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Graduation Term


Document Type

Dissertation-ISU Access Only

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English: English Studies

Committee Chair

James Kalmbach


The concept of embodiment is underutilized in games studies, and research on how embodiment works in the context of performance in complex simulations like those in many computer games is just beginning to appear. Utilizing a rich conceptual triad of simulation/embodiment/performance can move the games studies and new media studies fields towards more vibrant understandings and theories of how we experience and make use of identity in computer games. Through an engagement with this simulation/embodiment/performance framework, I will attempt to clarify what is meant by "the experience of identity." I will define it by distinguishing the perceptual significances of simulation, enlarging/expanding the understanding of embodiment, and illustrating the indispensable connections between these ideas to performance of identity and self. Adding an expanded and enriched conception of embodiment to the more commonly utilized models of simulation and performance can reveal the multiform ways we experience identity and self in open world games with complex character-identity creation systems, which are essentially sophisticated simulations.

Open world games with complex character-identity creation systems facilitate opportunities to explore identity and self as a complex, dynamic, contextual, experiential, emergent process, rather than an intractable given, and may provide a means to study the social and cultural significances of identity in productive and meaningful ways. These opportunities can be used to challenge the binaries that permeate common assumptions regarding identity and digital media in popular culture and our daily lives.

At Heartland Community College, I designed and taught a cultural studies popular culture course based on emergent pedagogies to explore how embodied-performed gameplay, in conjunction with reflective writing blogs and student-generated discussions. The emergent affordances of the open world game with complex character-identity, in combination with the emergent pedagogies, sanctioned the revelation of behaviors and assumptions inherent in our culture and complex understandings about social, cultural, and ideological constructions of sex and gender. Through discussions, students were able to build, examine, and assess their own localized knowledge from their own experiences and those of their classmates.


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