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Beyond games as political education – neo-liberalism in the contemporary computer game form

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This article introduces the juxtaposed notions of liberal and neo-liberal gameplay in order to show that, while forms of contemporary game culture are heavily influenced by neo-liberalism, they often appear under a liberal disguise. The argument is grounded in Claus Pias’ idea of games as always a product of their time in terms of economic, political and cultural history. The article shows that romantic play theories (e.g. Schiller, Huizinga and Caillois) are circling around the notion of play as ‘free’, which emerged in parallel with the philosophy of liberalism and respective socio-economic developments such as the industrialization and the rise of the nation state. It shows further that contemporary discourse in computer game studies addresses computer game/play as if it still was the romantic form of play rooted in the paradigm of liberalism. The article holds that an account that acknowledges the neo-liberalist underpinnings of computer games is more suited to addressing contemporary computer games, among which are phenomena such as free to play games, which repeat the structures of a neo-liberal society. In those games the players invest time and effort in developing their skills, although their future value is mainly speculative – just like this is the case for citizens of neo-liberal societies.
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Keywords: free to play; freedom; game studies; gameplay; industrialization; liberalism; neo-liberalism; play theory

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of Potsdam 2: City University of Hong Kong

Publication date: 01 June 2016

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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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