Name: Bettina Bodi
PhD: Film and Television Studies
Thesis Title: Agency as Game Design Affordance in Avatar-Based Video Games
Agency is an over-used and under-defined buzzword in discussions surrounding interactive entertainment media nowadays. Particularly in the case of video games, developers and journalists often use it as a qualifier to indicate the degree of influence players have over the virtual world created: the higher it is, the more power the player has, the more attractive and marketable the product is. Vast open-world sandbox multiplayer games populate today's market. But what, indeed, is this nebulous qualifier?
Whether the player is escorted along a linear path of progression signposted by narrative events or level design, or is free to engage with the gameplay mechanics offered by the game in a chosen order has an impact on manifestation of player agency. Equally, configurability of character appearance and skillset, and consequently, playstyle, as well as the gameworld, affects the player’s possibility of exerting agency whereby it allows various degrees of designing the challenge, tailoring it to their preference. To speak to these variables, I propose to frame agency as an affordance of game design (Gibson, 1979).
My dissertation will examine how ‘agency’ is conceptualised in different discourses surrounding digital games: as discussed in Game Studies, as theorised by game design textbooks, and as referred to in practitioner discourse (based on ethnographic methods). The findings in these three parts will then be synthesised to create a heuristic framework for conceptualising agency in avatar-based games. Game studios with a particular design focus will be case studies to demonstrate the applicability of this framework, examining how agency is designed (textual analysis) and how designers think about how it is designed (paratextual analysis).
Such an approach will facilitate a way of discussing game design which does not get too tangled up in oversimplified notions of ‘genre’, ‘rules’ or ‘narrative’. It will also incorporate the analysis of the language used to refer to these phenomena by industry practitioners, grounding abstract theory in production practices.
Supervisors and Institution(s):
Prof Roberta Pearson - University of Nottingham
Dr Elizabeth Evans - University of Nottingham
Dr Jan-Noel Thon - University of Nottingham
Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:
- Seminar Tutor at UoN - Understanding Cultural Industries (Year 2 undergrad)
- Seminar Tutor at Nottingham Trent University - Visual Cultures (Year 2 undergrad)
- Research Assistant on Mapping Television Audiences Project (led by Liz Evans), exploring the audience research strategies currently employed by broadcasters and media agencies.
- Research Assistant on Collecting Strategies for a Gaming Age (led by Ellie Groom, National Science and Media Museum), identifying the challenges curators face when it comes to the collection and exhibition of games and gaming related objects.
- Research Assistant on Teaching Transformation Project (led by Becky Parry, School of Education, UoN), discovering the ways in which participants of a summer school interact with platforms facilitating the formation of online communities of practice (CoP) evolving around a learning experience.
Other Research Interests:
- Interactivity and Agency
- Video Games
- Media Industry Studies
- Genre Theory
- Interactive Storytelling
- Graphic Narratives
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