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Egoshooting, Presentation at Magdeburg Games conference 2009.

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EgoShooting in Chernobyl: …

EgoShooting in Chernobyl:

Identity and Subject(s) in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R Games

As the player 'walks into' a first-person shooter, does she retain her real-life identity or is the 'I' (or 'eye') that sees not so simple after all? Even as the case for the complexity of identity-formation in videogames builds up, FPS games, nevertheless, are singled out as representing a seamless first-person identification that is unique to videogames. This paper develops on earlier research to reveal major problems in such a claim: it argues that the very conception of subjectivity has always been problematised in the FPS and that the genre itself self-consciously keeps pointing this out. The recently-released FPS, S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl (called SOC, hereafter) and its second-part 'prequel' are important cases in point.

In SOC, the player enters the game after being dumped for dead and picked up by a passing body snatcher who sells him as a 'live' corpse to the local trader. He wakes up as an amnesiac and devoid of any identity save for a message on his PDA that says, 'kill the Strelok'. The gameplay, then, is the player's quest for identity. Ironically, however, one of the game endings reveals that Strelok is the player himself. Further, in the second game, the player will again find himself being asked to kill Strelok: his own 'self' in the first game. Who, then, is the 'I' in these games and who shoots whom? This paper finds a more appropriate representation of this phenomenon in the German term for FPS: 'egoshooters'. In this scenario, it is a term that can be translated both as 'I, shooter' or 'I-shooter', thus further complicating notions of player-subjectivity and identity.

To take this a step further, the very notion of 'player' is brought under scrutiny in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R games. SOC derives its tale from the Russian sci-fi novel, Roadside Picnic, and Tarkovsky's film Stalker. In both these pre-texts, the lone explorer protagonist moves through the Zone, a landscape that is 'alive' and reacts to the actions of those who travel on it. The Stalker's experience in the Zone is comparable to the player's moment-to-moment survival attempt in the face of the feedback loop created between player and Zone (game) in SOC. The formation of identity is influenced by the machine code that makes up the game program. Identity is, therefore, complicated further with the realisation that the 'I' in the FPS is after all a machinic selfhood. These complex planes of subjectivity cannot be analysed by the limited critical appartus of immersion and seamless identification as used by current game theory . In this context, the Gilles Deleuze's concept of identity as a continual actualisation of potentialities emerges as a more apposite framework for understanding the complex subjectivities of the FPS shown in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R games. The Deleuzian framework will also illustrate how instead of being exclusive or 'new', videogames develop on questions of identity already addressed by earlier narrative media.

