Thesis Info

Thesis Title
The Promise of Perfection: A Cultural Perspective on the Shaping of Computer Simulation and Games
Jan Van Looy
2nd Author
3rd Author
Number of Pages
K.U.Leuven, Belgium
Thesis Supervisor
Jan Baetens
Supervisor e-mail
jan.baetens AT
Other Supervisor(s)
Frederik Truyen
Language(s) of Thesis
Department / Discipline
Cultural Studies, Media Studies, Game Studies
Languages Familiar to Author
Dutch, English, French, German
URL where full thesis can be found
computer games, computer simulation, social shaping of technology, media studies, cultural studies, game studies, new media, cybernarratology, digital narrative, videogames, video games
Abstract: 200-500 words
My dissertation deals with the question as to what extent a technological phenomenon such as the development of computer simulation and games can be described within a broader cultural frame. Traditionally, a radical distinction is made between socio-cultural and technological development, whereby the latter is often seen as an intruder trying to impose its laws upon human society from some vague outside. Since the 1980s, however, this so-called technologically deterministic perspective is being criticized by a predominantly European, constructivist school which emphasizes the socio-cultural shaping of technology by demonstrating that technological development is not an isolated phenomenon, but is shaped by the society by which it is pursued. My dissertation inscribes itself into this research tradition, whereby the central thesis is that computer simulation and games, both in their technological foundations and their content, form a reflexion of a number of cultural developments that have taken place in the second half of the twentieth century, most notably the growing emphasis on efficiency through competition and, concomitantly, on mathematical and quantitative analysis and description of reality. After a first, mainly methodological chapter in which the above is further explained, the dissertation follows a movement from form to function, from machine to man. The second chapter deals with the technological principles of mathematical modeling and the influence they have on the way in which physical and behavioral phenomena are represented. The third chapter explores the ontological status of modeled objects and phenomena, the so-called virtual, whereby the main thesis is that virtuality is a form of mimesis, of representation rather than a possible reality. The fourth chapter describes the role of the player, whereby it is noted that computer simulation and games distinguish themselves from other interactive forms such as hypertext literature and digital cinema by providing a fictional identity for the player who is, as it were, thrown into the virtual world (introjection). The fifth and final chapter deals with the question of why man likes to play so much, why he seemingly without a purpose immerses himself in a fictional environment. The main argument laid out here is the so-called 'coping'-theory which claims that man uses fictional representations in order to negotiate his place in reality both practically and emotionally so as to come to terms with his fears and desires. Computer games are seen as a virtualization of the social pressure to be successful, a way of dealing with the fear of failure.