Saturday, 11 February 2017

REVIEW: "Parables of the Posthuman: Digital Realities, Gaming, and the Player Experience" by Jonathan Boulter

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Parables of the Posthuman: Digital Realities, Gaming, and the Player Experience
by Jonathan Boulter
Wayne State University Press
Copyright December 2015
Paperback, 168 Pages

Posthumanism and videogaming probed through the lens of philosophy and phenomenology. This episodically challenging read provides rather interesting and unique insights into the “machinic, posthuman” phenomenon and its play experience in digital play. Very well-written, this book structures its analyses and arguments through examinations of representative videogames such as BioShock, Crysis 2, Half-Life 2 and Fallout 3.

Parading its scholarly style of writing reinforced with rather substantial use of jargon, this book surely appears to primarily target philosophy scholars and students, game scholars, and potentially the game student. Though relatively short and compact, this book could be a challenging read for the non-philosophically educated reader, and likely formidable or even downright inaccessible for one without higher education. Readers of diverse professional backgrounds and especially avid gamers not repelled by the academic prose are absolutely encouraged to read this book. Certain nuggets of insights will preciously enhance the gamer’s understanding and even affinity for videogames. 

Some material in the book strike one as being marvelously excellent. The intriguing analyses of the element of the posthuman in Crysis 2, the rigorous examination of the idea of melancholia, and the exploration of the significance of the catastrophe and the apocalypse in posthumanism are absolute gems. The author asked distinctly thought-provoking questions such as “Is posthumanism grounded in the devastation of space and place?”, shrewdly highlighted the posthumanist irony of and contrast between the “devastated” and “torn down” virtual world against the “enhanced” game protagonist, and very aptly verbalized the notion of the unpleasant limitations of humanity and “lessness of this [real] world” as opposed to the virtual world.

Other ideas raised are positively and pronouncedly profound. The idea for example, of identifying the “true” narrative of a videogame, whether the “explicit” or the “hidden” narrative or otherwise, is truly fascinating. Similarly stimulating include the discussion of the application of the concept of “deterritorialization” in conceiving hypotheses pertaining to the avatar and the player-avatar relationship, and indication of the incorporation of “a morality system” into BioShock’s gameplay. The comparison of the “fantasy” videogames offer to “a kind of virtual tourism” is certainly intriguing, whilst attributing the constituent of the “faceless” and “voiceless” protagonist in a first-person game for successfully “placing the player in the closest psychological proximity to the agency of the avatar” is surely convincing. 

To his credit, the author beautifully vocalized factors that elucidate the appeal of videogames and the posthuman gaming experience. A diverse range of fantasies were noted—to transcend limitations of the biological, gravitational, physiological and even psychological; to enjoy a freedom from “singularity, the singularity of a limited and static subjectivity” of real life; and even to embrace “pleasurable” threats to one’s own identity or to fulfill one’s supposed “fantasy of loss.”

The reader might not agree with every statement or assessment made by the author; the analyses remain interesting nonetheless. The idea of the “very human desire to alter our ways of being, the very real desire to become other, and permanently” might be thought-provoking but not necessarily persuasive. The book is occasionally dry, with not all philosophical approaches discussed and elaborated upon to be equally engrossing, prompting one to sporadically skip ahead. The density and extent of jargon found in the book also seemed to make the text less accessible than necessary, thus potentially curtailing readership by excluding a certain demographic of readers who otherwise would have eagerly devoured the fresh and incisive perspectives offered. 

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

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