SOUVIK MUKHERJEE

NOTTINGHAM TRENT UNIVERSITY

UNITED KINGDOM


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  • Good Afternoon. I am Souvik and I am from Nottingham Trent University. I research videogames and I hate zombies.
  • Good Afternoon. I am Souvik and I am from Nottingham Trent University. I research videogames and I hate zombies.
  • Good Afternoon. I am Souvik and I am from Nottingham Trent University. I research videogames but I hate zombies.
  • This paper is not about zombies.
  • This paper is about the contested idea of identity in videogames. It is about the problems in perceiving the I and the first-person in videogames Finally, this paper is about shooting yourselves.
  • Today, I will focus mainly on FPS games.
  • Though identity and subjectivity in videogames is now the topic of increasingly complex debates in FPS, however, the situation is usually deemed much simpler. The FPS makes it seem that the character IS the player.The player is immersed in the medium and exercising free agency within the game occupies the identity of the avatar. On the basis of this some critics make claims for a ‘new’ perception of identity.
  • this paper is going to contest these claims.
  • Older liberal humanistic theoretical positions assume the existence of a transcendental subject that can be assembled or figured out.
  • Critics like Salen and Zimmerman have already pointed out the far greater complexity of the process than humanistic positions can account for. However, their term ‘2ble consciousness’ can be easily mistaken for a binarism. E.g. this blogger interprets it as identity working on two different levels or James Newman divides gameplay experience as ‘online’ and ‘offline’. [of course, Newman finesses this distinction] I prefer, therefore, to use ‘multiple consciousness’
  • However, in situations like this identity becomes even more complicated: both seamless and not-seamless involvement.
  • Cosplay shows the intensely physical nature of this. Analysts, however, point to a postmodern situation and the refusal of a unique identity.
  • Even Newman seems to warn against a straightforward identification: note his words ‘we might instinctively think …’
  • Another complex instance of identity arises in after-action reports or blogs about gaming experiences. My friend Jim, a student from the UK, runs a blog based on the Rome: Total War game, where he is the Roman Emperor and the head of the august house of Jimius. Rome is an RTS game and that itself brings in further complications which I will avoid here.
  • Here, I will look at another of Jim’s blogs – ‘The Amateur’ based on Agent 47. Those familiar with Hitman: Blood Money will remember this scene.
  • Interestingly, the Amateur seems to have mixed up his identity. The highlighted pronouns indicate the anomalous relation between player and avatar identity. I wonder if Jim has done this consciously but it certainly illustrates a major point.
  • However, we do not really need to go too far from the FPS. As Laurie Taylor points out the seamlessness falls apart with the mere introduction of a mirror. She used the X-Files game as an example (as shown).
  • And this happens in many other cases. Skip if needed.
  • I am a camera (isherwood). Change camera shots (possible in Stalker?)
  • Such multiple identity is difficult to explain using older frameworks of analysis; the Deleuzian concept of multiplicity comes in useful because it accounts for the variable dimensions identity without imposing an extrinsically defined subject. The concept of singularity explains how objects retain their identity despite being within a multiplicity. A singularity is a special topological feature of manifolds that has a large influence on the behaviour of the trajectories and hence on the whole system. A large number of different trajectories, starting their evolution at very different places in the manifold, may end up in the same final state if they are within the singularity’s sphere of influence. It is possible to allow for transitions between one form to the other when the trajectories break free of the influence of a singularity and come under that of another.
  • One of the key ideas of Deleuzian (or Deleuzoguattarian) philosophy is the notion of the assemblage. As Nick Mansfield comments, in Deleuze identity occurs as an assemblage plugging into many dimensions and forming attachments with other assemblages. For McGregor-Wise, the mobile phone is such an assemblage and the identities of the users of sms are changed by the plugging into this assemblage.
  • Take the i-phone for example. It plugs into the many assemblages of music, trade, academics and redefines identity-formation in so many ways
  • The ‘I’ of the i-phone is therefore all-important. It is a device that even shapes the ‘I’.
  • A similar complexity and multiplicity in identity-formation occurs in the videogame assemblage. Cybergypsies, Indra Sinha’s novel about MUD communities, makes an important point. In a party where the MUD characters arrive in their real selves, they plug into multiple identity-assemblages. A forty-five year old man claims to be Louella the half-Elven.
