Labyrinths of Desire: Identification, Interaction and the 3D Game-Space

  As Annette Kuhn (1999:6) explains in her introduction to Alien Zone II, one of screen theory’s new topoi is space.  In classical cinema, cinematic space was codified primarily in terms of diegetic space and spectatorial space: the organisation of space on screen within the narrative film and the space organising the ensemble of screen, spectator and cinematic apparatus.  Although both spaces are separate - diegetic space concerns the film as text, whereas spectatorial space concerns the metapsychology of cinema (see Heath, 1976; Bordwell, 1985) – classical film theory informs us that both spaces overlap within the cinema: the space where narrative form, the reality effect and the cinema’s architectural arrangement all work together (see Metz, 1980; Manovitch, 1999:184).  It is only when such a distinctive viewing situation is made available to the spectator that film can most effectively relay meanings and subjectivities produced by a specific cinematic apparatus.  Time has seen many alterations to the cinematic apparatus; itself now distinctly redefined in recognition of an age of home video, pro-logic hi-fi surround sound, digital pay-per-view services, wide-screen television and DVD.  As Kuhn reminds us, the classical configuration of these spaces must now be regarded as ‘historically and culturally specific’ (1999:7), cinema is indeed just one of a number of possible venues for viewing films.  Kuhn argues for a re-consideration of the spaces inhabited in relation to science-fiction narratives, when considered both within the auditorium and when delivered by other moving-image media. 

  If the study of space is fundamental to understanding, among other art forms, the dynamics of cinema, then how should we consider this space in relation to computer games?  Home computer games have been widely available since the early 1980s, and arcade games began to appear as early as 1971 [1] .  Curiously enough, both seem to have remained largely neglected as legitimate fields of academic study.  As Andy Cameron explains: he actively encourages his MA students to play games.  This provoked the argument within the department – one, which if followed could equally apply to students of film or popular culture - that the course would only encourage lazy game enthusiasts.  Indeed Cameron argues that gaming is not [yet] ‘a proper object of serious study’ (1995).  To compensate for the dearth of academic interest into an industry already proving to out-strip the film industry [2] , it is my intention to attempt to explain the desires encapsulated by these games; to assess the potential, and limitations, of apparatus theory and film criticism for the understanding of the psychical dynamics of gaming in the relationship between the players and the game-spaces themselves.  Psychoanalysis informed a significant proportion of early film theory and I believe it offers useful tools to enable us to better understand the relationship between the gaming participant on the one hand and the game-space on the other.  More importantly: from both sides, cinematic and computer technologies are converging; advances in computer graphics increasingly inform the filmed space on the celluloid and often become an extra process of filming.  As processing power and storage capacity increases, interactive CD-ROM-based games are beginning to incorporate an increasing number of cinematic techniques, often relying upon the layering of large sections of digital ‘film’ narrative between interactive gameplay. 

  It is my intention to consider two genres of computer game [3] and their relation to apparatus theory and film criticism, to see the extent to which the texts can better inform our understanding of them.  Both genres operate within the parameters of Cartesian coordinates (see Vince, 1995:24), deploying the player within the confines of their 3D rendered environments.  Yet in the broader cultural field, both games have received differing attention, although I believe that both are significant enough to demand critical attention.  These genres are the ‘first person shooters’ [4] , of which I will consider the body of games emerging from the Doom (id software, 1993) game architecture, and the ‘third person adventure’ game, where I will pay specific attention to the Tomb Raider (Core Design / Eidos 1993) series.  Both games, when read alongside psychoanalytic film theory, offer contrasting case studies in the light of identification and desire.

From Narrative to Interactive

  Narrative, Cameron (1995) argues, is the dominant cultural form, and takes place in the past.  By this he means it offers an account of events, but these events must have already taken place [5] .  In this respect, narrative’s temporal referent is ‘once upon a time’ (Ibid.).  As Christian Metz explains: ‘Most films shot today, good or bad, original or not, ‘commercial’ or not, have as a common characteristic that they tell a story; in this measure they all belong to one and the same genre, which is, rather, a sort of ‘super-genre’ (1980:402).  As such, the spectator’s own relation to time is never strictly affected by the tense of the verb within the narrative; they are rather placed outside the narrative, and to this end, remain ‘absent from the screen’ (Metz, 1992:734).  What is perceived on the screen lies ‘entirely on the side of the object’ (Ibid.) and out of the spectator’s reach.  If within the text, present tense is summoned (to posit immediacy, or to bring dramatic tension to an account), then it is so only for the ‘objects’ within the diegesis.  In comparing fictive work with ‘documentary’ fact, this statement holds true; the function of time only functions as an account of what has happened, irrespective of diegetic ‘truth’.  Narrative, considered here as a form of re-presentation, can therefore be identified as having taken place in the past.  By its very nature, narrative tells a story that has already been written, even if diegetic events unfold in a manner that disregards linearity of tense (as in the flashback) or operate within the parameters of real-time.  Interactivity, in contrast, implies a sense of immediacy only equable with the present. 

  Interactivity refers to the possibility of the spectator’s active participation within the controlling (or perhaps, synthesis) of an artwork or representation.  Here it would be reasonable to argue that the process of reading, of interpretation, is precisely a process of interaction: ‘to read text is to make your own text of it’ (Unger, 1995 cit. Brody, 1999:138).  However, such an argument refers to a form of interaction where the spectator intervenes in a way that allows for a level of ‘meaning-making’ with the representation itself; this form of interactivity to which I am referring is one where a spectator’s intervention with the representation affects its outcome.  As Ted Friedman observes, any exchange between a reader and a book ‘is always one-sided; no matter what you do on your end, the text always remains the same’ (1995:42).  To mark such a distinction between narrative and interactive becomes of paramount importance when considered in relation to any meaningful treatment of computer games; computer games embody precisely a dyad between the externalisation and internalisation of the player, their function par excellence lies in their switching between states of narrative, rendering the player external to forward the game (as in the mode of the spectator in relation to the narrative), to the state of interactivity (where the spectator’s active participation affects and elicits a response from the other objects within the game space). 

