UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

When machines long for human warmth : Nier: Automata and the player-game relationship Zhou, Zilin


For a time in the 2010s, there was a heated public debate regarding video games’ potential for and ability to tell stories. This decade also saw an influx of meta games, in which video game conventions and gameplay mechanics are directly referred to within the game’s narrative, blurring the line between plot and programming. A central claim of this thesis is that there is no such line – video games are technology imbued with narrative, code written with ideology. Through a close reading of the 2017 Japanese video game Nier: Automata (Square Enix), I examine how the posthuman themes in its narrative entwine with its meta-references to tell a story about how affect pulls together players and games, and humans and technology. I first focus on structure of the game, which utilizes the narrative technique of focalization to show the same sequence of events from the perspectives of different characters, or “focalizers.” Combined with shifting camera perspectives and gameplay styles, this is structured to be a destabilizing experience for the player. The result is a meta-narrative about the player, who navigates the confusion to make sense of fragmented experiences. In this way, the player becomes a part of the game’s story, highlighting how players and games temporarily merge during play. This close relationship between players and games established through the game’s structure is then extrapolated onto the theoretical framework of the posthuman. What emerges is an exploration of what remains of the self when technology challenges the conventional concept of a stable, singular, and self-evident identity. The game’s answer is affect – portrayed to be the origin of subjectivity and the force that brings together disparate bodies and consciousnesses. Told through gameplay and structure as well as art and writing, this is how affect manifests in a video game, a piece of technology, and entangles the player.

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