Traumatic, Spectacular Prologues: AAA Players as Ethical Witnesses

Joanna Cuttell


This paper considers the depiction of violent, traumatic spectacles in the opening of select AAA videogames, questioning how these affective devices function to attach and motivate the player. This research deployed two methods: a qualitative content analysis adapted to engage with many layers of games and gaming; and an immersive-affective autoethnography that makes visible the researcher’s role in the creation of knowledge and thus allows the critical ‘gaze’ to be turned upon this relationship. Utilising (vicarious) trauma theory, this paper considers the role of witnessing and the provocation of ethical responses when the player experiences the early victimisation of the player character. This paper asserts that these early violent spectacles act as cues for moral disengagement and function as an enabling fiction legitimating the use of ‘righteous’ violence. Combined with the iterative ‘overcoming’ afforded by such games, this paper argues that these traumatic prologues create an affective and ethical attachment to the game’s outcome.


AAA videogames; prologues; vicarious trauma; empathy; spectacle; witnessing; ethics; affect

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Published by the Digital Games Research Association.