Digital Dramaturgy - Interactive fiction video games as cyborg theatre of cruelty and ethical choice-making

Thumbnail Image
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Doctoral thesis (article-based)
Degree programme
100 + app. 110
Aalto University publication series DOCTORAL THESES, 25/2022
Cyborg theatre, a term by Jennifer Parker-Starbuck (2011), is described as "metaphorically integrating on-stage bodies with the technologized, digitized, or mediatized, to re-imagine subjectivity for a posthuman age" (Palgrave Macmillan 2011). However, Parker-Starbuck only refers to video games in passing as a type of cyborg theatre but without a specific analysis to explain this claim. This interdisciplinary doctorate therefore focuses on gaming, particularly the interactive fiction (IF) genre, which many gaming scholars link with theatre. Theorising contemporary, 3D avatar-based IF as a type of digital, body-with-technologies, hybridized performance, the research advances Parker-Starbuck's formulation of cyborg theatre: investigating (a), whether and why IF gaming is a type of performance and cyborg theatre; (b), how it can be studied as cyborg theatre; (c), the dramaturgical role of such extensive cruelty in IF; and (d), the dramaturgical role of ethical choices in the gameplay with a case study example that incorporates previous related studies. The methodology combines content and comparative analysis between drama and game studies, bibliographical research, and evaluation of a specific exemplar. Three research articles were produced and published in peer-reviewed academic journals. The key results reveal IF functioning as cyborg theatre through systematic postphenomenological analysis in article i (Kouratoras, 2020b). IF is therefore framed as part of a general posthuman cultural concept of digital techno-human dramaturgy, which mostly occurs in digital space and often involves cruelty, chance and a range of courses for action. Here theatre's avant-garde contributes to both a reading and rethinking of gaming, particularly in relation to the important dramaturgical role played by cruelty, which materialises Artaud's full system of plague-like dramaturgy in a digital gaming framework, in article ii (Kouratoras, 2011). IF therefore forms a new, post-Artaudian, digital theatre of cruelty, inside the postphenomenological theatrical apparatus of IF cyborg theatre. Finally, a case study analysis of The Walking Dead Episode 1 demonstrates the dramaturgical role of ethical choices in IF, in relation to Sartre's Existentialism, in article iii (Kouratoras, 2020a). This particular game provides an eminent paradigm because of its full and systematic connection with Existentialist ethical choice-making drama. By drawing on key thinkers from the avant-garde, the study's theoretical implications also complicate traditional concepts of liveness, presence, and rules-based versus free-play performance. The discussion supports IF as an original type of theatrical performance, even within virtual space and rules-based gaming. Practical implications of the research principally include the suggestion of a new approach to gaming performance through applied postphenomenological research, object interviews and variational cross-examination. This involves digital performance, video games, VR experiences, and direct mapping. Cyborg theatre's techno-human relations appear to equally concern theatre, performance, escape rooms, digital arts, and video gaming, in both independent and commercial production of the creative industries.
Defence is held on 11.3.2022 16:00 – 18:00 Zoom:
Supervising professor
Ikonen Liisa, Prof., Aalto University, Department of Film, Television and Scenography, Finland; Helke, Susanna, Prof., Aalto University, Department of Film, Television and Scenography, Finland
Thesis advisor
Hannah, Dorita, Prof., University of Auckland, New Zealand
Klevjer, Rune, Prof., University of Bergen, Norway
video games, gaming, digital technology, dramaturgy, choice-making
Other note
  • [Publication 1]: Kouratoras, M. (2020b) ‘Interactive fiction video games as cyborg theatre. A postphenomenological approach’, International Journal of Arts and Technology, 12(3), pp. 197–217.
    DOI: 10.1504/IJART.2020.109802 View at publisher
  • [Publication 2]: Kouratoras, M. (2011) ‘Digital dramaturgy of cruelty: Antoine Artaud: Ludology and the plague metaphor in contemporary video games and new media’, Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds, 3(2), pp. 107–123.
    Full text in Acris/Aaltodoc:
    DOI: 10.1386/jgvw.3.2.107_1 View at publisher
  • [Publication 3]: Kouratoras, M. (2020a) ‘Existential dramaturgy and video games: a formalistic approach to Telltale’s “The Walking Dead” as Existentialist gameplay’, International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, 16(3), pp. 341–360.
    Full text in Acris/Aaltodoc: 10.1080/14794713.2020.1758457
    DOI: 10.1080/14794713.2020.1758457 View at publisher