Exposé - Most Recent Version
With the material turn, the field of archaeology pays more attention to things as entities that stand in close relation to the society they are created and used in. Mukerji states that “new work in materiality studies emphasizes the entanglements of people and things, and the mutual production of social worlds and material environments.” (2015, 9) Consequently, inquiry into the meaning and nature of things must be done by taking into account the social practices and structures within which they emerge. Regarding videogames, notions of materiality become problematic, however. Much of what constitutes games and what can be done with games does not seem to be material. Instead, the way that games are, is tangible through the practices involved in their creation, the way they are used, and other things, such as a TV or computer. To account for this nature of games, Reinhard (2018) employs the notion of ‘hyperobjects’ as a way of assessing the different layers that constitute and surround them. Unfortunately, Reinhard does not go into too much detail about what sits inside those hyperobjects or what this means for their ontological status.
Taking these brief notions on hyperobjects as a vantage point, my endeavour for this thesis is to put forth a theory of videogames and other digital artifacts that builds on existing archaeological inquiry into the nature of things and to combine it with an object-oriented framework.
In a first step, I will give an account of how material culture studies, as an archaeological mode of understanding things, theorises objects within and in connection to culture. These theories will be complemented with literature on archaeogaming, a sub-field of archaeology as well as medium-specific approaches from game studies about play, playfulness, and the definition of games. This combination allows for a framework that is conscious of the nature of games as cultural artifacts in particular and of the implications of entanglement and interrelatedness of culture and things in general. Upon situating games within material culture, discussions within speculative realism and object-oriented, are employed to illustrate concepts of relationality of things with one another. Additionally, an account of flat ontology is put forth as a means of situating humans and the objects they use on the same ontological level. Lastly, the concept of hyperobjects is introduced and complemented by theories of practices and interrelation. Here, concepts such as assemblages, unit operations, and rhizomatics are combined to establish an analytical framework that can explain how individual objects within a hyperobject relate and interact with one another. On the basis of this, a theory of digital artifacts is constructed, defining them as playful artifacts that consist of several layers:
•Each layer houses and facilitates concepts of play and playfulness. Both sit at the heart of the hyperobject.
•The inner layer is constituted of the player and the system in their relation to one another and to the outer layers.
•The outer layer consists of social practices, knowledge, and other digital artifacts in their relation to one another and to the inner layers.
Upon establishing the theory, a selection of games and digital artifacts that employ or facilitate play are analysed. The analysis aims to illustrate the pivotal nature of play and playfulness as the driving force within the relation of humans and digital artifacts. Both concepts in combination with the particular ontological status of digital artifacts are what makes practices and objects emerge, illustrating how and why they are used and how the practices involved in the engagement and creation of digital artifacts constitutes the hyperobject.
Mukerji, Chandra. 2015. “The Material Turn.” In Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences, edited by edited by Robert Scott and Stephen Kosslyn, 1-9. doi: 10.1002/9781118900772.etrds0109
Reinhard, Andrew. 2018. “Games as Hyperobjects, Manufactured Landscapes, and Archaeological Driftwood.” Archaeogaming (blog). Accessed May 17, 2020, https://archaeogaming.com/2018/11/09/games-as-hyperobjects-manufactured-landscapes-and-archaeological-driftwood