Value-able Circuitries: An Examination of Human Values Embedded in Commercial Video Game Design

Kyle Rentschler

Over the past decade, video games have been commercially substantiated as a mass medium, addressing an increasingly broad audience. With the sudden explosion of mobile platforms and social network games, hundreds of millions of users now play video games. Yet, it seems few industry developers pay heed to the impact video games have on the day-to-day lives of their players, as they continue to design games primarily for economic profit. As both media and technology, however, video games are imbued with ethical, political, and social values expressed through the various components of the games themselves.

In this dissertation, I seek to examine how these human values are expressed in video games by focusing on four layers of the video game: rules, fiction, platform, and kinesthetic. By negotiating how each of these layers is expressive of human values, I explain how video games are capable of uniquely communicating ethics and politics through the intricacies of their complex design, including the more commonly analyzed sites of the visual, aural, and narrative, as well as rule sets, code, and input mechanisms. In my case studies on melodrama, proceduralized gender, and gunplay, I also examine some of values communicated by popular industry video games thus far, understanding what values and ideologies these seemingly frivolous media artifacts operate by and communicate in toto.