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                            Georgia State University
ScholarWorks @ Georgia State University
	8-12-2014
The Nonhuman Lives of Videogames
	Cameron Kunzelman
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Georgia State University
ScholarWorks @ Georgia State University

Communication Theses Department of Communication

8-12-2014

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THE NONHUMAN LIVES OF VIDEOGAMES















by













CAMERON KUNZELMAN









Under the direction of Alessandra Raengo









ABSTRACT

Videogames are not subjects to be operated on, but rather bodies that humans live both with and

inside of. In order to reconcile human existence with this nonhuman life, this thesis looks to

evaluate the exact relationships developed between humans and assemblages in order to

understand how humans are disciplined to return to games time and time again. The recognition

of the nonhuman life of videogames necessitates a rethinking of the word “life,” as well as a

reformulation of ethics around the new sets of obligations humans have toward videogames if we

begin to recognize them as alive.



INDEX WORDS: Nonhumans, Videogames, Game studies, Life

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heart affords spasms that cause ventricles to empty, pumping blood through the body; from the

other side, the connections of nerve endings in soft tissue allow for that heart to be supplied with

both nourishing blood and spasm-inducing electrical impulses through the substrata of the human

neurological system.



If affordances is the language that we use to speak of how things in an assemblage connect to

one another, then what are the things themselves? In order to make this process as painless as

possible I am going to think with the game Spelunky, a Procedural Death Labyrinth developed by

Derek Yu and Andy Hull and released for the PC in 2013.
90

While the game has a long and

varied development history, including a freeware ancestor and various versions across platforms,

in this chapter I will only be discussing the PC version and how it gives us particular insight into

the various parts of the videogame body.



Spelunky is a bundle of data. Some of that data is made up of image files. Some of it is made up

of code that delimits the world interior to Spelunky. There is code that makes up the level

generation that randomizes the game every time a new level is started, which gives Spelunky a

large part of its challenge. There is also code that gives various motion-based properties to all of

the various actors in the game, meaning that the player character and a snake might fall at the

same speed and accelerate in the same way, but the player and a bat do not. There is also code to

read input commands that travel as binary on/off signals from a controller or a keyboard through

a USB cable and into an input on the motherboard, which communicates through the operating

system to the bundle of code we call a program -- Spelunky itself. We can see immediately that

the assemblage that I am calling the videogame body can get very complicated very quickly, so I

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am going to simplify the various parts of the body for analytic use. I want to note here that this

act of simplification is also an act of violence, but that doesn’t mean it is a fiction. Like all

assemblages, there are various operational levels that we can choose to look at, which doesn’t

preclude the existence of higher-scale (the assemblage that makes up the solar system, of which

Spelunky makes up an incredibly small part) or smaller-scale ones (the assemblage of subatomic

particles that make up an atom).



One part of the assemblage is the mechanical hardware. This is an assemblage unto itself that is

made up of the chip boards, hard drives, and graphics cards of the contemporary gaming

computer. These parts are manufactured from materials as wide and varied as gold, silver,

palladium, plastic, glass, aluminum, and ceramics. Each has a particular purpose in relation to

the other, and it is here that our language of affordances appears so readily in a nonhuman

context: each piece is made to fit the other. This specification is so specific that every few years

the standards of connection between parts are changed, introducing fundamental

incompatibilities between previous generations of motherboards and new generations of

processors.



After mechanical hardware, we have the data that floats on that hardware, which is generally

called code. Code serves as a prime connector between the mechanical hardware of the

videogame body and all of the other pieces. While ultimately the mechanical hardware provides

a literal material limit to what the videogame body can do, code is the way that the rules interior

to that machine operate. The code that most directly communicates with mechanical hardware is

the operating system. That operating system translates what is written in higher, more abstracted

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