Subverting utilitarian subject-object relations in video games: A philosophical analysis of Thatgamecompany’s Journey

DOI: 10.1080/02580136.2018.1532189
Author(s): Corné du PlessisCentre for Philosophy in Africa, South Africa


In this article, I analyse the self-other relations that underpin the gameplay design of the majority of popular video games. Specifically, these self-other relations can be described as “utilitarian subject-object relations”, in which the player assumes the perspective of the player-character, or subject of the video game, while all the other elements of the video game, including the digital environment and the non-player characters and creatures, are treated as separate objects that merely exist to be used by the player-character. These subject-object relations are usually driven by the violent accumulation of power, which can, in turn, be channelled by the player-character into further violent actions against the so-called objects within the video game. In contrast to this typical model of gameplay, the gameplay of Thatgamecompany’s Journey does not include a subject that merely acts on and uses the other elements within the video game world for its own ends, but rather entails a relation of “becoming-other” in which the player-character and the other elements are involved in constant processes of reciprocal determination. In order to analyse the “becoming-other” relations that underpin Journey’s gameplay, I employ specific concepts from the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari, including the concepts of “becoming-other”, “percepts” and “affects”. Ultimately, I argue that Journey not only subverts the utilitarian, often violent, subject-object relations that have become an industry trope in the majority of video games, but also promotes self-other relations that are arguably far more positive and creative for video game design in general.

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