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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.
NOTTINGHAM TRENT UNIVERSITY
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