The Heroes We Never Are: Interpellation, Subjugation, and the Encoded Other in Fantasy CRPGs

Author

Summary, in English

This thesis explores the topic of interpellation and subjugation in fantasy computer role-playing
games (CRPGs). Using an assemblage-based framework, I argue that CRPG players are hailed
and manipulated by the interplay of several texts and dynamics—mainly prose, code, numerical
values, rule sets, and mechanics. My research focuses on games with extensive textual
narratives that match—or exceed—the length of popular fantasy novels. By analyzing the
Baldur’s Gate series, I call attention to deceitful forms of play commonly found in fantasy
CRPGs. Interpellatory processes lead players to believe they are engaging in heroic
performances and shaping the story, while imposing the enactment of encoded, violent
ideologies and concealing the player’s lack of agency. My analysis of Pillars of Eternity 2:
Deadfire shows that non-playable characters (NPCs) are also constructed through multiple
texts. NPCs are Othered, represented through hegemonic re-inscriptions, absolute properties,
and de-individualized in order to justify their subjugation. Finally, my discussion of Disco
Elysium asserts that fantasy CRPGs can eschew their oppressive conventions—including
heroic figures—while retaining recognizable dynamics. In my discussion, I also consider the
matters of genre, representation, texts across media—and highlight the politics of play in
games, academic research, and beyond.

Summary, in English

This thesis explores the topic of interpellation and subjugation in fantasy computer role-playing
games (CRPGs). Using an assemblage-based framework, I argue that CRPG players are hailed
and manipulated by the interplay of several texts and dynamics—mainly prose, code, numerical
values, rule sets, and mechanics. My research focuses on games with extensive textual
narratives that match—or exceed—the length of popular fantasy novels. By analyzing the
Baldur’s Gate series, I call attention to deceitful forms of play commonly found in fantasy
CRPGs. Interpellatory processes lead players to believe they are engaging in heroic
performances and shaping the story, while imposing the enactment of encoded, violent
ideologies and concealing the player’s lack of agency. My analysis of Pillars of Eternity 2:
Deadfire shows that non-playable characters (NPCs) are also constructed through multiple
texts. NPCs are Othered, represented through hegemonic re-inscriptions, absolute properties,
and de-individualized in order to justify their subjugation. Finally, my discussion of Disco
Elysium asserts that fantasy CRPGs can eschew their oppressive conventions—including
heroic figures—while retaining recognizable dynamics. In my discussion, I also consider the
matters of genre, representation, texts across media—and highlight the politics of play in
games, academic research, and beyond.

Department/s

  • Master's Programme: Literature - Culture - Media

Publishing year

2020

Language

English

Document type

Student publication for Master's degree (two years)

Topic

  • Languages and Literatures

Keywords

  • literary studies
  • electronic literature
  • fantasy
  • game studies
  • role-playing games

Supervisor

  • Cian Duffy (Professor)