Cinesthetic Play, or Gaming in the Flesh

Grasping Celeste by Adapting the Cinesthetic Subject Into a Phenomenology of Videogaming

  • Danny Steur Utrecht University


This paper adapts Vivian Sobchack’s (2004) concept of the cinesthetic subject, which addresses the corporeality of the cinematic experience, to the medium of videogaming. I thus develop the concept of cinesthetic play by translating the three components constitutive of Sobchack’s cinesthetic subject: cinema, kinesthesia, and synesthesia. The mediality of cinema is translated with recourse to another of Sobchack’s concepts, the film body, which has previously been translated into the game body (Crick, 2011). I then illustrate synesthetic sense-making of game-worlds and discuss how the notion of kinesthetic empathy figures in videogaming. These three components together mitigate some limitations of previous phenomenological models of gaming, which do not similarly integrate the human sensorium’s different modalities. I conceive of cinesthetic play as hybrid real-and-virtual embodiment, in which players corporeally understand a game through a perception that is informed by commutating senses and their tacit understanding of the movements of and within the game-world. Additionally, throughout the paper I contend that, although scholarship on videogame phenomenology generally focuses on three-dimensionally navigable games, this embodied experience holds for two-dimensional games as well. I illustrate this point with the game Celeste (Matt Makes Games, 2018), which I use to demonstrate the value of the notion of cinesthetic play for an analysis of the embodied playing and sense-making of videogames.

May 29, 2022