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Materialist fantasies: The voice as objet petit a in digital games

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This article takes its starting point from the materialist turn in game studies and, through an examination of the cultural implications of the movement from textual to aural dialogue in digital games, offers as supplement to psychoanalytic approaches already employed in game studies that turn on the embodied experience of gameplay and the materialization of bodies. The embodied practice of subvocalization that accompanies the act of reading is discussed, and several vital tenants of Lacanian psychoanalysis are introduced: the split subject; the Real, Imaginary and Symbolic registers; the mirror stage and its acoustic counterpart; imaginary and symbolic identification; fantasy; and the object voice. Lacanian psychoanalysis provides a critical frame revealing that aural representation of dialogue enables players to better identify as game characters, a narcissistic investment in the ideal subject of the game. Textual representation, reading and subvocalization of dialogue, on the other hand, better enable identification with the game itself, the very system that demands a certain subject. While no guarantee, this is a condition of possibility of confronting the underlying structure of fantasy that organizes all digital games, regardless of their thematic, mechanic and narrative particularities, and thus a condition of possibility for players to recognize how their gameplay is implicated in consumer capitalism. The article not only argues for the importance of games criticism considering this oft-overlooked aspect, but it also points to material experiences that are generalizable across populations of players.
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Keywords: Lacan; fantasy; identification; materialism; subjectivity; subvocalization; the voice

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Waterloo

Publication date: September 1, 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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