  Many narrative moments within games indicate these spaces by adopting familiar narrative conventions.  In the introductory sequence to Magic Carpets  (Bullfrog, 1994), we see a floating book, its cover opening onto the first page, with subsequent page-turns to indicate progress to later levels within the game.  In Homeworld (Sierra, 1999), the plot is forwarded by essential narrative occurrences within the game, in order to enable progress.  At these points, the mouse-pointer on the screen disappears, and both the top and bottom of the screen shift upwards in imitation of a wide-screen (cinematic) mode.  Unreal Tournament (Epic Megagames: 1999) allows the player a chance to ‘play as spectator’; a mode which allows them to switch between the point-of-view of other fighters in the game, or to navigate the game space as an omnipotent ‘camera’ – able to float around the game-space and up through walls in a disembodied manner, their actions bearing no effect whatsoever on the participants within the game.  Such modes are reminiscent of a standard feature within arcade games; the demonstration sequence, where a montage of sequences sliced from points of the game, is run alongside a flashing textual sign ‘INSERT COIN’.  Sometimes such ‘demo’ sequences will allow the user partial control over an object, perhaps to make the game seem even more enticing when a coin is inserted and more control is offered to the player.  In summary, the transition from narrative form to a form of true interactivity lies in the ability of the spectator to change position from one of mirror gazing [6] (and interpreting), to a mode of participation: to step, in the words of Sherry Turkle, ‘through the looking glass’ (1999:287) and into the space within.

  Before I move towards a discussion of the games themselves, several points should be made about the phenomenon of interactivity.   Firstly: that whenever a product (or text) is interactive, it is so by only by nature of the limits of interaction coded into its space; that computer games are interactive is true in a sense that the participant can generate a level of meaning within the game (e.g. to affect the game-space and structure simply by choosing a ‘skill’ level upon which to play the game).  However, a degree of interactivity is always defined by specific parameters, pre-set or imposed by the limitations of the game itself.  Secondly: as with a series of films, assumptions quickly root, to become coded into the narrative structure, although to an extent the narrative changes.  In a continuative sense, then, familiar notions of genre quickly become enmeshed within the text itself [7] .  In relation to gaming, this case is also true; in the Doom series of games, stock characters are deployed into different game-spaces and expected idiosyncrasies (sometimes as mundane as a sustained continuation of standard ‘keyboard’ controls) become engrained in this fashion.  Finally, as cinema and gaming frequently look to each other for inspiration [8] , an inevitable intertextuality runs through interactive games.  In the Nintendo-64 release of Goldeneye, itself essentially a clone of the Doom-style games, the participant is granted a larger-than life fantasy with a long-running narrative history: the fantasy of the coinus of James Bond.  In Alien vs. Predator (Activision, 1998), an interactive fantasy is woven by suturing elements from two separate cinema narratives; here the participant is granted an opportunity to adopt (also within a 3D Doom-style labyrinth) a role of, choosing between two familiar cinematic ‘monsters’ and game-spaces.  Here, such a close tie with film grants perhaps more depth to the main protagonist.  In Doom, the leading character has no narrative history (or biography): when games borrow ‘intertextually’ from filmic narrative, the characters are fleshed out through another dimension; a dialogic history covering earlier appearances.

From Cinematic Apparatus to Computer Apparatus

   Stephen Heath explains: ‘there are no jerks in time or space in real life (…) Not so in film’ (1986:394).  This prompts the question: how can such a disparity in the ‘continuity of [reality] space’ occur without arousing a sense of unease within the spectator?  One answer lies in the apparatus itself: perhaps both the darkened auditorium and the projection from behind the spectator contribute to the creation of the ‘partial unreality [9] of the film picture’ (Ibid. 395), allowing the spectator to subject the larger-than-life projected images to reality testing; such logic illustrates the distinction between the Tagtraum (see Metz, 1976:129) – the spectator’s state of dreaming on the one hand - and on the other, as in the case of cinema, the secondary elaboration of the phantasy scenario within the film.  Another answer lies in the dynamics of film form (narrative ellipsis, the use of cutting to suture two disarrayed spaces together, change of perspective through different grades of lens).  In this mode, the film can be treated as a daydream precisely because its diegesis is edited, ‘cut’ in the words of Mulvey ‘to the measure of desire’ (1989:32).  The techniques of classical Hollywood narrative in many cases were not unfamiliar to Western perspectives because they – to an extent – already existed in other forms [10] .  Here, Baudry gestures towards links between cinema and the perspectives developed during the Italian Renaissance period (1999:347).  He also argues that Western easel painting initially set the dimensions of the cinema screen: ‘the ratio between height and width’ (Ibid.). In time, such conventions become incorporated into our understandings as much as in the same way that the vernacular is eventually claimed by language.  Such recognition of well-worn cinematic technique therefore justifies an understanding of the ‘illusion’ created by cinema (see Mulvey, 1989:32).  Illusion, as de Lauretis argues, ‘is typically equated with delusion and deception’ (1984:60).  Her discussion of illusion, as I hope to show later, becomes particularly pertinent in relation to the game-space.

  As I hope to demonstrate, the challenges new forms of interactive media pose to cinema will extend far beyond issues of the redefinition of narrative.  New digital formats, and perhaps more specifically, cinematic computer techniques (such as ‘morphing’) [11] are already re-processing the content of cinema and classical Hollywood’s repertoire of conventions have been expanded to allow all that computer technology’s seizure of the celluloid can offer.  Such potential for an ‘identity crisis’ in cinema, calls upon us to consult its own history, its own repertoire of techniques, to see what has changed.  Towards the end of The Fiction Film and Its Spectator, Metz (1980) considers a scenario whereby non-narrative films begin to be produced.  If this is so, then cinema will no longer need to manufacture its ‘reality effect’ [12] .   A recent example of a film where traditional cinematic techniques are laid, subsequently hijacked, and completely re-rendered by computers is The Matrix (1999), where narrative speed is accelerated (and decelerated) in ways traditional modes of production just would not allow.  Here, decelerating bullets, and allowing high-speed editing and 360° tracking around a moving object are techniques of pure, unadulterated spectacle that we would perhaps otherwise only experience on rides in theme parks.  As Angela Ndalianis (2000) explains:

the collapse and dispersal of ‘meaning’ as a result of the movement beyond narrative concerns towards a form that prioritises the visuals and spectacle (…) manifests itself especially in the move away from mainstream cinema’s supposed ties with the nineteenth century literary tradition and its concerns with story telling and narrativity, towards an aesthetic centered around action, movement, speed, special effects (visual and aural), and engagement on the level of the sensation.

