Lost in the rift: exploring the rhetoric of immersion and identity in virtual realities

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University of Alabama Libraries

Rhetorical games scholarship over the past two decades has demonstrated an elaborate fascination with the resonance between players and their digital avatars in the discourse surrounding video games and virtual realities. Stemming out of science fiction, this has led to a popular and scholarly framework for discussing game experiences that emphasizes and glorifies ‘immersion’ and ‘identification’ between the virtual avatar and non-virtual player. The trouble arises when this framework allows for problematic assumptions about the embodied experience of playing games, namely that a) ‘immersion’ is the highest priority of the gaming experience, b) immersion is a physically embodied ‘transportation’, and c) immersion involves ‘sacrificing’ or ‘abandoning’ the non-virtual world and its physicality. Additionally, little attention has been paid to the rhetorical effect of games to push players out of their embodied experiences, or rhetorically enact ‘outmersion.’ In the first part of this study, discourse analysis is used to examine the rhetoric of the recent VR-to-consumer initiative, exploring how this discourse mimics the framework popularized by Murray’s metaphors for ‘immersion’ and Huzinga’s ‘Magic Circle,’ within the context of modern scholarship on digital identity construction (Arola & Wysocki, Nakamura). In the second part, this study asks how we can work towards a framework that accounts for the immersion and ‘outmersion’ of the player using assemblage theory and new perspectives from modern game studies scholarship (Calleja, Mukherjee, Taylor). To do this, I examine complicated identity-centric tropes in VR experiences (such as in-game suicide) to explore how identity negotiation is rhetorically performed throughout the game-narrative network to affect the player’s performance of identity.

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