  • Keeping in mind the concepts of multiplicity and assemblage, Deleuzian philosophy redefines subjectivity. A couple of points need to be made here. Though many critics argue for a periodisation in the Deleuzian conception of subjectivity, I side with Constantin Boundas in observing a continuity from the early texts like Empiricism and Subjectivity to the later ones like The Fold . Deleuze believes that the subject is defined by movement. It exists as both intensive and extensive. It inflects and is inflected by its mental and geographical milieus. The ‘I’ in Deleuze is, therefore, a cracked I, folding in and outside itself. Mention that critics see different ‘periods’ in Deleuze’s concept of identity. Mention siding with Boundas. As Tom Conley comments on the 'folded subject', it ‘ inflects and is inflected by the mental and geographical milieus it occupies .' Deleuze's concept addresses deeper philosophical issues that are not immediately relevant to the present discussion. The subject defined by movement is similar to the player (whether human or machine); it is the result of a continual actualisation of the possibilities that gameplay posits. In short, the subject (or player) is in flux and cannot be pinned down as human, avatar or machine. If a different possibility were to have been actualised, then that would have affected the subject. The next point about subjectivity in videogames is to take into account the intensive and extensive processes through which the player simultaneously connects to multiple assemblages.
  • How can the abstract nature of these Deleuzian concepts be applied to videogames? Simple, just close-read the games themselves. The relatively recent STALKER games are very useful for such analyses, especially in the way they problematise received FPS concepts.
  • The story in the games is key to the building up of the player identity. The game is set in the future after a second explosion at Chernobyl. The protagonist is in a radioactive and mysterious place called the Zone (a concept drawn from Tarkovsky's film Stalker and russian science fiction). The Zone has a character of its own and is responsible for the player’s character build-up. On the level of the machinic, it links up the code with player action. In the game, the Zone is populated by dangerous mutants, radioactive anomalies, zombies and artefacts. Though differing in salient points, the game is heavily influenced by its novel and film pretexts: Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers and Stalker by Andrey Tarkovsky. STALKER builds up identity by making you part of the story. Further, the zone is a living topos and reacts to your actions and constantly reconfigures who you are. Besides all the standard features of the FPS
  • Both the pre-texts are characterised by a crisis in identity. In the novel, the protagonist struggles between a human and animal subjectivity and in the film, identity is the continual result of a spiritual crisis. I believe that it is always through spiritual crisis that healing occurs. A spiritual crisis is an attempt to find oneself, to acquire new faith. […] This, too, is what Stalker is about: the hero goes through moments of despair when his faith is shaken; but every time he comes to a renewed sense of his vocation in Stalker I wanted there to be no time lapse between the shots. I wanted time and its passing to be revealed. Anyone who wants can look at my films as into a mirror, in which he will see himself. When the conception of a film is given forms that are life-like, and the concentration is on its affective function rather than on the intellectual formulae of poetic cinema (where the aim is manifestly to provide a vessel for ideas) then it is possible for the audience to relate to that conception in the light of individual experience.
  • Following on from the earlier pre-texts, the Stalker videogames explore the Zone in a way that ask questions about identity more directly. Clear differences in plotline: is not desolate but is peopled with other stalkers, random radioactive pockets and dangerous mutants. locale of uncertainty and constant danger. The protagonist's fate is intertwined with how he reacts to the Zone, whether it lies in the seven 'official' endings or the numerous deaths that are part of the gameplay, Like the stalker in the film, the game's protagonist also constantly shapes and reshapes his identity through his interaction with the Zone. Identity of protagonist is unknown. His memory has been wiped clean and he is given the name ‘Marked One’ because of a mark on his body. His quest is to learn his identity. Other characters seem to have dubious identities. Called Fox, wolf etc – animal names reflecting Schuhart’s identity-crisis in novel? the 'official' endings reinforce the idea of the subject being defined 'in movement', in an almost practical illustration of the Deleuzian position on subjectivity. In one example, if the player ends with 50,000 roubles, the ‘I want to be rich’ ending is reached. In this an endless shower of coins falls on the protagonist and ultimately smothers him. The various other endings are dependent on the player’s reputation and behaviour within the game. Survival is hard and the game plays with the feeling of being a unified and homogenous subject. Subjectivity is intrinsically tied up with one’s existence in the Zone and with being part of the machinic. Within the ‘fold’ of identity.
