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Jacqueline Blanks Abstract

Cultural History and Ideologies as Inspiration for Video Games

The dissertation will offer an in-depth analysis of computer and video games in connection to real-world (historical, cultural, ideological) inspirations that help shape the design of the game world (navigable space the player interacts with) and influence the narrative elements of the game. The games are understood as narrative spaces in which certain forms of presentation give clues to the player, the so-called narrative elements. I conclude that gameplay and narrative elements work together to create a representational space the player explores to construct meaning.The use of real-world concepts and conflicts help enrich a game's atmosphere. The ultimate goal is then to create a believable, coherent gameworld the player can relate to and immerse in while still providing an interesting and challenging gameplay.
The second part of the dissertation will offer an analysis of different games that heavily draw upon American cultural history and ideologies – the BioShock and Fallout game series. BioShock draws heavily on the life and work of the American novelist and essayist Ayn Rand (1905-1982). Her novel, Atlas Shrugged, – in which the brightest and most productive minds of the world go on strike by withdrawing from the world into a hidden utopian-capitalist refuge – served as a blueprint for the setting of BioShock, the city of Rapture. Atlas Shrugged presents in dramatized form the essence of Rand's ideology of Objectivism, which also plays an important role within the gameworld of BioShock.
BioShock Infinite offers a strong critique on religious and nationalistic fanaticism, which is embodied in the game's narrative by Zachary Hale Comstock, the political and religious leader of the floating utopia 'Columbia,' where the game's story is set. Comstock's ideology reminds of the wording and reasoning of Manifest Destiny, as he envisioned Columbia to be a true America that would finally fulfill God's providential plan. The focus will consequently be based on earlier ideological concepts – such as Puritanism, a providential reading of American History, and Millennialism – and their interrelation with Manifest Destiny.
The Fallout game series is inspired by the life and culture of the American 1950s and the Cold War Era. It is set in a post-nuclear United States somewhere in the future. This future, however, is designed as if imaged in the past: it mirrors the hopes, fears, and expectations of Americans in the Atomic Age. Retrofuturism – the visualization of the future from a past perspective – is an important theme in the game series.
The dissertation will close with a discussion of dystopian fantasies and the question why men are drawn to dystopian worlds or ultimately their own destruction.