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Private, Immersive Nature of Video Games
by Sanghee Oh `

Any video game avatar selection screen proves itself to be a strong linkage to psychoanalysis. An avatar is the player himself and the objectified Other simultaneously by choice and through the process of immersion, and the player’s pleasure of looking at his own is a two-folded action of looking and of being looked at, frequently generating instances of self-indulgence and narcissism. As seen in this particular clip, the player takes pleasure in exhibiting the body and admiring its attributes. The body takes forms of both graphic and numeric data, authenticised by the presence of mouse pointer that proves the image is not altered, and by the demonstration of physical movements that reflects his physical prowess. The bodily possessions (gears and items) are also displayed in forms of visualized data and placed onto the human-like body for the admiring eyes. They serve one purpose: to admire and to be admired at. It is an instance of Scopophilia, what Laura Mulvey calls ““the erotic basis for pleasure in looking at another person as object. At the extreme, it can become fixated into a perversion … only sexual satisfaction can come from watching, in an active controlling sense, an objectified other.” In her essay written in 1975, Mulvey linked the concept of scopophilia to the traditional cinema viewership, and argued that “the extreme contrast between the darkness in the auditorium (which also isolates the spectators from one another) and the brilliance of the shifting patterns of light and shade on the screen helps to promote the illusion of voyeuristic separation. Although the film is really being shown, is there to be seen, conditions of screening and narrative conventions give the spectator an illusion of looking in on a private world. Among other things, the position of the spectators in the cinema is blatantly one of repression of their exhibitionism and projection of the repressed desire on to the performer.” Now, replace “cinema” with “video games”. Given the interactive nature of video games, Mulvey’s argument from 35 years ago does not seem too outdated in today’s culture. Video game avatars are today’s mirror images that players work hard to meet his ideals. Mulvey summarized this phenomenon in the Lacanian language: “the image recognised is conceived as the reflected body of the self, but its misrecognition as superior projects this body outside itself as an ideal ego, the alienated subject. which, re-introjected as an ego ideal, gives rise to the future generation of identification with others.” Through the interactive structure of video games, two subjectivities (the “I” and the Other I) are met, and produce visual pleasure. It seems to be similar to the pleasure we draw from the cinema, yet more complex in its process and form, especially considering the growing number of emerging Other selves who are online-personalified in MMORPG. I have been told by my guild mates: “You look nothing like a gnome I know!”

This Commentary is related to the following Clips:
Oblivion Character Display by LeeLee4eva (2008) View of character during gameplay of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.