dominant culture, including heteronormative, patriarchal, capitalist, misogynistic, and reactionary values and representations. As such, threshold chronotopes are particularly helpful in locating and making visible such reinscribed prejudices within video games, including but also beyond the typical attention played to game rules and narratives. The instant of players’ experience of timespace demands an attention to players as singularly plural beings who play in the threshold space between in-game and out-of-game worlds. Ultimately, the overarching experience of playing on the threshold is that of jouissance, a painful-pleasurable encounter with out-of-game realities within the gameworld.
Piero, Michael J..
"Playing on the Threshold: Topological Chronotopes and Video Games"
(2020). Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Dissertation, English, Old Dominion University, DOI: 10.25777/rken-8366
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