Ludic Cyborgism

Game Studies, Cyborgization, and the Legacy of Military Simulation in Videogames

  • Dennis Jansen Utrecht University


This article develops and critiques the concept of ludic cyborgism: the notion that playing videogames allows players a free, non-committal, yet strongly embodied pedagogical engagement with cyborg-being. The article argues that videogame play is a form of cyborgization—the act of becoming a metaphorical cyborg through participation in cybernetic feedback loops. Game Studies has so far neglected to deal with the historical and political implications of this cybernetic engagement, having chosen instead to focus on the supposedly educational and emancipatory aspects of the phenomenon. The history of videogames as simulations is intimately entangled with the development of training simulations in the military-entertainment complex of the late twentieth century United States (Crogan, 2011; Lenoir, 2000), and so what players are principally being taught through videogame play is how to operate military technologies like weapons targeting systems without critiquing the violent nature of those technologies. Moreover, the “cyborg-utopian” reading by game scholars of Donna Haraway’s (1985/1991) “Cyborg Manifesto,” which underlies most of the theoretical framework of ludic cyborgism, facilitates an uncritical understanding of cybernetic videogame play as an ideologically neutral phenomenon. If we wish to bring emancipatory movements into videogames, we should see the simulatory nature of videogames as an inherently conservative force with strong ties to military violence, imperialism, and economic injustice, meaning that these frameworks would require significant transformation in order to become neutral or progressive in any sense.

June 9, 2020