  Such a cinematic assault on the senses - whilst offering the spectator enhanced, increased (and a greater proportion of) visual spectacle – suggests a shift in mainstream cinema towards offering an experience pitched closer to the interactive game.  As cinema, it does not, of course, offer interactivity [13] , but its allegiance with the ‘roller-coaster’ theme park narrative reminds me of the game-spaces found in games like Descent (Parallax, 1994) and Forsaken (Acclaim:1998) both 1st person 3D games where the participant controls a gravity-defying vessel, which is deployed inside a labyrinth of multitudinous rooms, each with a series of long tunnels arcing off in different directions, which in turn lead to different rooms.  Conversely, the film Starship Troopers (1997) incorporates the façade of a Windows-style desktop ‘GUI’ as if offering an illusion of interactivity.  Here the film appears to be borrowing some of the conventions of an Interactive CD-ROM game, and the film functions in a reversal of the transition between interactive and narrative I described in the game Homeworld: at points in the film, narrative pauses and the spectator is offered images of the non-interactive desktop.  A message is displayed: ‘WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?’ mimicking a government military advert.  After a short time, a selection is made for the spectator, and the film narrative is allowed to continue.  Both films demonstrate the incorporation of computer technology into the world of cinema, as both realms ‘merge into one’ (Manovitch, 1996).  When one can ‘enter’ a virtual 3D space and participate with the objects held within, the witnessing of a projection of images onto a 2D surface perhaps seems less appealing.  At a time when (time and money allowing) almost anything can be computer simulated, filming physical reality remains just one possibility.  This perhaps explains why the cinematic apparatus itself is redefining itself; moving into new realms - offering a bigger experience than before to set itself apart from the world of ‘home entertainment’ [14] .  Computerisation has provided a means whereby cinema has realised a new stage in a trajectory (and one which has arguably always existed in the medium) of pleasure, both in and through immersion within the text itself [15] .

  Let us turn again to spectatorship theory: at the centre of film theory in the 1970s lays the notion of cinema as an institution (Maynard, 1993:13) of which the spectator is part.  If, as I have argued, classical cinema is a narrative institution and if psychoanalysis is understood as a discourse for understanding positions of identification, then storytelling should be understood as a fundamental juncture at which identity is constructed [16] .  When we visit the cinema, we take certain basic expectations with us: that we sit in a space in a darkened auditorium, that we view images projected onto its fourth wall, and follow narrative codes and conventions which will, to an extent, seem familiar; perhaps we recognise them from elsewhere.  However, the question of identification demands new parameters; those of the spectator/subjects’ position ­- and perhaps more significantly than this – their moving position within a series of shifting position possibilities.  Identification, like identity itself, is by no means a solid construct.  In The Imaginary Signifier, Metz (1982:48) considers the nature of the spectator’s identification within the cinema in terms of a duality in knowledge of identification; on the one hand, the spectator may identify, albeit positively or negatively [17] with a character privileged by a shot at any stage in its narrative, and the spectator may also be identifying ‘with himself (…) as a pure act of perception (…) and hence as a kind of transcendental subject, which becomes before every there is’ (Ibid.49); this is the distinction between ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ identification for Metz.  To recap: any discussion of identification can therefore be considered as complicated through its own conception of fluidity and movement.

  As we consider identification here (with specific emphasis upon the corpus of Metz’s work), we realise that its functioning was examined within the framework of an apparatus.  The context of cinematic apparatus itself was crucial to the gauging of an understanding of the function of identification in film.  Therefore a significant problem I have in relation to my area of study is to consider identification in relation to a standard computer apparatus: a configuration (which I will shortly attempt to define), which becomes problematic itself.  For Metz, whose film theory came before home video and home cinema, study of cinema was aligned exclusively with the cinema auditorium.  The emergence of home video brought with it new theories and new modes of academic study [18] ; this change in spatial alignment reshaped some of the ways in which we could consider the body of 1970s Screen theories, themselves no longer working exclusively within the parameters of the apparatus.  Consequently my study of computer apparatus cannot be considered in the light of an auditorium, as most gaming activity takes place in rooms with a series of networked computers [19] , within a room as a solo activity, or within a room with friends.  Although many game players like to shut all light from the room before they begin to play (as home spectators may when renting a video), neither are rigid conventions.  In the case of gaming, although a darkened room may increase dramatic tension and further the spectacle of interaction, there can be no markers to indicate whether these affect level or detail of the participant’s interaction within the game-space.  Where apparatus theory can be standardised, however, is in terms of the specifications of hardware required to run the game satisfactorily.  However, as with cinematic apparatus, some cinemas may feature enhancements over others (a larger screen, more comfortable seats, clearer projection quality, THX enhanced sound etc.), the same is of course true for games [20] .  However, set computer apparatus may mean little more than the basic system requirements for the game to be assembled and run within the machine, an input device (keyboard, mouse, joystick), and a monitor for display.  Essentially there is no set uniformity of computer apparatus; indeed all computer software demands physical space (as in memory) within the machine, within which to ‘unpack’ and run, however no standard apparatus can be considered, only a minimal computer configuration.

  Whenever we consider apparatus theory in the context of game-spaces, we realise that there is a tendency - in both film and computer game alike - towards a progressive and ongoing fantasy of total immersion embedded into the apparatus.  Cinema, as both film and hardware strives to make films bigger and more immersive than before, and in the game-space, as spectator becomes participant, s/he: ‘puts on special clothing (…) Gloves [21] transmit and receive data, and goggles include two tiny video screens’ [22] .  Although it is clear that for the popular 3D computer games of now, such a fantasy need not stretch towards gloves and goggles, both hands and the gazing eyes are immersed in this process of playing; from keyboard and mouse to tilt-responsive joysticks with feedback, from bigger, all encompassing screens and projections to 3D dual-screen headsets.  For hearing, a similar story is told; from stereo sound to 3D surround.  Ultimately, this fantasy perhaps strives towards the high street virtual experience; people emerge from body building in the gym and into a virtual one a few doors down, to tone up their fantasy life and interact with objects generated by body-engulfing apparatus. 

From Flâneur to Mobilised ‘Virtual’ Gaze

  In Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern, film historian Anne Friedberg offers an archaeological study of a mode of perception, which according to her characterizes the modern cinematic, the television and the ‘interactive’ [cyber] culture: a ‘mobilizedvirtual” gaze’ (1994:2). This mode combines two conditions: ‘a received perception mediated through representation’ (Ibid.) and the possibility of travel ‘in an imaginary flânerie through an imaginary elsewhere and an imaginary elsewhen’ (Ibid.).  According to Friedberg's archaeology, this mode emerged when a new nineteenth century technology of virtual representation – photography - merged with the mobilized gaze of tourism, urban shopping and flânerie.  Friedberg draws links between Baudelaire's flâneur and a range of other modern practices: ‘The same impulses which send flâneurs through the arcades, traversing the pavement and wearing thin their shoe leather, sent shoppers into the department stores, tourists to exhibitions, spectators into the panorama, diorama, wax museum, and cinema’ (Ibid.:94).  What made the flâneur so significant as a model for such practices, lay precisely in the fact that it equated most vividly the amalgamation between a mode of perception (in the 1st person) and the concept of navigation through a space.  All that remained in order to arrive at a ‘mobilized virtual gaze’, then, was to construct this model ‘virtually’, something, which as Lev Manovitch (2000) observes, ‘cinema accomplished in the last decade of the nineteenth century’ [23] .