  • It constantly plays with the player's identity and does so consciously. the game begins with the player in an amnesiac state with the words 'Kill Strelok' appearing on his PDA. Throughout the game he relentlessly searches for Strelok to know his own identity - if necessary he will kill for that. In two of the endings of Shadow of Chernobyl , the he ends up confronting a machinic intelligence called the C-Consciousness, which is actually the powerful collective consciousness of seven people who were part of a scientific experiment the collective consciousness of all humans in the noosphere . After the experiment went wrong, the C-Consciousness used stalkers to prevent other stalkers from exploring the Zone. In these ‘true’ endings, he learns that he himself is Strelok – the C-Consciousness admits to making a mistake and tells him, ‘You were sent to kill yourself’. The problem, however, does not end there. In the recently released sequel, Clear Sky , the objective of the game is again to kill Strelok. Only this time, the protagonist is a stalker called Scar. At the very end of the game, the final mission is to kill Strelok; your quarry, however, is a tiny figure whom you can only see through a sniperscope. Strelok, here, can be anybody – he is faceless and seems the least imbued with character of all your adversaries. In fact, whether he is an adversary is a moot question: he does not shoot back. In a strange way, come to think of it, when the player shoots Strelok in Clear Sky , it is difficult to forget that he or she ‘had been’ Strelok in the earlier game. There, too, the protagonist had been asked to kill Strelok and ended up discovering that his mission was actually suicide. In Clear Sky , even after the successful in ‘killing’ Strelok, there remains much ambiguity as to the actual outcome. There is an explosion and the game ends by showing many dead bodies. Perhaps one of these is Strelok waiting to wake up in Shadow of Chernobyl ; perhaps one of them is the player, or perhaps, there is no difference between the two.
  • On comparing the Strelok plot to the earlier introduction to Deleuzian ideas on subjectivity, the ‘I’ in the Stalker games seems more like the ‘cracked I’ that Deleuze describes. An advantage of such a reading is that it enables the detailed study of the significance of some the not-so-obvious narrative elements, the names of the characters being a case in point. The protagonists in both the game bear similar names: Scar and the Marked One can be seen as having similar connotations. The more important name in this context is, however, that of Strelok.
  • Kill Strelok: incidentally, 'strelok' in Russian means 'shooter'. Kill the shooter? Assuming, as in all FPS, that the player is the shooter – what does it imply? Does it comment on the plot where the protagonist finds that the whole plot of the game is to make him kill himself- to shoot the shooter, as it were?
  • The german word for FPS perhaps best expresses this complexity: egoshooters. I am indebted to Dr Mark Butler for leading me to this point. a pseudo-anglicism. The root comprises of  ego  which is ‘I’ in Latin and Greek ( Εγώ ) and ‘shooter’ in English while the actual usage of the compound word is German. In the true nature of the multiple, the word plugs-into various language-systems and meaning-systems. Playing with the word might result in a combination like ‘I, shooter’ (where I is the subject) or in another different one such as ‘I-shooter’ (where the full expression is the subject and the meaning is changed). Plugging into multiple language systems The first meaning contains the conventional sense of the FPS as a shooter where the player identifies with the player-character as the subject. On the other hand, as the ‘I-shooter’, the player identifies with the ‘I’ that is being shot.  The two identities occur together as one and yet as different actualised instances within the virtual.
  • I am reminded of another quite famous example of ‘egoshooting’ in this First World War poem by Wilfred Owen.
  • in a situation similar to the Deleuzian ‘fold’ the ‘I’ that is shooting and the ‘I’ that is being shot at are all developed in an ‘in-between zone’ of possibilities. Again, the Stalker games provide an appropriate metaphor for this situation. As the player negotiates the issues of subjectivity and identity in the in-between zone of the egoshooter , it is difficult to tell where the gun points or whether the sniperscope through which one looks at Strelok actually becomes a mirror.
  • Transcript

