Reconfiguring Human, Nonhuman and Posthuman in Literature and Culture is a new book from Francis &Taylor. It collects different kinds of readings of the nonhuman in literature and other media. I have a chapter in it titled Playing the Nonhuman, which approaches the theme from the perspective of the phenomenology of computer games.
What is it like to play a nonhuman character? In his classic essay, philosopher Thomas Nagel (1975) argues that we are fundamentally unable to imagine what it is like to be a bat, because our senses and cognition are structured in a way that is uniquely human – whereas bats’ senses and cognition have a uniquely bat-like configuration. In spite of this, media genres from fantasy to science-fiction routinely strive to imagine and show what it could be like to be something other than human. What is more, different media achieve this effect by different means: literature provides textual descriptions, audio-visual media rely on moving images, and comics employ different kinds of multimodal compositions, as discussed in the previous chapter.
In the fifth chapter, Jonne Arjoranta continues investigating these medium-specific imaginations by examining how video games portray the nonhuman, what kind of assumptions they make about being nonhuman, and what kind of tools and techniques they use to convey the (imagined) experience of nonhumanness. The analysis focuses on Aliens vs. Predator (2010, Rebellion Developments), which features three different but intertwined campaigns that allow the player to play as a human, an alien, and a predator. The game thereby evokes two playing experiences that are supposedly nonhuman, and enables direct comparison between them and the “normal” experience of playing as human. The discussion around these playing experiences is further complemented with examples from other games that present playable nonhuman characters and, like the previous two chapters, draws theoretical support from the notion of embodied cognition.