Informatics Seminar Series
Fall Quarter 2019

Friday, November 22, 2019

“In This Game That We’re Playing: George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Video Games”

Soraya Murray, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Film and Digital Media
UC Santa Cruz

Traces of George Orwell’s critiques of totalitarian society, in both blunt and subtle forms, exist throughout video games. Major themes of dystopia, surveillance culture, technologies of control, authoritarianism, and the oppression of a large underclass exist in innumerable game narratives and environments. Do these simulations encourage critical thought around the eventuality of totalitarianism, of which Orwell warned? Or, are these games merely systems in which to practice a kind of entrapment, in which so-called “freedom” may be practiced within a medium that is exceedingly ordered in its very constitution? Through the stories games tell, as well as in the very form of video games, is it even possible to truly stimulate a model of criticality? This essay proposes that the critical influence of Nineteen Eighty-Four exists not only in video game narratives and the constitution of their navigable spaces, but also in the wide variety of strategies, rule-based systems, rhetorical capacities, ethical problematics and—most importantly—their “better” kinds of failure.

Professor Soraya Murray is an interdisciplinary scholar who focuses on contemporary visual culture, with particular interest in contemporary art, film and video games. Murray holds a Ph.D. in art history and visual studies from Cornell University, and an MFA in Studio Art from the University of California, Irvine. She is an Associate Professor in the Film + Digital Media Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Murray's writings are published in Art Journal, Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, CTheory, Public Art Review, Third Text, ROMchip, PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, and Critical Inquiry. Her two anthologized essays on the military game genre, gender and race may be found in Gaming Representation: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Video Games, eds. Jennifer Malkowski and TreaAndrea M. Russworm (Indiana University Press, 2017) and in Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming, eds. Pat Harrigan and Matthew G. Kirschenbaum (The MIT Press, 2016). Most recently, she has contributed to the anthology How to Play Video Games, eds. Nina Huntemann and Matthew Payne (NYU Press, 2019) and Through the Black Mirror: Deconstructing the Side Effects of the Digital Age, eds. Terence McSweeney and Stuart Joy (Palgrave, 2019). Murray's book, On Video Games: The Visual Politics of Race, Gender and Space (I.B. Tauris, 2018), focuses on post-9/11 era mainstream games and considers how they both mirror and are constitutive of larger societal fears, dreams, hopes and even complex struggles for recognition.

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