(University of Leeds)
Videogames offer diverse affective experiences, from the pain that comes with getting stuck or failing altogether to the pleasures of progression and ultimate success. The vicissitudes of play are a vital part of the videogame experience: the game that is consistently too easy soon becomes boring, whilst the game that is too hard inevitably becomes frustrating. One way in which designers have attempted to sustain an appropriate degree of challenge for the diverse players who would engage with their game, is to provide a means of adjusting the difficulty of the tasks and trials it presents. In this presentation, I want to reflect on the figure of the videogame player, particularly the ordinary or typical player, whom we might call the “everyplayer.” I will take as a starting point the influential first-person shooter Half-Life 2 (Valve Corporation, 2004), set in a dystopian future populated by nightmarish monsters and ruled over by a technologically advanced alien power. I will consider Gordon Freeman, a member of the human resistance and so-called everyman hero of the game, with whom players are invited to identify. I will look, at the same time, at the three difficulty settings that players are offered by the game: Easy, Normal and Hard. Drawing on the work of games scholar Espen Aarseth, I will examine the ways in which any given videogame sets expectations of its players, and indeed inescapably implies a particular kind of player who is eligible to take part. We will find that the myth of the ordinary or typical player is a pernicious illusion and, further, that the player of videogames need not even be human.
Tom Tyler is a Lecturer in Digital Culture at the University of Leeds, UK. He has published widely on animals and anthropocentrism within the history of ideas, critical theory, and popular culture. He is the author of CIFERAE: A Bestiary in Five Fingers (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), co-editor of Animal Encounters (Leiden: Brill, 2009), and editor of Animal Beings (Parallax #38, 12.1, 2006).