Doom, the Flâneur and the 3D Interactive Game-Space

‘As soon as behaviour is focused on certain operational screens or terminals, the rest appears as some vast, useless body, which has been both abandoned and condemned. The real itself appears as a large, futile body’ (Baudrillard, 1988)

‘The machine is not an it to be animated, worshipped, and dominated. The machine is us, our processes, an aspect of our embodiment.’ (Haraway, 1991: 180)

  While Anne Friedberg’s archaeology ends with television and does not move into spaces articulated by interactive games, her model of the ‘mobilised virtual gaze’ precisely encapsulates the objectivity so frequently offered by games set in the first-person perspective, as in the Doom series [24] .  Indeed the negotiation of ‘virtual’ spaces in 3D games, visual representations of data [25] and virtual reality motion simulators all enshrine the logic of the ‘mobilised virtual gaze’.  For the male flâneur – the impassioned observer and perfect spectator – wandering the Parisian streets, passing shopping windows and observing the faces of passers by (see Friedberg, 1994: 29-31), finds himself in rejoice of his own incognito [26] most when deployed in the 3D labyrinth worlds of the Doom games as a virtual flâneur.  In a 3D realm, the virtual flâneur moves through virtual corridors, in and amongst planes of data rendered into a walkthrough environment containing other objects.  Here the eroticism of a split-second virtual affair with a passer-by of the opposite sex is replaced with the excitement of locating and finding the secret rooms embedded deep inside the labyrinths, or finding the coloured keys that open up other areas of the space.  As with Baudelaire’s flâneur, the virtual flâneur is happiest on the move, finding one object after another, traversing room after room and level after level.

  In 1993, id software’s [27] release of Doom crashed college computer networks across the US.  While scores of undergraduates stormed file transfer (ftp) sites, all clamouring to download the fully playable (and free) shareware version of the game, servers buckled under the strain of the traffic and began to drop out.  By releasing detailed descriptions of the Doom’s file formats and game level and character editing software, id enabled, encouraged players to expand the game, to construct their own levels for it.  As a result, hacking and adding to the game became an essential part of its charm; new homemade levels and characters became widely available on the Internet for players to download and play with friends.  Here was the birth of a new cultural economy, ultimately transcending the usual parameters of relationship between producers and consumers: its producers defined the basic structures of the game, the 3D engine [28] and created initial sets of objects (characters, weapons etc.) and textures for walls, ceilings, floors and doors. They packaged these together with a few tips for making simple alterations to the game, adding of course the necessary tools to allow the players to build their own levels and avatars [29] .  The world of Doom game-spaces exploded.  As J.C. Herz explains: ‘it was an idea whose time has come. Release a free, stripped-down version through shareware channels, the Internet and online services.  Follow with a spruced-up, registered retail version of the software’ (Herz, 1997:90).  By 1997, 15 million copies of the original Doom game had been downloaded around the world. (Ibid.84).

  The game architecture initially formulated for Doom now seems to have taken on a life of its own.  Indeed id’s game engine is now sold under licence to other software companies, which now makes up most of its revenue [30] .  The game-style has become a genre of its own right spawning many clone games.  Part of the game’s appeal aside from a versatile 3D engine enabling the creation an almost infinite range of fantasy mise-en-scenes, lies in the games flexibility for network play; either over a local area (LAN) network or the Internet.  This area of appeal perhaps explains why thousands of users worldwide meet in 3D game-spaces online and was undoubtedly a deciding factor for its adoption by the US Marines after the cold war as a team-strategy training simulator (see Jordan, 1999:189-90).  Indeed, the recent release of Sierra software’s Half Life: Counter Strike (2000) embodies more closely this style of play; this clone moves away from the dimensions of the science-fiction fantasy of Ghostbuster-style guns and monsters to a realm of team strategy where the participant controls a member of a German, American, French or English special force, armed only with a sniper rifle and a limited number of shots.  For each side, the task is to secure a building (often a warehouse-space) and for once, strategy and stealth supersede endless pointing and shooting; the constant ‘re-spawns’ that allow a player to rejoin the arena after their demise is removed from Counter Strike; in this space, the participant’s death banishes them to the realm of the narrative spectator, a position where they leave their avatar and weapons where they died, now only able to observe the rest of the game until the next match.  Since its release, this style of game has proven increasingly popular, rendering it the most played game on the Half Life servers [31] .

  What I think is really new (and worthy of analysis) with the 3D Doom game is the concept of the space articulated by this game engine.  This, as with the enumerate texts referring to online chat rooms and Multi-User-Dungeons (MUDs) [32] , raises a complex array of questions concerning the identity of the individual within these spaces, so it is my intention to address some of these now.  Computer theorists use the term ‘cyberspace’ in reference to the notional social arena we ‘enter’ when using computers to communicate (Hakken, 1999:1).  Historically we can trace this space back to the arena (as Gibson describes it, a nowhere somewhere) that we enter when we partake in a telephone conversation.  Or the television, which ‘has developed a mode of presentation that envelops the viewer and presenter in a virtual space of an imaginary conversation.  This “fiction of discourse” or of presence is furthered by the habitual and distracted way in which we receive television’ (Morse, 1998:163).  So: what kind of dialectic is opened up when 3D games come into the fore?

  In the realm of cyberspace we become arbiters of the identities and positions paraded before us.  However, our existing cultural ties are bound to have a considerable impact on the ‘Other’ we choose to identify with us, but we must not ignore the co-presence of other identities, which ultimately call into question the construction of our own.  For example, Ann Kalowski considers the notion of ‘cyborg’ identity in cyberspace, with relation to its generation of a plurality of ‘alternative’ models for living, explaining the ways in which a flesh-free online identity can impact upon real-life identities and desires.  Her main focus is the ‘drag act’ that V.R. can impose on the self, leading to new ways of considering one’s sexual identity online, however, the notion of multiple identity-shifting can, I think, be applied quite effectively to discussions of the effects of computer games such as Doom [33] .  One argument frequently postulated by writings on the Internet defines the first stage of the construction of a virtual reality as moving towards the manufacture of identity without the corporeal body.  Here we are considering a differential notion of identity; an identity produced in or through difference.  Following theories mapped by Baudrillard in Simulations (1983), where suggestions that an element of this shift towards ‘hyper-reality’ has been the met through erosion of the realm of representation and the establishment of a dominant mode of simulation (as Baudrillard explains through televisual coverage of the Gulf War).  In relation to gaming, then, it could be argued that such ‘new’ modes of representative simulation have produced in cyberspace, increasingly real ‘simulations’ of a comprehensible, or at least, tangible world.

