Eros! Ludus! Agape! – Videogames and Affections of Romanticism
The affective dimensions of human existence are increasingly explored in contemporary videogames, both in indie creations as well as commercial productions. In our panel, we will discuss four pertinent examples from North America, Europe, and Japan in terms of their thematization and representation of romantic ideas, in both meanings of the word. Spanning the full range from the interpersonal, embodied dimension of eros to the transcendental, spiritual experience of agape, we will investigate comparative historical dimensions of male same-sex relationships, attempts to overcome confining binaries and sexual power fantasies through game design, the dissolution of the individual in cosmic patterns of belonging, and the deconstruction of sexually objectified female non-player characters. Connecting all our individual papers is a shared perspective of ludus, again in its double meaning as both ‘game’ and ‘playful love’, as contemporary videogames increasingly make affective and romantic experiences available to players they would otherwise not be exposed to.
Beiträge des Symposiums
“As You Command” – A Comparison of M/M-Relationships in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey to Ancient Greek Cultural Conventions
As Assassin's Creed: Odyssey (2018) gives players the choice between two avatars, the siblings Kassandra and Alexios, and makes its romanceable non-player characters avatar-sexual, i.e. they lack a sexual identity and conform to avatar desire, same-sex romances are seemingly presented in an optional but egalitarian manner. As an artefact of popular mass culture, also termed “the culture of hyperdemocracy” by John Storey (cf. Storey 2008), this fulfils both stereotypical images of ancient Greek sexuality as well as Greece’s reputation as the mother country of democracy. However, focusing my investigations on M/M-relationships, I will be using Michel Foucault’s (1990a and 1990b), Colin Spencer’s (1996), and Louis Crompton’s (2006) accounts of male same sex love and sexuality in ancient Greek society, and especially Thomas Laqueur’s (1999) concept of the one-sex model, to critique such a superficial reading. Looking into the hierarchical power relationships, as well as attributions of sexual activity/passivity and (im-) potence that are established in relation to various performances of masculinity in Odyssey (cf. Butler 2006), I will uncover a deeply inegalitarian and agonic understanding of M/M romantic and sexual relationships that contradicts the progressive message Ubisoft claim to convey by implicitly reaffirming hegemonic masculinity (cf. Connell 2016).
Periphery: Non-Binary Gender Identities and Non-Avatar-Sexual Characters in Bioware’s Dragon Age: Inquisition
A majority of games still play out as male power-fantasies, in which everything revolves around the players’ avatar, including sexual orientation. Regardless of the avatar’s gender – in most games a binary option at the beginning of the game – romantic interest in an NPC will be reciprocated. This phenomenon has become known as ‘avatar-sexual’ and represents an easy way for creators to appease non-straight players and to circumvent a heteronormative taint.
Bioware’s Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014) abstains from this design decision. While gender specification during character creation is still a binary choice, romantic engagements remain platonic if the selected gender performance does not conform to NPCs’ preferences. In addition, the game, as well as other texts within the transmedia storytelling landscape of the Dragon Age franchise, include various characters of non-binary gender identities and non-straight sexual orientations. My paper focuses on how gender identities and sexual orientations are presented in the game and the multimedial Dragon Age universe, and on how romantic endeavours towards non-avatar-sexual characters are presented to players.
Love is a Transcendental Pattern: The Experience of Divine Belonging in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
This paper discusses the experiential quality of the walking simulator Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (The Chinese Room 2015) that aims to embrace its playership in divine love. In order to do so, it tunes the intimate journey through a virtual world in a tension of apophasis and cataphasis – the theological principles of an all-encompassing godly presence in nothingness and totality. The paper analyses the role of a suspiciously non-descript avatar wandering a paradoxically idyllic post-apocalypse. A cosmic phenomenon only described as “The Pattern” has purged all life, leaving nothing but radiant, fragmentary memories of humanity behind. The player avatar is the sole entity able to discover these remnants, to set them in relation, and thus to decipher a web of relative absolutes between hope and sorrow that transcends the notion of apocalypse in soothing unity.
Ultimately, the game thus offers an impact beyond mere phenomenological effects and facilitates experiences of spiritual understanding. As Walter Hammel describes, these are epiphanies of pervasion and the overcoming of epistemological understanding, revealing secret depths of human existence (1997, 52-55). Only after life itself has ceased, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture emphasises, can a blissful state of higher understanding be gained in the radiance of alien patterns.
“Welcome, Sir” - Deconstructing the Hostess in Yakuza 0
As Goro Majima, one of the main playable characters in SEGA’s Yakuza 0 (2017), the player is Sotenbori’s famous ‘king of the night’, and the manager of the Grand cabaret. Running one hostess club, however, is not enough, and so the player is offered another, rundown cabaret club to rebuild from the ground up. A pet project, if you will. As the new manager, players train, hire, and take care of their hostesses. They help them do their job, protect them from angry clients, and even meet their fathers. All in the endeavour to make ‘Club Sunshine’ the best cabaret club in town.
This article investigates what this sub story says about the hostess and her workplace, and in what way her reality is anchored in the often violent and dangerous pleasure district of Sotenbori. It also looks at the image of the hostess that players are left with, when the main song has a woman crooning: "do I look nicely enough? I got dressed up in for you. Look at me, this is my love, all for you Stay all night long, sit tight in sofa, drink wines and talk every night […] What do you like, how do you like, what do you like best? (Kurokazuma 2017, errors in original) In this context, what does Yakuza 0’s hostess reveal about the conditions of her real-life counterparts in contemporary Japan? These are the questions that lie at the centre of my article.