I’ve ended up with a rather unusual reputation during my higher education years for coming up with some strange subjects to discuss, equal parts admirably creative, and plain irritating. This has included horror film soundtracks (a presentation that the marker looked away for half of), children’s TV theme songs, and the credibility of white noise as music (when asked to write a piece of music, they got that back, with an essay. For whatever reason, the lecturer thought it was genius. Weird).
On my Multimedia Journalism Master’s Degree, things have been nearly as daft, but with mature treatment, it is more embraced than ever. The ‘Master’s Degree Diaries’ posts are a sample of some of the brave/stupid projects that I devised, and were surprisingly, a success. I’d like this to be inspiring to others, but I am under the impression that lecturers may not want you to take a look.
PRESENTATION: WHY ISN’T THERE A FIFTY SHADES OF GREY VIDEO GAME?
IS ‘POSTHUMANISM’ A SUFFICIENT THEORY TO JUSTIFY SEX IN VIDEO GAMES?
This presentation went far better than I had expected, and is a great example of how there are subjects that have gone untouched, or perhaps render revered theories obsolete in modern contexts. Video game controversies are nothing new, especially violent content, yet games game grislier by the console generation. However, sexual content very rarely slips by unnoticed, or for that matter, even on to the shelves. Nick Pollard decided to investigate.
A classic quote from Tom Lehrer appeared on the screen behind me on the first slide, and there was an instant atmosphere of unease: “There is only one thing I enjoy more than having my prurient interests aroused, and that is having them gratified.” All whilst I let his satire of censorship ‘Smut’ play in the background. Uh-oh. What could that possibly mean?
This might just have resulted the most surreal moment of my entire twenty years in academia. When this presentation was recorded, I really wish that the camera had been pointed at the witnesses (of whom none knew what I was up to), both lecturers and students who were quite taken aback by my opening lines:
“You’re very beautiful, Anastatia Steele. I can’t wait to be inside you.”
Holy shit. His words. He’s so seductive. He takes my breath away.
“Show me how you pleasure yourself”
Yes, I gave a poetic reading of the first intimate moments of Fifty Shades of Grey. In another example of how one uses the context briefly before plunging into reasoning and studies, the lecturers very quickly realised what I was up to, whether or not it was for my own amusement. This was in fact an analysis of why there had not yet been a Fifty Shades of Grey video game. Applying theories to examples as recent as possible. This was just two weeks after the release of the first Fifty Shades trailer.
Violence is accepted in video games. Fifty Shades of Grey is getting a film. What is it that grates about sexual content in video games? This is a brief summary of my arguments and points, aided with some of the screenshots that they were treated to.
The cultural phenomenon book series, and subsequent film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey was the central opening example of a sexualised franchise that would not receive a complementary video game. Even if it were, it would not be distributed, and sales locations would be limited. The presentation aimed to explore whether the ideology of ‘posthumanism’ was a sufficiently convincing argument in favour of limiting censorship, and justifying the production of such a game. The presentation consisted of three segments:
- Profiling ‘humanism’ and ‘posthumanism’
I began by profiling humanism and posthumanism, as though humanism was the accepted normality within reality, and that posthumanism were present and growing as video game culture expads. By using Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto, which states that ‘social reality’, an ideal of humanism, is invented, I could demonstrate that a virtual world, due to its non-existence, should be allowed by this logic, to have its own invented morals.
This is the primary case in justifying posthumanism in context of video games, demonstrated with a comparison to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2005) – a game that caused controversy when an inaccessible sex mini-game was discovered on the disc. The lead character, a gangster, fits Haraway’s ‘cyborg’ definition. Although set in a realistic world, this departs from the normality of the player’s life, running by its own morals and posthumanism’s own ‘social reality’. The fact that video games function as a method of escapism from reality and the predetermined ethics of ‘the human’ could be used as an argument in favour of a separate virtual, posthuman world where it is of no issue to be amoral.
- Difficulty of defining ‘humanism’ for ‘posthumanism’ to be compared to.
I would discuss the natural presence of sex/nudity in all humans’ lives, which attracts sexual content back to humanism. This is especially true as games become more realistic, while horrific violence remains closer to posthumanism – everyday ability to slaughter pedestrians as Grand Theft Auto permits, is presumably exclusive to the games, for players. It was this subjective difficulty of pinpointing pure humanism due to external cultural influence that is the primary barrier for posthumanism to be an adequate argument.
These points were demonstrated, particularly what it means to be ‘human’, by discussing realistic and highly interactive game Heavy Rain (2010).
- That both video games and reality unite to create ‘transhumanism’, a satisfactory category, where ‘posthumanism’ is not.
I introduced a third option to the argument, ‘transhumanism’ as it became apparent that neither humanism or posthumanism sufficed as a label. I discussed transhumanism under the definition that it is “humanism with conscious acceptance of influence of culture”, comparable to refusing to tell a joke about the recently deceased, yet feeling comfortable to do so once mourning ends.
This justifies varying opinion on sexual content. For this reason, I conclude that both reality and games fall under into ‘transhumanism’ – especially prominent as realism in games increases. At the current level of realism, even far-fetched imagery, demonstrated by high-fantasy games God of War 3 (2011) and The Witcher 2 (2010), are transhuman.
Favourite sources came from Jesper Juul and Jane McGonigal , amongst others.
The question and answer segment at the end, there was a discussion on the subject of the immersion in video games due to the player being forced to empathize with the character that they control, while an obnoxious hero in a film can still be irritating.
I was asked about how the nihilism of posthumanism may consciously combat the subjective nature of transhumanism. This lead to the subject of a potential motive somebody who believes in posthumanism in videos may have – controversial fantasy. Connecting well with discussion of empathy, this became a discussion on subjective opinion of players’ variably questionable fantasies, for example those potentially fulfilled by also mentioned rape simulator RapeLay (2006).
In answer to the opening question of whether posthumanism is an adequate argument against complaints against video games – it is not.
See, even the silliest subjects, at least on the surface, turn out to be of bizarre levels of academic merit. I can’t quite believe it either.