  The ‘body’ as Balsamo explains, ‘is a social, cultural and historical production’  (1996:3).   Balsamo cites Michel Feher’s comments that the body, in its own right, is a ‘reality constantly produced, an effect of techniques promoting specific gestures and postures, sensations and feelings’ (ibid.).  To think of the body as both an object primarily borne out of nature, and then as a landmark (sign) of the culture it originated from, implies – to some degree – a reading of the body.  To elaborate an informed perception of the body in contemporary culture is to map a discourse of it, and then to construct an interpretation from that discourse.  What Balsamo is saying, here, is that a ‘body’ is a text to be read like any other; that assumptions can be drawn through observation of the body.  Tattoos, chains and piercings that adorn skin, accompanied by a certain dress code, all invite a reading and contextualising of the body with the personality.  Although if we follow the argument that identity in cyberspace is often about ‘passing off’ the body, offering in its place a fluid sense of self which is projected onto an imaginary virtual body (an avatar in a 3D game) we see that the bodily reading can no longer take place.  Here ‘identity is represented [as simulation], rather than ‘real’’ (Texter, 1996:3).  Therefore the consensus of cyberspace is indeed precarious; identification is entirely contingent, based on a consensual agreement of blind faith on both sides: as Texter suggests, to ‘take one’s word’. 

  Judith Butler, whom Texter cites, argues that gender, much like the shifting viewing position in spectatorship theory, ought not to be constructed ‘as a stable identity’ (cit. Ibid: 4) and in this sense should be considered as ‘tenuously constituted in time, instituted in an exterior space through a stylised repetition of acts’ (Ibid.) [34] .  Here Butler’s comments deserve considerable attention; for her, time-space (that which has taken place) is not an essential factor in the formation of a stable identity, although by its very constitution (even if tenuous), Butler (like Balsamo) is implying that a narrative reading (of the body as a text to be read) is taking place.  However, the second half of her sentence now complicates this: this reading is only tenuously constituted in time.  If we explore this argument further, we can gain a further understanding, which is, I think, relevant to our understanding of the game-space: an exterior space suggests that which takes place outside [35] .   Such a reading of the body, then, has two connotations: that a reading is performed upon the surface of the body (precisely a reading of the exterior) and also, that such a reading should occur, by its very nature it is being performed by an Other, who is looking upon (a reading from the exterior by a spectator).  This suggests that a categorisation of ‘gender’ at its primary stage concerns physical difference between the sexes.  The stylised repetition of acts, then, refers to a surmounting knowledge of physical difference, coupled with a study of gendered idiosyncrasies, arranged in binary opposition to one another (along a masculine/feminine divide), which provides the basis for the construction of a set of stereotypes.

  In a Doom­-style game-space, the participants use their own body to control an avatar, a pre-programmed graphical representation that they have selected (or themselves authored) as representative of themselves within the context of the game-space.  In the Doom-style game, the participant masquerading as a character is transcending codes of gender precisely because their own body surface remains hidden and hence, unreadable from the ‘Other’ participants.  Without a surmounting knowledge of the bodily surface (the basis upon which stereotypes are called into play), we can for once consider a fluidity of character: one, which eradicates a binary opposition.  Perhaps what these forms of interaction do, by removing the visual cues that partially gender us, are to open up possibilities for experimentation and play with existing manifestations of subjectivity.  Here a space has been articulated by a number of theorists on gender and consumption: Ang and Hermes, for example, stress that ‘gender identity, in short, is both multiple and partial, ambiguous and incoherent’ (1991:321).  Donna Haraway’s influential Cyborg Manifesto (1985/1991) provided the seminal study of this phenomenon in relation to computer-mediated ‘human’ identity; upon its use (as in a game), the machine becomes us; an aspect of our embodiment.  To me, her work marks the beginning of a new way of looking at a future without straight gender binaries.  Where the body is ‘hidden’ from view, existing boundaries and categories no longer hold weight and are thus collapsed; as a result, the gap between genders becomes much harder to read, causing a closer unity of gender-identification, away from a central divide.  However, as her opening quote suggests (See p.9), what is also at stake here, is the amalgamation of ‘human’ and ‘machine’; moving towards a ‘post-human’ politics where the boundaries between human and non-human also begin to amalgamate, causing the creation of the ‘cyborg’, and hence a further ‘fetishistic’ desire to improve our own bodies through the use of technology. 

Artificial Intelligence

  Before I move my analysis towards notions of gender and games like Tomb Raider, I would like to consider the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in relation to the 3D game-space.  We can take it that people who have experienced AI have most likely experienced it within the realm of computer games.  In most new racing simulations, other cars on the track are programmed to try and block the player as they attempt to overtake.  In a martial arts game like Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1996-), we can’t ask questions of our opponent, nor can we expect him to start a conversation with us.  All we can do is ‘attack’ the AI character by pressing a few buttons; and within this severely limited communication bandwidth the computer can “fight” us back very effectively.  In short, computer characters can display intelligence and skills only because they place severe limits on our possible interactions with them [36] .  Recently, I was playing a multiplayer level of Half Life with two of my flatmates and five computer controlled ‘bots’.  All my opponents appeared as the same character (at this time, I did not have extra character ‘skins’ installed, so a default character was selected to replace this).  I was also playing the game at a low resolution.  In this mode, and for quite a considerable time, it made no difference who was human and who was not.  It wasn’t until the ‘human’ characters in the game started behaving more erratically; in this my housemates avatar approached me and challenged me to put away my guns for a ‘crowbar dual’ that I was able to distinguish between the computer controlled ‘bot’ and the human player.  After a while some of the bots noticed us using crowbars and slowly they too joined in.  AI characters can mathematically ‘pretend’ to be intelligent by tricking us; by adopting a small part of who we are when we communicate with them. 

The woman does not exist: Lara Croft, Visual Pleasure and Interactive Gaming

  The famous Lacanian utterance represents a denial of existence: not of the actual existence of the woman, but of a universal feminine essence.  All that exists in this light remains is a fantasy of femininity.  Jaqueline Rose regards this as a location onto which ‘lack is projected and through which it is simultaneously disavowed’ (1986:2).  In this context, Rose considers woman as a ‘symptom’ for the man.  Defined as such, and reduced to nothing other than a fantasmatic place, ‘the woman’ (as absolute category and guarantor of fantasy) does not exist.  As Stam et al. remind us: psychoanalysis regards femininity as a category, ‘produced psychologically and socially, rather than as a set of biological or anatomical features’ (1992:137); hence Freud’s comment that psychoanalysis does not try to describe what a woman is, ‘but sets about inquiring how she comes into being (cit. Ibid.).  What, then, can psychoanalysis tell us about Tomb Raider’s virtual star Lara Croft?  On the Paragon Online website, Stuart Wynne explains that the game functions by:

‘Asking someone to embody a binary cipher inevitably courted controversy.  After all, Lara was designed as a cybernetic alter ego for you or I - a feminist caricature for blokes, basically.  Making her real extended a bit of mildly kinky transexuality into dizzying realms of gender confusion’ <>

