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Do avatars dream of electric steak? Video games and the gendered semiotics of food

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The aim of this article is to investigate how food in the sense of organic and synthetic, domestic and political energy supply systems is represented in a selection of gendered (Desperate Housewives and Quake 4) and agendered (The Sims 2) video games. The games were chosen on the basis of their representations of gendered space and, closely related to it, of food and other energy supply systems. I propose a spectrum between the feminized private sphere and the masculinized public sphere (cf. Habermas 1989). The society simulation Desperate Housewives is discussed as an extreme example of the former and juxtaposed to first person shooter (FPS) Quake 4, a radical example of the latter. The Sims 2, which takes an agendered approach to both spheres, is examined as a compromise between both polar opposites. Unlike many other video game genres, such as adventures, role-playing games and society and civilization simulations, FPSs tend to delete semiotically the basic human need for organic nutrition. Instead, they typically feature abstract, synthetic energy supply systems, which are integrated in the circular structure of physical rejuvenation and exhaustion. Quake 4 has been selected for this food-semiotic study as it displays the human body as processable, technologically modifiable matter for alien consumption and reincarnation – as a neo-Frankensteinian, infinitely recyclable repository of animate yet simultaneously disembodied substitutes, accessories or supplements used to form cyborgian hybrids for the sustenance of Gothic war machines. My theoretical discussion centres around relevant aspects of food cultural and semiotic theory, as well as the ludological implications of the essentially anti- Cartesian discourse of transcendence and the theory of the double-situatedness of the gaming body.

Keywords: Desperate Housewives; Quake 4; The Sims 2; cybernetic feedback loop; food-semiotics; gender

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Bangor University

Publication date: March 29, 2011

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  • The Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds focuses on theoretical and applied, empirical, critical, rhetorical, creative, economic and professional approaches to the study of electronic games across platforms and genres as well as ludic and serious online environments.
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