Drawing on conceptual and methodological resources from game studies, media studies and cultural studies, “Material Allegories and Minecraft” investigates avenues for the reflexive critical play of mainstream video games. This project is set in Milieux, the largest interdisciplinary research unit in media arts and technology in Canada — an ideal environment for recruiting the best HQP for the team and disseminating the research to wider publics.
Despite the affordances of the video game industry and game design practices for deep and engaging immersive and interactive experiences, there is a persistent critique that video games offer less in terms of interpretive potential than other media. According to this logic, playing an “open-ended” video game offers less interpretive flexibility than the most linear novel. For this reason, video games are compelling for education and moral training, but their status as the most hegemonic of media forms remains largely unquestioned.
Rather than claiming that video games make procedural arguments, we argue that players can encounter a video game allegorically. In allegory, our assumptions about the literal meanings of some object or phenomena prove to be too convenient, and we have to put them into tension with more reflexive and provisional ideas. Just as we understand that video games are designed, and that design choices matter in terms of how games are experienced, we argue that the play of video games can be crafted. That is, games themselves are not allegories, but one can play a game allegorically. In effect this project challenges the basic idea that video games are texts to be interpreted hermeneutically. What we present instead is a theory of play and creation. We refer to forms of allegorical play in Minecraft as “the allegorical build.” This is the moment when people use their material experience while playing to think about a range of other things, even while those things are informing their experience of the game. As the most successful video game of all time with a user base of 200 million+, Minecraft is an ideal game for testing this proposition.
- Develop the use of allegorical play theory to expand our understanding of player agencies and their critical potential
- Provide illustrative case studies of the critical potential of allegorical play developed by the research team and undergraduate students in a university course
- Consider game modding cultures as player-centric design practice allowing for the scaffolding of allegorical play; establish a methodology for academic modding as design
- Disseminate our findings through publicly accessible tools and accompanying educational materials, through partnerships with Minecraft Education, the modding community and scholars
Over four years, we will elucidate allegorical play through three interrelated case studies. The first study investigates the similarities between Minecraft and the post-WWII imagination of the future of leisure in Price and Littlewood’s Fun Palace. The second examines how Minecraft frames processes of accumulation and consumption as a form of play while drawing on allegorical play to facilitate counter-play or critical play. The third considers the application of the allegorical build to the imagining of Indigenous futures, in collaboration with the Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (AbTeC) group, extending their work to Minecraft to reframe the neocolonial procedural rhetoric of the game. The final year involves intensive work on two major research outputs: a documentary film and a co-authored book. In combination, these case studies will demonstrate the potential of allegorical play as a mode of critique and analysis of video games, advancing our methodological understanding.