Agency and inter-species connection during play-through of the video-game Shelter

Bronwin Patrickson

    Allbwn ymchwil: Cyfraniad at gynhadleddPapur


    Transitioning away from the dominant, extractive nature stance associated with the Anthropocene and the environmental devastation it has created, to instead embrace a more appreciative sense of inter-connectedness with nature is a cultural project that demands constant reassessment. Without deeper reflection, for example, even the call to embrace environmental caretaker roles risks the repeat assumption of human dominance. At the same time too however, is it worth asking whether the need to reconnect with nature is necessarily at odds with the pursuit of human agency?

    This paper explores nature connectivity in a medium that almost fetishizes agency: Video games. My focus is upon player engagement with Shelter (Might and Delight, 2013), the first edition of a popular indie nature video game series which challenges players to take on the virtual avatar character of a badger mother trying to protect her cubs from the wild.

    Cremin [1] has previously applied Deleuz and Guattaris’ notion of becoming-animal to an analysis of the ways that co-emergent video game-play with virtual avatars allows players to experience a sense of becoming something more. Yet, how transformative is such an experience if that game-world is also an expression of the Anthropocene? Tyler [2] argues that the pixelated, smellovision mode in Dog’s Life (for Playstation 2, Frontier Development, 2003) which represents a necessarily simplified visualisation of dog’s heightened sense of smell, nevertheless effectively signals that there is more than one way of viewing the world. Yet, how are players interpreting these signals? A recent study of Let’s Play recordings shared on social media of a religious themed game, for example showed that players do not tend to engage with the overt world themes, like religion [3].

    Bearing these questions in mind, in this paper I explore the interplay of player agency and engagement with nature-connectivity affects in immersive nature themed digital media. Specifically, I interrogate the mediated Shelter game-play experience by conducting a context [4] and multimodal-discourse analysis of audience reaction to the game across 86 meta-critic online text reviews [5], as well as four Shelter Let’s Play gaming playthrough videos [6] published on YouTube. In gaming discourse, agency refers to the player’s sense of meaningful influence upon unfolding game events. Here, I use the term nature connectivity affect to refer to the ways that digital media makes it possible to experience anew a sense of nature relatedness, through a combination of representation, social assemblage and also the emotive, phenomenological affects linked to that experience.

    In Shelter, predators and natural disasters are a force to be reckoned with. According to a Eurogamer review, by dramatizing the role of an animal mother, “rarely has a game articulated loss in such clear and urgent terms”[7]. The sublime and yet also ruthless nature portrayed in the game recalls primordial fears of the wilderness, yet players more readily link the allure of this game to the chance to play as a mother in a novel and visually appealing context. In terms of nature connectivity poetics, this contrast highlights the parallel importance of personalised nature themes/agency, potentially also linked to related, real world discussion starters.


    [1] Cremin, C. Molecular Mario: The Becoming-Animal of Video Game Compositions. Games and Culture, 11, 4 (2016), 441-458.
    [2] Tyler, T. New tricks. Angelaki, 18, 1 (2013), 65-82.
    [3] Radde-Antweiler, K., Waltemathe, M. and Zeiler, X. Video Gaming Let’, s Plays and Religion: The Relevance of Researching gamevironments. Gamevironments, 1 (2014), 1-36.
    [4] Radde-Antewler, K. and Zeilier, X. Methods for analyzing let’s plays: Context analysis for gaming videos on YouTube. En ligne. gamevironments, 2 (2015).
    [5] Metacritic Shelter Reviews., City, 2013.
    [6] Shelter playthrough. YouTube, City, 2013.
    [7] Parkin, S. Shelter review., City, 2013.

    Iaith wreiddiolSaesneg
    StatwsCyhoeddwyd - 6 Medi 2019
    DigwyddiadASLE-UKI 2019 Conference - University of Plymouth, Plymouth, Y Deyrnas Unedig
    Hyd: 4 Medi 20196 Medi 2019


    CynhadleddASLE-UKI 2019 Conference
    Gwlad/TiriogaethY Deyrnas Unedig
    Cyfeiriad rhyngrwyd

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