Video games are full of objects; whether these are interactable items or the assets that make up the player’s avatar and the world that surrounds them, they are fundamental to the way that these virtual spheres are encountered. Likewise, objects are often associated with a ‘description’, a narrative method to taxonomically explain their relevance and placement within the wider game world.  Each object is frequently encoded with a specific function or purpose, an embedded sense of belonging that is reaffirmed to the user that there is a specific ‘place’ where each object may be ‘used’. Items in video games are thus curated with a specific intent, one that reveals human materialist attitudes and perceptions towards designations of object belonging.

In this paper I argue that video games are the perfect medium to interrogate such anthropocentric notions, in which the encoding of function or textuality reflects upon ‘real’ materialist processes. Indeed, such a critique lies at the core of what I term as ‘Object-Shock’ games (Systemshock, Bioshock, Prey, Dead Space) that encourage the player to re-think their engagement with the world around them through alternate paradigms of item utilisation. Opening with a brief definition of this genre, this paper primarily focuses on Arkane Studios’ Prey (2017) and how the player’s avatar – Morgan Yu – is encouraged to challenge their attitude towards non-human ontologies through their encounter with various disruptions of material boundaries. Analysing resource scavenging, inventory management and object ‘mimicry’, I highlight how such processes within Prey offer new frames of contact with the non-human, ones that cause ‘object-shock’ through new adaptative or transformative formations. Drawing on object-orientated ontology and archaeogaming theory, I argue that video games can uniquely confront anthropocentric perspective towards tool utilisation and thus reflect upon more nuanced framings of object encounter.

About the speaker

Kerry Dodd is a PhD researcher at Lancaster University, UK and Acting Head Editor for Fantastika Journal. His thesis, entitled “The Archaeological Weird: Excavating the Non-human,” examines the intersection between archaeology and Weird fiction. Focusing on the cultural production of the artefact encounter, his thesis focuses on how archaeological framings can offer a re-conceptualisation of object ontology through the Weird. Kerry also works more widely in the fields of: Science Fiction (particularly Cosmic Horror and Cyberpunk), the Gothic, and glitch aesthetics.

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