Brechtian Alienation in Videogames

  • Daniel Joseph Dunne Swinburne University of Technology


Immersion is constantly being broken in video games via the intrusion of mechanics and features that cause no end of distraction, breaking the player’s engagement in both the game’s narrative and in the gameplay. Yet these breaks are an integral part of games, whether through loading, saving or any other mechanical system that detracts from the playing the core game. These aren’t analysed as thoroughly as they could be in current game academia. However Bertolt Brecht’s “Verfremdungseffekt”, or distancing effect, provides a much needed foundation in the analysis of these sections within games that provoke a feeling of alienation.

Author Biography

Daniel Joseph Dunne, Swinburne University of Technology
Tutor and PhD Student in the Faculty of Health Arts and Design, Media and Communications at Swinburne Univesity of Technology. Daniel's PhD research is concerned with discoverving new and alternative ways of creating and analysing narratives in videogames.


Academic References

Adams, E. (2000). Death (And Planescape Torment). Gamasutra. Retrieved from

Arsenault, D. (2005). Dark waters: Spotlight on immersion. In Game-On North America 2005 Conference Proceedings, 50-52.

Bateman, C. (2007). Game Writing: Narrative Skills For Videogames. Boston: Charles River Media.

Boal, A. (2002). Games for actors and non-actors. Psychology Press.

Brecht, B. & Bentley, E. (1961). On Chinese Acting. The Tulane Drama Review, 6(1), 130-136.

Clarke, D., & Duimering, P. R. (2006). How computer gamers experience the game situation: a behavioral study. Computers in Entertainment (CIE), 4(3), 6.

Chen, J. (2007). Flow in games (and everything else). Communications of the ACM, 50(4), 31-34.

Conway, S. (2010). A circular wall? Reformulating the fourth wall for videogames. Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds, 2(2), 145-155.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Csikszentmihalyi, I. S. (Eds.). (1992). Optimal experience: Psychological studies of flow in consciousness. Cambridge University Press.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., Larson, R., & Prescott, S. (1977). The ecology of adolescent activity and experience. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 6(3), 281-294.

Derrida, J. (1976). Of Grammatology. 1967. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 247-72.

Douglas, Y., & Hargadon, A. (2000). The pleasure principle: immersion, engagement, flow. In Proceedings of the eleventh ACM on Hypertext and hypermedia, 153-160.

Farman, J. (2010). Hypermediating the Game Interface: The Alienation Effect in Violent Videogames and the Problem of Serious Play. Communication Quarterly, 58(1), 96-109.

Frasca, G. (2001). Rethinking agency and immersion: video games as a means of consciousness-raising. Digital Creativity, 12(3), 167-174.

Genette, G. (1997). Paratexts: Thresholds of interpretation (Vol. 20). Cambridge University Press.
Immersion Corporation. (2001). Black & White Worksheet. GDC 2001. Retrieved from

Jennett, C., Cox, A. L., Cairns, P., Dhoparee, S., Epps, A., Tijs, T., & Walton, A. (2008). Measuring and defining the experience of immersion in games. International journal of human-computer studies, 66(9), 641-661.

Johnson, D., & Wiles, J. (2003). Effective affective user interface design in games. Ergonomics, 46(13-14), 1332-1345.

Juul, J. (2005). Half-real: Video games between real rules and fictional worlds. MIT press.
Kirkland, E. (2007). The self-reflexive funhouse of Silent Hill. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 13(4), 403-415.

Hocking, C. (2007). Ludonarrative Dissonance in Bioshock. Retrieved from

Laurel, B. (1993). Computers as theatre. 1991. NY: Addison-Wesley.

Lionhead. (2014). Fable II Summary Page. Retrieved from

Mäyrä, F., & Ermi, L. (2005). Fundamental Components of the Gameplay Experience: Analysing Immersion. In Proceedings of DiGRA 2005 Conference: Changing Views–Worlds in Play.

Murray, J. H. (1997). Hamlet on the holodeck: The future of narrative in cyberspace. Simon and Schuster.

Pine, B. J., & Gilmore, J. H. (1999). The experience economy: work is theatre & every business a stage. Harvard Business Press.

Pinchbeck, D. (2006). A theatre of ethics and interaction? Bertolt Brecht and learning to behave in first-person shooter environments. In Technologies for E-Learning and Digital Entertainment (pp. 399-408). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Robinson, D. (2008). Estrangement and the somatics of literature: Tolstoy, Shklovsky, Brecht. JHU Press.

Roberts Space Industries. (2012). Star Citizen Immersion. YouTube. Retrieved from

Rose, F. (2012). The art of immersion: How the digital generation is remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the way we tell stories. WW Norton & Company.

Schrank, B. (2014). Avant-garde Videogames: Playing with Technoculture. MIT Press. 160-179.

Stevenson, J. (1995). The fourth wall and the third space. New York: Center for Playback Theatre. Retrieved from Accessed 25/7/2014.

Torner, E., & White, W. J. (Eds.). (2012). Immersive Gameplay: Essays on Participatory Media and Role-Playing. McFarland.

Verdenius, W. J. (1972). Mimesis: Plato's Doctrine of Artistic Imitation and its Meaning to us (Vol. 3). Brill Archive.

Willett, J. (1964). Brecht on theatre. New York: Hill and Wang.

Wood, R. T., Griffiths, M. D., Chappell, D., & Davies, M. N. (2004). The structural characteristics of video games: A psycho-structural analysis. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 7(1), 1-10.

Game References

2K Australia, 2K Marin, 2K China. (2013). The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. 2K Games.

Bethesda Game Studios. (2008). Fallout 3. Bethesda Softworks.

Bioware Edmonton. (2009). Dragon Age: Origins. Electronic Arts.

Black Isle Studio. (1999). Planescape: Torment. Interplay Entertainment.

Infinity Ward. (2003). Call of Duty. Activision.

KCEJ. (1998). Metal Gear Solid. Konami.

Maxis. (2000). The Sims. Electronic Arts.

Nintendo. (2001). Animal Crossing. Nintendo.

Nintendo EAD (1997). Super Mario 64. Nintendo.

Rare. (1998). Banjo-Kazooie. Nintendo.

Rare. (2001). Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Rare.

Smoking Car Productions. (1997). The Last Express. Broderbund.

Square Enix, Silicon Studio. (2013). Bravely Default. Nintendo.

Volitional Inc. (2013). Saints Row IV. Deep Silver.

Book, Theatre and Film References

Brecht, B. (1936). Round Heads and Pointed Heads

Brecht, B. (1938). Fear and Misery of the Third Reich

Brecht, B. (1941). Mother Courage and Her Children

Ellis, B.E. (1991). American Psycho. New York: Vintage Books.

Welsh, I. (1993). Trainspotting. Secker & Warburg.

Weir, P. (1998). The Truman Show. Paramount.

The Wachowski Brothers. (1999) The Matrix. Joel Silver.
November 21, 2014