Computer Gameplay and the Aesthetic Practices of the Self: Game Studies and the Late Work of Michel Foucault

Feng Zhu


This paper aims to critically introduce the applicability of Foucault’s late work, on the practices of the self, to the scholarship of contemporary computer games. I argue that the gameplay tasks that we set ourselves, and the patterns of action that they produce, can be understood as a form of ‘work on the self’, and that this work is ambivalent between, on the one hand, an aesthetic transformation of the self – as articulated by Foucault in relation to the care or practices of the self – in which we break from the dominant subjectivities imposed upon us, and on the other, a closer tethering of ourselves through our own playful impulses, to a neoliberal subjectivity centred around instrumentally-driven selfimprovement. Game studies’ concern with the effects that computer games have on us stands to gain from an examination of Foucault’s late work for the purposes of analysing and disambiguating between the nature of the transformations at stake. Further, Foucault’s tripartite analysis of ‘power-knowledge-subject’, which might be applied here as ‘game-discourse-player’, foregrounds the imbrication of our gameplay practices – the extent to which they are due to us and the way in which our own volitions make us subject to power, which is particularly pertinent in the domain of play.


Foucault, practices of the self, care of the self, aesthetics, gameplay practices, neoliberalism, transformation, hexis, habitus, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

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Published by the Digital Games Research Association.