    • 1.  
    • 2. Egoshooting
    • 3. On Halloween night, 1227 zombies gathered in the Nottingham city centre. They set a Guinness record. Hours earlier, many of them were shooting zombies and trying to break the Resident Evil record...
    • 4. This Paper is NOT About Zombies.
    • 5.
        • This paper is about the contested idea of
        • identity in videogames .
        • It is about the first-person in videogames and the problems in perceiving the ‘I’ and the ‘ eye ’.
        • Finally, this paper is also about shooting yourself .
    • 6. FPS
        • Acronym for First Person Shooter . General term for 3D action games seen from a first person perspective, usually involving firearms.
        • - Jesper Juul, 'A Dictionary of Videogame Theory', Half Real , http://www.half-real.net/dictionary/
    • 7. i DENTITY IN VIDEOGAMES
        • 1. perceived as very 'different' from traditional texts.
        • OR
        • 2. seamless 'immersion' in the game world and experience of 'true agency' unlike in earlier textual forms.
        • CONCLUSION : VIDEOGAMES PROVIDE A NEW FORM OF IDENTITY.
    • 8.
        • Really ?
    • 9. Figuring Out Your I
      • ' I encounter a confusing world and figure it out'
      • ' I encounter a world in pieces and assemble it into a coherent whole'
      • --- Janet Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck
    • 10. From Double Consciousness to Multiple Consciousness
      • ‘ Play is a process of […] a double-consciousness in which the player is well aware of the artificiality of the situation.’ Salen and Zimmerman, Rules of Play.
      • ‘ Double Consciousness is the notion that when you're playing a game your identity is working on two levels : your general self and your agency in the game.’ Patrick Dugan, ‘King Lud IC’ weblog.
      • It is evident that the identification that occurs between the player and the game is a varied experience comprising of various ways of experiencing points-of-view and to equate it simply with the holodeck-experience would be erroneous. […] A more representative description of the experience would be to call it a ‘ multiple consciousness ’. Souvik Mukherjee, ‘I Am a Stalker, I Am a Paddle, I Am a Game: Locating the Player in the Zone of Becoming’’
    • 11.  
    • 12. Identity Crises: COSPLAY
        • A contraction of 'costume' and 'roleplay‘, cosplay describes the act of dressing up as characters from popular animation, film and videogames. […] Cosplay, then, is partly concerned with exhibition and display and partly with the craft and invention of couture […]
        • We might instinctively think that cosplay offers the most undiluted means of embodying game characters, literally stepping into their shoes and taking control of them. '
        • – James Newman, Playing with Videogames .
        • ‘ Otaku cosplay makes their body into pure signifiers of playfulness , refuting a
        • unified identity .’
        • – Lien Fan Shen, ‘Anime Pleasures as a Playground of Sexuality, Power and Resistance’
    • 13. Identity Crises: COSPLAY
        • A contraction of 'costume' and 'roleplay‘, cosplay describes the act of dressing up as characters from popular animation, film and videogames. […] Cosplay, then, is partly concerned with exhibition and display and partly with the craft and invention of couture […]
        • We might instinctively think that cosplay offers the most undiluted means of embodying game characters, literally stepping into their shoes and taking control of them. '
        • – James Newman, Playing with Videogames .
        • ‘ Otaku cosplay makes their body into pure signifiers of playfulness , refuting a
        • unified identity .’
        • – Lien Fan Shen, ‘Anime Pleasures as a Playground of Sexuality, Power and Resistance’
    • 14. Identity Crises: After-Action Reports
    • 15. Identity in After-Action Reports
      • A guard confronts The Amateur at the door and we exchange serious yet good-sounding
      • dialogue. The Amateur tells him he’s not my friend and smash [sic] his head on a gate. The
      • Amateur considers whether that could be his calling card, but figures carrying the gate around
      • would not be worth the hassle. Up ahead there are more guards.
      • - Jiiim, ‘Send in the Clowns,’ [Weblog entry], ‘The Amateur: Blood Money May Have Been Involved’
    • 16. Identity in After-Action Reports
      • A guard confronts The Amateur at the door and we exchange serious yet good-sounding
      • dialogue. The Amateur tells him he’s not my friend and smash [sic] his head on a gate. The
      • Amateur considers whether that could be his calling card, but figures carrying the gate around
      • would not be worth the hassle. Up ahead there are more guards.
      • - Jiiim, ‘Send in the Clowns,’ [Weblog entry], ‘The Amateur: Blood Money May Have Been Involved’
    • 17. Seamless identity ... till you bring in the mirror jjj Identity in FPS
    • 18. Of course, shooters don't care much for mirrors …
        • But they get upset when their avatar can't run as fast as they can in RL.
        • … Or when they can't scale a wall, in-game, that's too easy even for an eight-year old.
        • … Or when they fail to blow the brains out of an irritating 'friendly' (non-player) character.
    • 19. Shifting identities Problematising the FPS: Fallout 3 allows a shift from first-person to third-person camera
