This article is written as a reflection on the third chapter of Sloan’s Virtual Character Design for Games and Interactive Media – Representation, Customization, and Transformation:
Sloan’s third chapter begins with the most grounding concept of representation: identity. Sloan fully acknowledges identity’s fleeting and changing nature (“it is not a fixed concept”) despite its importance in society. However more consistently, in a modern context identification is considered a personally administered act, often in opposition to some form of other – an antonym, often cultural, of non-identification. Yet these processes will have wider and deeper cultural/ideological influences as Sloan defines the inevitability of ‘bias’ in all texts.
Sloan continues to consider arguments around representation and how this applies to games. The overwhelming bulk of detail lies on the topic of representation, as this section interconnects games with non-interactive media (e.g. cinema, literature, etc) and with classic topics of race, gender, class and nationality. Sloan summarises how biases within each area of representation exists, citing thought-provoking historical examples e.g. that Metroid’s (Nintendo, 1986) protagonist was a woman acted as a twist in its era is now relatively shocking, as well as the representational differences between 1996’s and 2013’s Tomb Raider (Eidos Interactive/Square Enix). All of this provides a ludic grounding in classic modern representational theories, such as feminism.
The following sections on customisation and representation explore subversions of these standard concepts. Sloan cites the radical potential of user-created avatars to provide their own context and input and goes onto to suggest that hobbyists who hack games to reflect differing approaches and needs are part of the creation of representation and meaning in games. This is a subtly radical argument that has much larger implications regarding collective authorship within interactive media. More specifically to the concept of customisation, this is defined by the idea of a player-driven ‘hybrid identity’ (Boudreau, 2012) or by Sloan as: ‘virtual characters … exist outside of the games … they were originally presented.’
Whilst this chapter is a proficient summary of the concepts of existing literature on identity and representation – its prioritisation reflects the inherent academic focus on analysis of existing texts. Thus, somewhat underexploring critical proposals toward new subversions and strategies regarding player identification. Additionally, it considers design mechanics as being more static and less ideologically biased than representation. E.g. Sloan argues for a contradiction, that games are apt to depict power fantasies, thus playing as impoverished/working class character may therefore limit player agency. This seems to lack consideration of the text’s own arguments – namely that power fantasy mechanics are a potentially temporal ideological construct.
Boudreau, K. (2012). Between Play and Design : The Emergence of Hybrid-Identity in Single-Player Videogames. Ph.D. Université de Montréal.
Sloan, R. (2015), Virtual Character Design for Games and Interactive Media. Representation, Customization, and Transformation, Taylor & Francis. Ch. 3, pp. 51-74.
Nintendo (1986,) Metroid, Video Game, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Eidos Interactive (1996), Tomb Raider, Video Game, PlayStation
Square Enix (2013), Tomb Raider, Video Game, XBOX 360