CATS Logbook – Session 7/8 – Critical Perspectives

Our 7th and 8th CATS sessions were entitled “Introduction to Critical Perspectives. First of all, we considered how exactly a critical perspective can be formed. To do this within the realms of technology, we must ask the following questions:

  • How do we use technology?
  • How do we interact with it? Physically? Mentally?
  • How does this effect us as a subject.

The definition of the subject is “a person or thing that is being discussed, described or dealt with” or “a thinking or feeling entity; the conscious mind; the ego, especially as opposed to anything external to the mind”. We then went back to the TED Talk that we watched by Sherry Turkle (you can read my post on this talk here). It may not have been immediately clear to us at the first viewing, but it is now clear that Turkle is offering a critical perspective herself on social media and technology.

Next, I learned that critical perspectives can be used to help develop analysis of society and culture. I also learned that we can identify key perspectives within cultural studies that can also be used to get us to think of ourselves as the subjects and as society.

We were then introduced to two key theoretical perspectives. These are Psychoanalysis and Feminism. To think critically, it is important to understand that we can think critically about history that we come across and relate to within our chosen subjects. This is where “theory” becomes a very large part of thinking critically. We use the theory to help us to understand and then think critically about cultural production, its content and meaning. Critical perspectives give us the capacity to form our own thinking and make up a part of the toolbox of skills necessary to advance further with this portion of my degree.

At this point, we all split into groups and watched two game trailers. We were given two key theories and an image of the game to supplement this. We were to discuss what the theory might be about and what ideas were attached to it. We were then to feedback to the larger group and discuss further. The games we were given were “Silent Hill: Book of Memories” for Psychoanalysis and “Tomb Raider” for Feminism.

My group (Phil Maclennan, Jason Pook and Myself) came up with the following suggestions:

Silent Hill: Book of Memories

  • Creating a personal avatar – puts the player into the midst of the game.
  • Avatars created resemble teenagers. Thus, they are of an adolescent mindset. Adolescent mindsets are more easily manipulated, and this puts the player into that mindset.

Tomb Raider

  • There is a question as to whether the design of Lara Croft is objectifying women or if the design of Lara Croft causes her to be a feminist icon.
  • Designed by men in the mid 90s, attitudes have changed since then.
  • In the newest game (reboot of series), Lara is designed to be attractive, despite being battered and bruised.
  • Appearance was changed to be more relatable for female gamers.

Using critical perspectives will help in the analysis of pretty much any cultural artifact in the following ways:

  • Representation
  • Stereotypes
  • Character Design
  • Narrative
  • Concepts/Motifs
  • Experience
  • Genre and Stylisation

At this point, we were introduced to Sigmund Freud. Freud was an Austrian Psychiatrist. His career in psychology is very important as he invented the therapy of psychoanalysis. Freud graduated from medical school in Vienna in 1881. Freud’s ideas in the field of psychoanalysis continued until being forced to leave Austra to seek refuge from the Nazis. He moved to London in 1938.

We learned that the idea behind psychoanalysis, as described by Freud, is that the unconscious is created as a young child. Their natural drives and instincts start to be disciplined by cultural rules and norms of society. Thus, the child is forced to repress these drives and instincts. This repression is what creates the unconscious. As a result of this, we can never truly know ourselves.

We went on to cover what exactly psychoanalysis is. This can be summarised by the following quote.

“Psychoanalysis is a theory of the human mind, a therapy for mental distress, an instrument of research and a profession. A complex intellectual, medical and sociological phenomenon”

– Ivan Ward and Oscar Zarate, Introducing Psychoanalysis, 2000

We learned that over time, Psychoanalysis has shown:

  • The relationship between sexuality and human motivation
  • The hidden meanings of psychological events
  • The importance of childhood
  • Psychic conflict as part of the human condition

We then were introduced to two notable feminists, Linda Nochlin and Griselda Pollock. They are both “Feminist Art Historians”. We learned that analysts in feminist circles suggest that the cultural system and it’s writing of history have institutionalised sexism. We also were introduced to the concept that the very idea of “The Artist” and “Art History” (his-story) could be viewed as a construct of masculine nature. The idea behind feminist theory is that female artists are and have been ignored and “written out” of cultural history.

We then looked at exactly what feminism is. The definition of a feminist is “The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. We learned that feminism was most prominent during the French and American revolutions in the late 18th century. Britain did not see an emergence of feminism until the suffragette movement in the late 19th century, and there was a 2nd wave of feminism in the 60s, which focused on unity and sisterhood.

Further to this, the Tate Glossary defines “Feminist Art” as “Art by women artists made consciously in the light of developments in feminist art theory since about 1970”.

We then learned that gender is largely a social construction and feminism allows us to think more critically about these stereotypes.

In relation to games and new media, these following quotes illustrate the current state of gender in the games industry.

“Today there is a ‘general recognition that things are more complicated in terms of games and gender and that the older stereotypes are often being perpetuated by the games industry and a certain hardcore contingent of players but do not reflect actual player demographics or interests.”

Steven E. Jones, The Meaning of Video Games, 2008

“With games moving into centre stage as a dominant form of creative and social media, the demographics of players have dramatically expanded to include young and old and male and female in what has been called a ‘casual revolution.’’

Larissa Hjorth, Games and Gaming, 2011

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