Digital games are often criticized for their many and exaggerated portrayals of violence, and also for their stereotypical representations of gender. But how are such descriptions experienced while playing? How violent or gender stereotypical can a game situation be before players find it speculative or tasteless? And when are game situations experienced as satire or parody? What is appropriate to include in a digital game, and what does the activity of play and the game situation do to the interpretation of controversial content?
The project Games and Transgressive Aesthetics explores controversial game content theoretically and through qualitative empirical studies that stress how such content is experienced by players while playing games. Central to the project is finding an explanatory framework that focuses on the player’s experiences of controversial content in digital games, and that takes into account that different players may have radically different viewpoints of what they find controversial. How does playing transform the experience of controversial game content? When is game content perceived as unproblematic for players, and when does it transgress the border into the speculative or repulsive? And in what situations is such content seen as challenging and critical, and able to make players reflect? Questions such as these connect the project to debates about subjective perceptions of aesthetics and taste, games as art and medium, and about ethics and freedom of expression.
The hypothesis of the project is that controversial content often is accepted in games because the content is being re-negotiated in a playful context. At the same time the game-oriented attitude may risk collapsing if players experience the content as too problematic.
A premise for the research that we will be carrying out in this project is that games are a powerful art form and medium of expression, and should have the same protection against censorship as other media. At the same time, games are a dominating form of entertainment which reaches out to a variety of demographics, and must – in the name of public debate and freedom of speech – accept that they may be the target of criticism.
Located at the Department of Information Science and Media Studies, University of Bergen, the project is funded by the Research Council of Norway through the FRIPRO programme. A three months pre-study is financed by the Council for Applied Media Research (RAM).