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Illusions of space and time: An ethical approach to temporality in games1

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Time is a much-explored topic in game studies, as are questions of historical accuracy and ethics. However, an ethics of time in games remains relatively unexplored. This article takes an ethical approach to theorizing game time, drawing on French philosopher Michel Serres’s distinction between linear and topological time. Serres argues that conceiving of time linearly commits us to the belief that progress itself is a deterministic and oftentimes violent series of upheavals. Contemporary video games that play with time seem to exemplify this. Games like Braid, Assassins Creed and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time have players manipulate time for the explicit purpose of reproducing a singular narrative, compelling players to synchronize their decisions with a violent, linear series of events. In this article such games are contrasted with more temporally topological titles such as Her Story, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and Life is Strange, which deconstruct linearity and demonstrate the ethical affordances of non-linear game temporalities.
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Keywords: Michel Serres; ethics; history; media theory; time; violence

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Wilfrid Laurier University

Publication date: June 1, 2018

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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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