    • 20. Defining Identity through the Multiple (non)Philosophy of Gilles Deleuze
      • A Deleuzian multiplicity takes as its first defining feature these two traits […]: its variable number of dimensions and more importantly, the absence of a supplementary (higher) dimension imposing an extrinsic coordination, and hence, an extrinsically defined unity [...].This alone makes it natural and immanent.
      • - Manuel DeLanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy
    • 21. Assemblage, plugging-in and identity
      • An assemblage is not a set of predetermined parts (such as pieces of a plastic model aeroplane) that are then put together in order to or into an already-conceived structure (the model aeroplane). Nor is an assemblage a random collection of things , since there is a sense that an assemblage is a whole of some sort that possesses some i dentity .
      • --- John McGregor-Wise, ‘On Assemblage’
      • ‘ Plugging in’, in the Deleuzoguattarian sense, means a multidirectional process wherein any entity may form flexible and variable attachments with others.
      • A component part of an assemblage may be detached from it and plugged into a different assemblage in which its interactions are different. […] Assemblages may be taken apart while at the same time […] the interaction between parts may result in a true synthesis.
      • -- DeLanda, A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity
    • 22. The i -phone as assemblage
    • 23. The i -phone as assemblage
    • 24. Extract from Cybergypsies : A Frank Account of Lust, War, & Betrayal on the Electronic Frontier
      • The ‘real’ people in the room were never invited to the party. They’re here on sufferance, mere emissaries of the real guests: it’s the personas who are meeting here. ‘Hi, I’m Louella the half-Elven,’ a forty-five year old man with an alcohol and tobacco-ravaged face announces and, turning to his shy girlfriend adds, ‘and this is Psychopath the Singing Blade’. No wonder so many people are loth to reveal ‘real’ names.
      • --- Indra Sinha, Cybergypsies
    • 25. Subjectivity in Deleuze
      • Even in an early work like Empiricism and Subjectivity , Deleuze sees the subject as being 'defined by movement '; according to him, 'the subject transcends itself, but it is also reflected upon.’
      • The subject, here, is both intensive and extensive, its operations are directed both inwards and outwards. In his later works (e.g. The Fold ), Deleuze describes this as the ' folded ‘ subject , which inflects and is inflected by the mental and geographical milieus it occupies .
      • In Deleuzian terms, such a subject can be called a ‘ cracked I ’.
    • 26. Close-reading the Cracked I
    • 27. The Story of the Stalker
        • I
      The radioactive reaches of the Zone present dangers unknown to the outside world. Where mutation has become mundane, who can judge what is normal? Where science is warped, who can determine what is truth? Survival is the underlying aim of every single inhabitant of this deserted land [...] As a stalker, you will awake with no knowledge of your past and little hope for your future. Survival is necessary but beyond that? Will you surrender to the urge to kill Strelok, a figure whose shadowy presence lurks in your subconscious? Or will you root out the valuable artefacts , altered by the Zone [...] a reason, perhaps, why man made hell. WELCOME TO CHERNOBYL.
    • 28. Identity-Crises: The Stalker pre-texts
      • A spiritual crisis is an attempt to find oneself, to acquire new faith. […] This, too, is what Stalker is about: the hero goes through moments of despair when his faith is shaken; but every time he comes to a renewed sense of his vocation
      • --- Andrey Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time
      • He had stopped trying to think. He just repeated his litany over and over: "I am an animal, you see that. I don't have the words, they didn't teach me the words. I don't know how to think, the bastards didn't let me learn how to think. But if you really are ... all-powerful ... all-knowing ... then you figure it out! Look into my heart. I know that everything you need is in there. It has to be. I never sold my soul to anyone! It's mine, it's human!
      • --- The Stalker Redrick Schuhart in Boris and Arkady Strugatsky’s novel, Roadside Picnic
    • 29. The Zone and subjectivity
    • 30. Kill Strelok!
    • 31. The Different Names of the Stalker The ‘Marked One’ in Shadow of Chernobyl Scar in Clear Sky Clear Similarities: in Name and Otherwise?
    • 32. Strelok= Russian for 'shooter'
        • Kill Strelok = Kill the Shooter ?
        • (in FPS, the player is the 'shooter')
    • 33. Egoshooter: German for FPS Roughly translates as ' I Shooter '.
    • 34. Egoshooting and 'Strange Meeting'
        • "... I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
        • I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
        • Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
        • I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
        • Let us sleep now . . .“
        • Wilfred Owen, 'Strange Meeting' (1918)
    • 35. A more complex Egoshooting
        • I-shooter OR I, Shooter ?
    • 36. [email_address]
        • Thank You
    • 37. [email_address]