Playing with Constrained Agency: Video Games and the Question of “Choice”

6334Juliette Ludeker (left) and Wendy Anderson (right)

Juliette M. Ludeker, PhD Student, Rhetoric and Composition, English Dept, Purdue University and Wendy K.Z. Anderson Doctoral Candidate, Rhetorical and New Media Studies, Humanities Dept, Michigan Technological University

My Thoughts

An interesting short (15 minute) lecture on the use of choice in games – and two very different experiences with a forced playing of a game. This lead to their research area (which is starting) which doesn’t work on binary definitions, since they have found out it is entirely useless to use such things.


Both people didn’t play during University, either not having played before or stopped playing at graduate school. But one season a professor asked every student to pick and choose a game to play for half a year.

Rhetoric definition here (a lot of text, a lot of definitions, I didn’t note them all)

Chose the game World of Warcraft – characters Gangrena (Juliette), who wanted more choices to make it more like herself, had to be a skinny girl with limited things. Vegetarian also, which was a problem – at a certain level you need to cannibalise, proved it to herself to only cannibalise other humanoids since they could reason about it. Lots of poor experiences, in a “little girl go home” way.

Absessa (Wendy) had a better time – friends and family already on there, give them gold and so forth. Changed characters a lot, first 9 were women – at level 20 got a new character. Started being followed a lot. Called “Matts wife”. Did a male, played with husband who also played a male, and got to level 70.

WoW is complicated – lots of buttons to learn. Sony Playstation is similar.

Then along came the Wii, Juliette, the non-gamer, immediately enjoyed it, both of them had fun. Why?

Part of the success is the WiiMote itself. Familiarity with it is key. In party groups, a lot of action with 4 players and so forth. Why?

Limitation of Binary – Men v. Women, Fast v. Slow, Young v. Old. – struggled with these binaries. Too limiting for explaining whats going on. Easy to say “You can’t do something because of your XXX”, which is bad.

So using this they’re building a theory on this using empirical evidence. This isn’t completed yet.

From questions:

Why is the Playstation controller hard to use for Women rather then Men?

Possibly because it is large and harder for women to get a hold on. Not evidence however, just thought on the top of the head. You can’t now just say it’s women only, but people with small hands – although kids play it just fine!

Hardcore players can invest the time in even if the controller is hard to use (original Xbox controllers were too huge for kids too).

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