Authored by: Michael Nitsche

The Routledge Companion to Video Game Studies

Print publication date:  December  2013
Online publication date:  January  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415533324
eBook ISBN: 9780203114261
Adobe ISBN: 9781136290510


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Performance in video games is often used to describe the effectiveness in successfully mastering a game or game situation. While this remains one aspect, this essay uses a wider approach and borrows from performance as an expressive and artistic practice. Schechner’s tentative definition of performance presents it as “[r]itualized behavior conditioned/permeated by play” (Schechner, 2003, p. 99). Pelias and VanOosting approach it as “the performative nature of human communication” (Pelias & VanOosting, 1987, p. 221). Whether one traces the origins of performance back to sociology and anthropology or to communication and speech, one core element is shared: performance is about doing. While departments in theater and drama discuss the text, its evolution over time, the stage, the history, and other elements in the theatrical process, performances grow from the act of performing itself. This seems to confine performance art to a subsection of the traditional theater field, but the act of performing has been framed much wider than its initial view of a staged event in the theater. Performance is found not only on a theatrical stage but also in everyday life, religious rituals, or public ceremonies (Goffman, 1959). As a result, a theatrical show is understood as one specific instance of performance practice that is consciously staged and witnessed in a dedicated setting. The overall field of performance appears as a wider perspective that includes any number of conditions and behaviors. Scholarship on this perspective has formed its own academic field since the 1960s, known as performance studies. Performance studies is highly interdisciplinary, drawing connections to anthropology (Turner, 1966), literature (Bacon, 1988), and communication (Conquergood, 2002) among other fields. It lives a life “betwixt and between” theory and practice so that

[w]e can think of performance (1) as a work of imagination, as an object of study; (2) as a pragmatics of inquiry (both as model and method), as an optic and operator of research; (3) as a tactics of intervention, an alternative space of struggle.

(Conquergood, 2002, p. 152)

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