Performativity in Art, Literature, and Videogames

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Performativity in Art, Literature, and Videogames

Darshana Jayemanne

Palgrave Macmillan: London, UK, 2017

ISBN: 978-3-319-54451-9

The case for videogames to be viewed as art has long been argued by scholars such as Brett Marlin (who argues that art should be judged on merit and not production) and Grant Taylor (for whom videogames represent one of the most significant developments in the mass arts of recent times). Now, with the huge global audiences that are provided by the continued rise of eSports and live streaming video platforms such as Twitch, videogames as performance is a topic that has recently begun to receive more attention.

In this book, Darshana Jayemanne (Lecturer in Art, Media, and Games, at Abertay University, UK) presents a central thesis that videogames as performances are messy and that they lack a homogeneity that lends itself to linear analysis. To illustrate this point, Jayemanne asks us to consider how performing a jump in the classic arcade game Donkey Kong differs from doing so in the modern FPS Destiny. Jumping in either of these games performs an operation that is both functional and aesthetic to that particular game, but how can they be compared, and can it be argued (should it be argued) that one is more pleasing than the other?

Drawing on the work of J.L. Austin and others, Jayemanne develops the notion that while other art forms have also struggled with finding ways to determine a commonality of language through which to describe their performance, allowing for a certain heterogeneity is central for enabling this language to develop, especially given the various needs and familiarities of the varied audiences that both play and experience videogames.

In addition to outlining a rationale for why performance in videogames is both important and multi-layered, Jayemanne offers several useful tools for developing a considered methodology for understanding videogame performance, including a typology of performance and a comparative method for analysis. Alongside complementary frameworks such as those offered by Clara Fernández-Vara and Jesper Juul, these tools will be very helpful to assist other scholars wishing to continue and develop the work that is presented here.

Given the aforementioned rise of eSports, and the crucial role that this will likely play in defining how videogame performances come to be framed by different audiences, I would have liked to have seen a more in-depth discussion of how this has already started to occur. However, this is a relatively minor gripe in what is otherwise an in-depth and incredibly well-researched consideration of performativity in videogames; one which will be of interest to game and performance studies scholars alike.