  What Wynne seems to be suggesting here, is that for the male player to interact with Tomb Raider, he must re-configure himself along the lines of gender; effectively to transgender himself via the cipher of the ‘female’ Lara.  In the cinema, characters embody significant gender roles, although in the vast majority of computer games, characters seem genderless. In the Doom-style game, we see the virtual world through our own eyes.  The armed participant inside the game-space sees only a hand holding one of an assortment of weapons.  In earlier versions of the game, a control-panel with indicators for health, armour, ammunition and inventory would be accompanied by a generic ‘protagonist’ face, which becomes more bloody as the participant loses health points [37] .  In later games in the Doom series, such as Quake (id software, 1996), when we are low on energy the participant will hear their avatar’s breathing as it becomes increasingly laboured.  Once the participant has been killed, they view the game-space from a prone position – as lying on the floor of the labyrinth (curiously in this world, subjectivity uncannily survives death).  The sound of breathing and the grunts the avatar makes when falling or landing from jumping are decidedly masculine, and, as such, Quake offers us an uncomplicated masculine gender identity based on the notion of identification with a male protagonist who drives the narrative towards a possible

(although not inevitable) resolution (unless, of course, the player is invulnerable) [38] .  The Doom-style ‘first-person shooter’, and its many clones, all conform closely to observations made by Laura Mulvey on the centrality, the dominance of the male gaze in narrative cinema.  By locating the active male spectator at the centre of the narrative, early Hollywood cinema invites him (as a male spectator) to identify with the leading (male) character, which through force of personality and cinematic privileging through cinematic technique, brings about narrative resolution [39]

  It noteworthy, I think, that the subjectivity of the game-space offered by the Doom-style games, chimes in closely with Mulvey’s observations:

‘As the spectator identifies with the main male protagonist, he projects his look on to that of his like, his screen surrogate, so that the power of the male protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic look, both giving a sense of omnipotence’ (Mulvey, 1975:28) [my emphasis]

  That the participant identifies with a ‘main male protagonist’ seems relatively clear cut; indeed, I think it is hard to argue that this commercial manifestation of virtual reality offers us anything but a very clear, uncomplicated subject position to inhabit.  Here ‘identification’ is aided by the alignment (or conflation) of the male protagonist with the self, perhaps intensifying the satisfying sense of omnipotence the game warrants.  In such games, the symbolic ‘armour’ and ‘health bonus’ parcels deployed throughout the game-space instantly serve to revivify the protagonist as he is moved over them, further omnipotence is perhaps granted by the participant’s ability to save, or pause the game-state as and when ‘he’ wishes.  If the participant is killed, pressing one key (often the space bar, or ‘fire’ button) allows ‘him’ to re-spawn [40] ; his only punishment being that he may be deployed further back in the labyrinth and loses any weapons or ammunition he may have collected in his previous ‘life’.  What does problematise the application of Mulvey’s analysis to the content of the majority of Doom games, is that women are frequently excluded from the space.  In only one game I have seen, Duke Nukem 3D (Epic Megagames, 1995), are women incorporated into the narrative; and here they are fetishised to embody a purely ‘masculinised’ address [41] , packaged as strippers, exotic dancers or as 3D representations of cinema-projections, pandering to masculine pleasures of voyeurism.  What we do not get with many of the Doom-style games is much space within the text to contest existing gender categories.  Here a consideration of Tomb Raider will offer us a far wider-reaching set of examples.

  Lara Croft is a cultural icon; she is perhaps more famous than most glamour-celebrities.  She has appeared on the cover of countless magazines, has appeared in U2 videos.  Generation-X author Douglas Copeland has co-written a book about her. Since 1996, more than nine million copies of Tomb Raider have been sold worldwide.  Details magazine declared her one of the ‘sexiest women of 1998’.  Advertisers have used her to endorse Lucozade and SEAT cars and ‘real-life’ representations have been propelled to fame for standing in as her human equivalent.  Her notoriety has even got her into the Guinness Book of Records.  Yet she is not real: Lara Croft does not exist as a woman.  Indeed, as one writer argued: ‘Lara is anatomically impossible (…) [and] if you genetically engineered a Lara-shaped woman, she would die within around 15 seconds since there's no way her tiny abdomen could house all her vital organs’ [42] .  Lara Croft is composed of a melange of idealised body parts perhaps vaguely based on some live models [43] .   It could be argued that she is also modelled in a similar style to Japanese ‘Manga’ animation; with larger than life eyes and a body which is too out of proportion to be anatomically accurate.  Lara, as can be seen from the screen shot [44] , is designed to appear both attractive and physically powerful:

‘[This fetishism] builds up the physical beauty of the object transforming it into something satisfying in itself’ (Mulvey, 1975:25)

  This perhaps explains why, when I first played the game, I spent some time making Lara perform a variety of acrobatic manoeuvres, all of which were far removed from the task of ‘killing’ itself; in this sense, precisely learning how to control her as my avatar.  Perhaps much of the ‘gender’ ambivalence writers such as ‘Miss Kriss’ [45] are identifying, lies in the unusual tension between its basis within the male gaze and its simultaneous identification with an active female protagonist.  If women, as it has been suggested, can feel empowered by and attracted to Tomb Raider, suggests a marked shift in conceptions of subjectivity and identity.  However, this shift is not total and still appears to be rooted in existing gender definitions. 

  As the author explains, psychoanalysis often tends to affirm ‘heterosexual norms and finds its basis in a heterosexual division of the universe’ (Ibid.).  Although Lara does drive the narrative, she is also heavily eroticised by psychoanalysis.  Mulvey suggests that female characters in narrative cinema often halt the narrative flow (Mulvey, 1975: 30) for moments of ‘erotic contemplation’.  Initially, the active narrative role of the protagonist in Tomb Raider seems to defy this, but the game does encourage psychoanalysis to gaze at Lara ‘though male eyes’.  We can manipulate our view of the character to see her from a range of angles using movements of the frame that closely resemble cinematic zooms, tracking shots and pans. These features make the game-play rather clumsy but allow us to completely fetishise the protagonist.  However, such a model for identification clearly does not take into account the possibility that for woman, and sometimes men, identification can occurs across gender lines, perhaps in transgender or bisexual negotiations within the individual, as ‘Miss Kriss’ quite rightly points out.  If we follow Steve Wynne’s further suggestion that men are ‘transgendering’ themselves when they play Tomb Raider, Mulvey’s model becomes complicated.  This, as ‘Kriss’ observes, does not imply that ‘men are looking at Lara through women’s eyes’ but postulates an argument that to play Lara in a 3D game-space is to experience also to experience ‘being a woman in (…) in a secure virtual world’ 

