PCA/ACA13 :: Circuits of Interactivity: Videogames, Interface, and inFamous

I will be attending the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) annual conference in DC, March 27-30. Below is my paper abstract.

inFamous promotional image

Circuits of Interactivity: Videogames, Interface, and inFamous

This paper examines the persistent description of user-media interface as ‘immersive’ and the implications for the study of videogames and digital media more generally. It takes as its entrypoint two recent moments in the public discussion of videogames: the oral arguments by Zachery Morazzini in the 2010 Supreme Court Case Brown vs Entertainment Merchants Association and Peter Molyneaux’s introduction of Microsoft’s Project Natal–now known as the Kinect–at the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo.

These two presentations offer a seemingly contradictory understanding of interactive media. Morazzini claims that violent videogames have greater influence on their audience than other media because they are interactive, while Molyneaux suggests the clunkiness of that interactivity is holding back the medium. In short, videogames are simultaneously too interactive and not interactive enough. As I will demonstrate, however, the two positions are not truly opposed. Instead, they share similar assumptions about user-media interface, which I trace to first-generation virtual reality research and the cyberpunk visions of wholly immersive media it inspired.

Though digital media studies has roundly rejected models of disembodied interface, Morazzini and Molyneaux’s arguments reveal that the virtual/real binary on which the VR paradigm is based continues to structure interactions with digital technologies. Wired culture, however, is increasingly conducted in the exchange between virtual and material environments. With reference to recent games, including Sucker Punch Productions’s inFamous (2009), I suggest that instead of reasserting the materiality of digital media, a critical study of videogames must address the ‘circuits of interactivity’ that join online and offline contexts.