Game Interfaces as Bodily Techniques

Game Interfaces as Bodily Techniques

David Parisi (New York University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-195-9.ch409
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This chapter discusses the way that new video game interfaces such as those employed by Guitar Hero™, Dance Dance Revolution, and the Nintendo Wii™ are being used to invoke the whole body as a participant in the game text. As such, new video games involve more than cognitive education; they impart a set of body habits to the player. Drawing on Marcel Mauss’s concept of “bodily technique,” I propose a new vocabulary for understanding these devices, referring to them as bodily interfaces. Next, I discuss three aspects of bodily interfaces: mode of capture, haptics, and button remapping. In order to help educators take advantage of these developments, I conclude by pointing to theoretical literature on the relationship between the physical and mental aspects of the learning process that may be useful in rethinking electronic games.
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Electronic gaming involves learning new habits of interfacing with game texts. Each new medium brings with it a particular set of what sociologist Marcel Mauss (1973) termed “techniques of the body,” where the body is conditioned to interact with the physical medium according to a set of cultural codes associated with it. In this chapter, I will explore the techniques of the body that emerge in our interactions with electronic games and examine the ways that they are transforming the user’s bodily experience of the medium. It is my argument that electronic gaming trains our bodies to navigate texts in a new and significant way, in some instances electronically reproducing or mimicking the non-electronic (as is the case with games such as Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution), and in others creating a new set of bodily habits. My focus on the interface as something encountered physically is intended to orient the reader away from visual and audio aspects of information display and toward the materiality of the gaming experience. Underlying this focus is the assumption that learning does not happen only through the eyes and ears, but also in the fingers, hands, legs, and feet, and in the skin, muscles and joints.1 So my focus in this chapter on the interface is designed to spark educators’ thinking about electronic games as they are encountered physically by the player, and the new possibilities for learning that this conceptualization provides.2 The gaming body is no longer static and disengaged; it is now hailed as a participant in the game text. As such, playing electronic games becomes a play of the body, invoking what Gardner (1993) in his theory of multiple intelligences referred to as bodily/kinesthetic intelligence, no longer confined to the hands.

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