The hybrid digital body inside action-survival videogames
By: Adriana López Valentín
The following essay reflects about the digital body as a hybrid that moves from the physical body to the digital land through the manipulation of a body and the immersion in various narratives, just the way it happens in videogames.
A hybrid is conceived like a mixture of two or more elements that coexist in a space in order to create and integrate a new being. The digital body becomes an active body by manipulating what it represents; we understand the digital body as the physical body represented through digital images that can be edited. Therefore, the phenomenon of hybridization happens between the mix of digital images and the physical body, the latter defined by David Le Breton as a symbolic set of individuations through the sensations generated inside culture and society (Le Breton, 2002).
It is important to point out that technology is part of these processes of integration with the use of electronic devices such as the computer, the smartphone, the television, etc. In culture we can find that videogames arise from technology, in them we can find simulated worlds due to the creation of fictional stories. To simulate is to fake what isn't there (Baudrillard, 1977: 8). Videogames are immersed in the sphere of entertainment, linked to the physical body and the digital body equally, where a physical presence is needed to access and take control of the story.
An example of this are roleplay videogames, adventure videogames and survival videogames. In them, the stories have to do with catastrophes or dystopic situations that are represented through fiction. Inside these narratives, the images that appear on the screen become simulations or ghost images, like José Luis Brea point out; in this era of consumption and entertainment, reality becomes part of a secondary background and the important bit is focused on fantasy.
The brain moves its attention to a world that lives inside a screen, it stops being a simulation of a foreign world to become the here and now. The following text refers to the idea of how through the use of videogames, the user acquires a digital body due to the mixture between the physical body with digital images that represent it, simultaneously creating a hybrid structure.
THE HYBRID DIGITAL BODY
Nowadays, the body moves between new relationships with its surroundings through digital devices. In this era of consumption, the body becomes the active consumer of immateriality; an example of this can be seen in videogames, which little by little have become digital downloads since the materiality of a physical object is no longer needed.
The physical contact inside videogames is presented through devices such as controls and sensors, which at the same time, control and manipulate the actions inside the game; the physical world is present; however, the reality starts to blur. There's a tendency to disappear for a while of reality through the electronic images that are consumed and visualized. Some electronic images have a phantasmagorical quality because they are alien to reality or lack a connection with direct surroundings: the physical space where the user gathers around to play has several implications:
Its volatility, the fact that in its reception stage, the screen, the image does not last, but it fades shortly after appearing (Brea, 2010:13)
This supposes that they vanish like smoke; they become ephemeral and transient objects of something that moves and does not return in the same way, the images disappear and appear, to be barely temporary. The body goes from the analogue to the digital and becomes a hybrid at that moment, by displacing perception and sensations through electronic devices that, however, require a physical body to be controlled and submerged in it.
The physical body prepares itself to submerge into a world within the screen and, in general, it does not become obsolete, since its presence is necessary for the story to make sense. It is then when the following question is generated: is the presence of a physical body necessary for a virtual game to work? The answer is yes, because through physical contact and movement, simulated and generated actions can be presented on the virtual plane. Simulation is understood as something that "is no longer operative, something that is not even real since nothing imaginary surrounds it" (Baudrillard, 1978: 6).
If actions and movements are thought of, the presence of satisfying physical needs is also necessary, that is, a player could not spend more than a week in this virtual or simulated world since physical needs such as food, hygiene and sleeping does not allow it, not even for an undetermined time. The most important thing of this is that the separation of the physical body from the digital one becomes a utopia, since the virtual character happens to have the same needs and stories, the fiction and identity that is given from the beginning if we think about it in terms of the logic of the game and of the story, will always be the same story and will have indisputable limits as in real life.
Thus, a body that is part of another (the character) is projected on the screen, but which strictly has a relationship and effect on the player (person who interacts in the game).
The action, therefore, is reduced to the movement of controls that will synesthetically extend the experience of the body. Everything is reduced to the coordination between the eye and the hands, although it extends powerfully thanks to hyper-graphics, sound effects and synesthetic amplification in general. (Idhe, 2004: 32)
An example of this is the horror-survival game called Last of Us (Straley Bruce, 2013). Here, the player moves to an apocalyptic scenario where a series of unconventional events have been unleashed. At the beginning, an epidemic causes the characters to aim to reach a specific place trying to defend themselves with different weapons and strategies. The player acquires the quality of the main character named Joel, the main immersion feature is that the person enters this space and has the goal of moving to a reality that slowly falls apart in order to survive, as there are strange and dangerous creatures that can kill the characters, a situation that approximates fantasy, but involves concentrating the senses on the screen. A similar case is the work of Peter Withkin, who constructs and approaches the body through photographs, changing and questioning the presence of the body, thus creating a metamorphosis and simulation of the monstrous in the body, as well as in the epidemic. The real physical space connects and connects with this space through the manual or physical movement and the intellectual, as well as the information that is received and sent, thus achieving a connection between a virtual or artificial world, as it is presented in this scenario, and a physical world, which is the space where the person is playing, -an be there that does not totally depend on our presence, involvement or proximity to the object of which we have an image (it is not necessary to touch what we see) or therefore of the same materiality-corporality of the object seen. But it is put - that effect of truth - by the quality of the image itself (Brea, 2010, p.16).
The story is mixed between this fantastic scenario and the narrative that resembles a story or novel. This leads us to think of the deception and alteration suffered by the images to turn them into a simulation of the natural; and they go on to form an alteration endowed with a meaning of the human. The movement possibilities of the simulation of the character are unlimited, however, the story is linear and through this, the player is forced to move to an area like the real where there are limited options to advance within a structure or conventions already given.
The goal of the virtual body is to become the perfect simulacrum of the multi-sensory action of the physicist. (Idhe, 2004: 30)
In the present essay the digital body was approached as a hybrid that moves from the physical body to the digital through the manipulation of a body and immersion of narratives, as in the case of videogames. The digital body becomes an active body, understanding as digital body, that physical body represented through manipulated digital images. This hybridization part of the body that is a symbolic set of individuations.
It is important to note that technology is part of these integration processes with the use of electronic devices such as computers, smartphones or televisions. Videogames enter the sphere of entertainment, linking the physical and digital bodies, for which the physical presence of the body is necessary in order to enter and take control of the story. The body stops being a physical nomad to become a digital nomad.
Physical contact is presented through devices such as controls and sensors that control and manipulate the actions within the game, the physical world is present, however, reality begins to fade to focus on the narrative.
Brea, JL. Las Tres Eras de la Imagen, Madrid: Akal, 2010
Ihde, Don. Los cuerpos en la tecnología. Nuevas tecnologías: nuevas ideas acerca de nuestro cuerpo, Barcelona: Editorial UOC, 2004
Le Breton, D. Antropología del cuerpo y modernidad
(2.ª edición).(P. Mahler, trad.). Buenos Aires: Nueva Visión, 2002
Baudrillard Jean. Cultura y Simulacro, Barcelona: Kairos, 1978
Straley Bruce,The Last of Us: Survival Horror SONY, 2013 Play Station.
[DRQ1]“En ellos, las historias (….)”
[DRQ2]“En estas narraciones, las imágenes (…)”
[DRQ3]“videojuegos, un sujeto (…)”
[DRQ4]“sensores, que a su vez, controlan (…)”