Psychoanalysis and Responsibility

  Skirrow’s (1986) analysis of ‘video games’ remains, to date, the only attempt to use psychoanalysis on the gaming experience that I have found.  Her discussion raises some relevant points; although in many respects, I feel she has performed a somewhat metaphorical smothering of games through the authority of the psychoanalytic lens.  At outset, Skirrow raises a bold statement: that the pleasure of video games is ‘gender-specific’; women, she argues ‘do not play them’ (127).  What is interesting here, is that Skirrow, much like Henry Jenkins, begins by asserting gender binaries (in terms of game-spaces, Jenkins rather crassly calls these ‘blue’ and ‘pink’ ghettoes).  However, unlike Skirrow, Jenkins does at least acknowledge that both genders will in fact ‘play’ games, although their desires can easily be polarised into a ‘traditionally masculine interest in plot action and a traditionally feminine interest in character relations’ (292).  Some games, he maintains, contain fusions of both gender, although the spaces within these games often construct a tasteless and rather trite ‘gendered’ fantasy scenario of dreams: ‘sports for boys and musical performance for girls, graffiti-laden inner-city basketball courts for boys and pastoral gardens for girls’ (294).  He considers an androgynous game where in order to win, ‘the player must become both the male and the female protagonists’ (Ibid.).  For Jenkins, the challenge for the industry is to ‘invent new kinds of virtual play spaces’.

  My belief is that gendering the game-space is often problematic.  Drawing from the work of Klein, Skirrow establishes the link between boys and the ‘hostile’ spaces of the games.  Upon studying the representational content of play in relation to boys, Klein discovered their ‘displacement of everything that is frightening and uncanny onto the invisible inside of the woman’s body’.  Upon this premise, Skirrow begins to build her argument: ‘video games (…) aim more at satisfying the player’s curiosity about the interior of the body from which the supply – and the player himself – originates’ :123).  Later, this observation is encouraged further, when:

 ‘The boy, putting all his faith in the omnipotence of his penis-as-magic-wand (…) turns the danger from an internal to an external one and ‘embodies’ it as his father’s penis inside his mother’s body (…) Once having entered the mother’s body in fantasy he risk [sic] the danger of being castrated by his father’s penis, which is waiting for him in there, or of having his own penis prevented from retreating, and being shut inside his mother’s body’ (Ibid.132)

  Good performance in the womb-like labyrinth allows intact escape for the boy.  Skirrow clearly had definite intentions for her reading of gaming; she set out to study a ‘new’ cultural phenomenon within the parameters of a Kleinian framework, which is perhaps more than can be said for my conclusion.  Donald provides an enlightening and significant counter-argument here: that the emphasis on fantasy ‘as an organising force both within psychic life and within a variety of cultural forms (…) is clearly quite different from many more orthodox forms of Freudian interpretation.  All too often, those involved a hunt for sexual symbolism, spotting a penis and a breast here or a mouth and a womb there, searching out such bodily parts in apparently the most innocent texts’ (Donald, 1989:136).  While I am not completely arguing for the textual ‘innocence’ of the games, I think both Jenkins and Skirrow have proven an important point: that the 3D game-space itself should remain outside gender binaries of analysis.  I like to think of this space as a structure within which a mise-en-scene can be constructed.  The space itself is rather a template, one, which through the agency of interactivity provided by the dynamics of the game ‘engine’, can be constructed for a gendered reading to take place.  That the meaning of the corporeal ‘body’ is changing in light of new social, symbolic and cultural practices, and that a subsequent erosion of subjectivities and identities seems to be closely bound up with the heightened sense of mediation offered by 3D spaces is a possible avenue for further investigation.  However, 3D game-spaces articulate new structures of address, inflecting upon new ways in which we can view the world, and equally importantly, how it views us.

View Bibliography

[1] Haddon (1999) offers a historical account of this, and cites MIT labs early 1960s mainframe game Spacewar as the first to successfully move over to coin-op arcades in 1971.  See also Provenzo, Jr., E.F (1991:8-27) for an account of the origins of the gaming market, and Levy, S. (1984) for more in-depth accounts of the early production of games at MIT.  See also <>

[2] See: <>, <>.  On the rivalry between the major console platforms, see: <>

[3] ‘Computer gaming falls readily into genres as rigid as those of nineteenth-century academic painting’ (Stallabrass, 1996:86)

[4] Literally called this because of the perspective they employ.  This was a technique first used in the film A Lady in the Lake, where the camera throughout the film adopts the main protagonist’s ‘subjective’ position.  In such games, the participant is unable to see their character, unless (as in the film) they are facing a ‘mirror’ inside the game-space.  All that is seen is a hand, often holding a weapon, towards the bottom and in the centre of the screen.

See: <>

[5] Science Fiction films often narrativise the past within the guise of a futuristic mise-en-scene (although here ‘the past’ must be carefully defined in relation to its present).  This is something that Star Wars realises in its opening sequence, with the epic text opening the film in a ‘Once Upon a Time…’ context

[6] Comments distilled from Stam et al. (1992:128-9) can perhaps make explicit this distinction; in this phase the infantile subject - in Lacanian terms – comes into being (in terms of ego formation) through identification with an image of its own body.  This image is internalised as an ego ideal, which is subsequently used to form the basis of all later identifications, all of which at this stage, at least, are imaginary in principle (this form ‘situates the agency of the ego, before its social determination, in a fictional direction’ [Lacan, 1977 Cit. Ibid.]).  Thus the Imaginary (‘one of three psychic registers regulating human experience’[Ibid.]) involves ‘a narcissistic structure in which images of otherness are transformed into reflections of the self’.  In this context, the mirror ‘stage’ (although in this context it is perhaps more useful to consider this stage as an ongoing process), which Lacan argued was one of the key stages for ‘identification’ in the cinema (See pp.130), becomes something more when a shift is considered between ‘narrative’ and ‘interactive’, so when the flat surface of the mirror (as in the cinema screen), is stepped inside, so Lacan’s metaphor is extended in relation to something more akin to Lewis Carrol’s Looking Glass in the realm of the interactive game.

[7] For example, consider the James Bond film; in this corpus, specific narrative devices are re-engaged in different mise-en-scenes, to instil in their spectator, notions of familiarity and narrative continuation.

[8] In the 1980s, familiar software houses such as U.S. Gold, Activision and Ocean all converted blockbuster Hollywood cinema into computer games on a variety of computer platforms.  As the gaming industry has become more established, this has slowly started to function in the other direction: two noteworthy recent examples of game-conversions are the Streetfighter series and Tomb Raider.

[9] Conversely, Mayne (1993:25) argues that cinema’s dominant position as chief narrator in the second half of the twentieth-century lay precisely in its superiority over the nineteenth-century novel at producing and sustaining a complete ‘illusion of reality’; one far superior to its literary counterpart.

