The past decade has seen an increase in the availability of user-friendly game development software, the result of which has been the emergence of a genre of reflexive and experimental games. Pippin Barr, La Molleindustria's Paolo Pedercini, and Davey Wreden are exemplary in their thoughtful engagement with an ever-expanding list of subjects, including analyses and critiques of game development, popular culture, and capitalism. These works demonstrate the power of games as a site for critical media theory. This potential, however, is hindered by the player-centric trends in the game industry that limit the creative freedom of developers whose work is their livelihood.
In the era of communicative capitalism, Jodi Dean argues that the commodification of communication has suspended narrative in favour of the circulation of fragmented and digestible opinions, which not only facilitates the distribution and consumption of communication, but also safeguards communicative capitalism against critique. Ultimately, the very same impulse that drives communicative capitalism is responsible for the player-centric trends that some developers view as an obstacle to their art. Critical game studies has traditionally fallen into two categories: those that emphasize the player as the locus of critique, such as McKenzie Wark's trifler or Mary Flanagan's critical play, and those that emphasize design, as in Alexander Galloway's countergaming, Ian Bogost's procedural rhetoric, and Gonzalo Frasca's theory of simulation. Yet, as a result of the decline in symbolic efficiency that is characteristic of communicative capitalism, these approaches are limited in their ability to effectively respond to the current social and economic situation.
Dean's conditions for critical media theory, however, provide a framework for theorizing how the complex interaction between a game's narrative and mechanics might be adapted to resist and disrupt communicative capitalism. Drawing on Freudo-Lacanian psychoanalysis, this project analyzes a selection of narrative games through the clinical structures of neurosis, perversion, and psychosis to understand how players interact with these systems. This perspective provides the basis for examining the subject of communicative capitalism, and imagining the shape of critical games to come.