The Return of Flânerie: Walter Benjamin and the Experience of Videogames
Maughan, Curtis Lee
GERMAN STUDIES The Return of Flânerie: Walter Benjamin and the Experience of Videogames Curtis Lee Maughan Dissertation under the direction of Professor Lutz Koepnick This dissertation interrogates the contemporary return of Walter Benjamin’s flâneur concept, which has been appropriated by game studies scholars, game developers, journalists, and gamers alike to describe videogames that allow for—and even promote—aimless forms of interaction, including observation, wandering, and getting lost, as opposed to competitive and goal-oriented gameplay. Bridging Benjamin’s writing with that of contemporary game studies scholars, this study identifies digital flânerie as a pervasive phenomenon that includes a diverse swath of games, genres, and play types that bridge the periphery of gaming culture with mainstream gameplay trends and design practices. With its attention to embodied modes of perception and the adaptability of the human sensorium, Benjamin’s writing on flânerie and modern media opens the way to a productive examination of central topics of contemporary game research, namely the avatar, interactivity, haptic feedback, and the precarious interdependency between the indie walking simulator and the mainstream open world game. Of particular interest to surveillance studies, this dissertation emphasizes how Benjamin frames surveillance and flânerie as entwined modes of perception emanating from the interplay between the masses and haptic modern interfaces—this perceptual framework is then read against the central game mechanics of Ubisoft’s Watch_Dogs 2. As it draws from contemporary game design practices and industry insight via exclusive interviews, this study demonstrates that bringing Benjamin’s writing into contact with videogames is not only a crucial step for placing the videogame medium in a broader historical-intellectual continuum, but it is also essential for better understanding the innovative ideas of Walter Benjamin.