[10] See Manovitch (1999:174) ‘Cinema emerged out of the same impulse which engendered naturalism, court stenography and wax museums’

[11] The ‘classic’ example for morphing can be found in Terminator II: Judgement Day, although the technique is discussed in (Hayward, P.

[12] Lev Manovitch (1999:184-7) observes the emergence of new cinematic forms from the 1980s onwards, which in his words, abandoned ‘cinematic realism’: these were the music video - a testing bed for early computer interventions over (and into) the mise-en-scene, and CD-ROM [and Laserdisc] based interactive games, which ‘unintentionally’ arrived at a new ‘visual language’, while attempting to emulate cinema.  His argument is that CD-ROMs converged into a ‘hybrid language’ embodying its own new codes and those of ‘modern’ cinema and the nineteenth-century moving image.

[13] Indeed the much publicised DVD release of the film gestured towards interactivity with a ‘white rabbit’ mode where, at certain places in the film, an icon of a rabbit flashes in the corner of the screen, which, when clicked upon, takes the user ‘backstage’, offering extra footage and ‘interactive’ games.

[14] Here I am specifically considering the development of the Canadian-owned IMAX cinema company   <>.  In addition to boasting cinema screens four times the size of conventional cinema see: <>, which demands more technologically advanced apparatus to create an ‘unrivalled’ experience for the spectator, offering ‘more immersion than ever experienced before’ See: <>, IMAX has also been employed to create a new wave of commercial theme park simulator rides (see main website), whilst also offering a superficial level of interactivity, for example, in the form of interactive ‘teaching-resources’ for educational purposes (or validity).

[15] Perhaps we might think that such a notion of ‘spectacle’ would encroach upon (get in the way of) immersion, a quality one would perhaps normally consolidate with the narrative axis of a medium (here we may consider being ‘absorbed’ by a ‘good’ book).  Indeed, it seems that spectacle should require the ‘distance’: a ‘looking at’, rather than ‘within’.  The size of the screen, the conditions of cinema spectatorship; and the various technologies of verisimilitude have, in this respect, overcome that difficulty so as to make spectacle work for immersion, but computer techniques (such as IMAX and digitisation) would appear to offer a new stage in that ‘progression’.

[16] See Barthes ‘Isn’t storytelling always a way of searching for one’s origins’ (1975:47), Freud ‘the case histories I write (…) read like short stories’ (1893/1974:231)

[17] Cf: Melanie Klein’s formulation of the good/bad object divide.  This model is worthy of mention now, as it offers a simple model for our understanding of good/bad (i.e. health, objects, shields, keys / toxins, enemy bullets, monsters) object division within game-spaces.

[18] In this area, writers such as Barbara Klinger have discussed the difference between the cinema experience and that of the ‘home theater’ and the implications behind the relocation of the viewing away from the institutional parameters of the cinematic apparatus.

[19] Likely locations could be considered in universities, at work, or in houses or warehouses.

[20] All games now incorporate software routines for a number of gaming recommended ‘industry standards’ for example, Direct Draw, Open GL, EAX and A3D sound support, although these are not necessarily needed in order for the game to be played at a ‘minimised’ resolution and speed.

[21] See Friedberg p.264, fn.103

[22] “‘Virtual Reality’ Takes Its Place in the Real World”, New York Times, July 8, 1990 (cit. Friedberg, 1994:143)

[23] see: <>

[24] see: <>

[25] As in William Gibson’s city of bits (See Gibson, W. Neuromancer, 1984)

[26] Here an analogy is being drawn between the ‘anonymity’ Baudelaire expressed within the Parisian streets, and the space of the game, within which the participant is present, although their presence is mediated through a small graphical representation of their character.

[27] And one area where we experience the id is in the internal labyrinths of our dreams.  In the case of my flatmates this year, every member who has played 3D Doom style games has found iconic elements of their style creeping into their dreams, including myself on several occasions.  Although the validity of the id in contemporary psychology seems to be a subject of contention, there exists strong evidence that the id’s is relied upon by games manufacturers.  This becomes clear when we examine the games advertising.  Consider the advertising slogan for Nihilist, a recent Sony Playstation game: “Psychologists say inside every 18- to 35-year-old male, there lies a potential psychotic killer (…) Can he come out to play?” (cit. Davies, 1998:204).  

[28] For detailed information on the 3D engine, see: <>

[29] The term ‘avatar’ originates from Hinduism, (in Sanskrit meaning literally ‘descent’) and refers to a ‘manifestation of a deity or released soul in bodily form on earth’ (Pearsall, 1999:91).  The name has subsequently been translated into ‘Virtual Reality’, in relation to a movable 3D character, or a pseudonym and identity a player gives to themselves in MUDs

[30] See: <>

[31] See: <>

[32] For Example: <>

[33] In a recent C4 documentary, Dispatches <> fears were expressed concerning the ‘health’ of children who play Doom for considerable periods of time.  Although my intention is not to move into an exposition of the debates surrounding the effects of gaming, that a series of high-school killings occurred by the hand of a child with ‘no previous record of juvenile delinquency’, perhaps enforces the suggestion that a similar form of identity shifting may have been taking place at some level, which was carried over beyond the game itself.

[34] Italics added (my emphasis).

[35] Exterior: [adj.] ‘forming, situated on, or relating to the outside. > (in filming) outdoor. [n.] the outer surface or structure of something. > a person’s apparent behaviour or demeanour. (Pearsall, 1999:503).

[36] Although in the case of Half Life, developments in AI are showing marked improvements.  Many of the later generations of games using id’s 3D engine, are producing characters that not only fight with seemingly ‘real’ intelligence, but also address the participant as (in the case of Half-Life’s protagonist), he enters a room with other ‘human’ characters.

[37] See images online for example <>

[38] Most of the Doom games have ‘cheat’ functions built into them at design stage.  This, I believe, is largely to make game-testing a little easier, but functions in similar ways to the ‘secrets’ embedded deep within the labyrinths; when a combination of keys can render the knowledgeable participant all-powerful or omnipotent these functions become just another aspect of the game to discover.

[39] We must not forget that although Mulvey’s theories can still be ported straight over to a number of recent Hollywood films (for example, The Mask, There’s Something About Mary) her paradigm is by no means concrete.  Mulvey was dealing with a specific period of cinema: ‘exemplified at its best by Hollywood in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s’ (1975:23) and she acknowledges that alternative cinema, and thus, alternative modes of representation (re-presentation) have occurred since then.

[40] Perhaps one of the most significant problems with such games is precisely this compulsion to repeat; although many newer-generation multiplayer games (such as Counter Strike) move towards a greater realism; away from running and shooting, towards ‘hiding’ and patience.  (see: footnote 31)

[41] I have prepared specific examples of this: <>

[42] See: <>

[43] Just to exemplify this further, many people offer different statistics on her (see above footnote)

[44] See: <>

[45] See: <>