Players of the Flesh

Tom Tyler (Lecturer in Digital Culture, School of Media and Communication, University of Leeds, UK)


Videogames, it has been claimed, are the pre-eminent art form of the 21st century. They certainly hold great expressive and persuasive power, and the potential to exert significant influence on the identity and sense of self of anyone who engages with them. So what do games tell us about the fleshy nature of the creatures who appear in and play them? Meat is ubiquitous in videogames and, when consumed by avatars or their agents, will frequently confer some aid or benefit. In many games it serves as the most nourishing form of sustenance for those who are hungry, but it can also operate as the most effective restorative for those who are injured, as a potent source of temporary power-ups and enhancements, or as a valuable resource to be spent on permanent improvements and upgrades. In short, in so far as it functions as an indispensable, life-giving food stuff, meat comes to represent vitality. As a common condition of humans and animals, however, meat can also take on a rather different significance, as is illustrated by the game Super Meat Boy. We will consider the ambivalent claim that Meat Boy is a “boy made of meat”, alongside the game’s contentious promotion and reception, and its problematic politics of the flesh.