Speaking to the ‘Missing’ Player: Subaltern Poetics in Indian Videogames

The degree of interactivity and agency of the player-character in videogames is often a moot question in Games Studies discourses (Atkins 2002 , Juul 2004, Salen and Zimmerman 2001). The assumption is that whether illusory or real, agency is an important element that drives the plot of digital games. To assume this, however, is to argue from a position of privilege and some videogames use their in-game mechanics to emphasise this. The assumption of a selfhood by the player while playing a digital game is the precondition to the experience of agency. Such a precondition is hardcoded into the gameplay on the basis of a default notion of empowerment and entitlement. What happens, however, in the case of the character that does not provide this sense of agency or for the game wherein such an experience of selfhood may not be possible? Using a well-worn but very relevant term from Postcolonial discourses, one could ask what happens where the game is about the Subaltern. Considering videogame studies from non-Western and South-South perspectives, such a default assumption of selfhood or agency may be challenged. Elsewhere (Mukherjee 2017), I have cited examples from the Cameroon, Indonesia and India that begin to address this challenge. Here, I wish to take two games from India as my texts for close-reading (or close-play) and show how a different poetics operates; indeed, my primary objective is to enquire into how the videogame as a narrative medium, which is by default apparently premised on agency, functions for the subaltern.

Dr Souvik Mukherjee is one of the earliest videogame researchers from India and is the author of two monographs, Videogames and Storytelling: Reading Games and Playing Books and Videogames and Postcolonialism: Empire Plays Back. He is currently employed as assistant professor in Cultural Studies at Centre for Studies in Social Sciences Calcutta. Dr Mukherjee is also a DiGRA Distinguished Scholar. 

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