Sebastian Möring

In this paper I would like to argue that textual as well as existential interpretations of computer games are based on an essential care-structure which is fundamental for all actors involved in computer game interpretation designers, players, critics and can be found on all levels of game interpretation. This will reveal the centrality of care in game play, game interpretation and human existence.

In computer game studies one can observe frequently that games are interpreted as representing or being some existential phenomena such as “death, love, work and struggle for power” (Fink 1968, 22). As such for instance games critic Janet Murray famously performs a text interpretation of Tetris (1984) according to which the game enacts work in terms of the work-life of an American office worker in the 1990s (Murray 1997, 144). Game designer Rod Humble wishes his game The Marriage (2006) to be interpreted as representing love through the game’s procedures similar to the paradigm of procedural rhetoric (Bogost 2007). Eventually game players often seek advice in online forums to ease their struggles with difficult games and avoid early deaths in games. To me these interpretations are not exhaustively explained by being identified as such. I am convinced there is a link between these interpretations in that all of them do also contain an element of care and care is essential to all computer game play.

With the help of Heidegger’s hermeneutics of Dasein I aim to show that central to all these game interpretations is what he calls the care-structure (1962). This structure means that in living their lives the world affects human beings and they relate to the world in a particular way. One of the essential ways human beings relate to the world and show this essential care is by means of interpretation. In Heidegger’s hermeneutics the praxis of living is infused with interpretative processes. For instance in our everyday copings we do interpret events in the world as detrimental or beneficial to our projects. Whereas the latter is also known as existential interpretation, textual interpretation is secondary and a derivative of this primary practical interpretation of living.

Based on the aforementioned premises I aim to shed light on the care-structure in games and in game interpretation distinguishing three perspectives according to different actors involved in game interpretation: player, critic, and designer.

From the perspective of the game player the care-structure is revealed by the player’s existential interpretations: In line with Heidegger’s observations I would like to argue that games are essentially existential structures whose gameplay requires care to ensure its ongoing existence (cf. Aarseth 1997; Leino 2009): the Tetris player takes care of falling Tetrominos so that the game does not end prematurely. Playing the game then is a form of caring in that it involves existential interpretation. In this perspective the game is ready-to-hand to the player.

From the perspective of the game critic games are textually interpreted in terms of phenomena at whose core is the essential human care-structure. For the case of Janet Murray’s interpretation of Tetris as work I will argue that Murray firstly performs a text interpretation of Tetris which means that the game is no longer ready-to-hand but present-at-hand in that it becomes an object that is looked at (not one that is used) and which hence it is cared for in a different way. Secondly I will argue that with “work” Murray projects a phenomenon onto the game which plays a central role in the everyday caring and coping of human beings and which has been textualized by pre-existing discourses like for instance the everlasting struggle between capital and labor the latest since Marx. However, I believe this projection is possible not because playing Tetris feels like working as many hold (e.g. Bogost 2006) but because there is an overlap in the different care-structures involved.

Eventually from the perspective of game designers who subscribe to the paradigm of procedural rhetoric I will argue that they care so much for their games being interpreted in terms of existential topics that they overlook that game are always already existential software which require care in order to be played.