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Title: Playing against the grain : rhetorics of counterplay in console based first-person shooter videogames
Author: Meades, Alan Frederick
ISNI:       0000 0004 2740 5040
Awarding Body: Brunel University London
Current Institution: Brunel University
Date of Award: 2013
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Counterplay is a way of playing digital games that opposes the encoded algorithms that define their appropriate use and interaction. Counterplay is often manifested within the social arena as practices such as the creation of incendiary user generated content, grief-play, cheating, glitching, modding, and hacking. It is deemed damaging to normative play values, to the experience of play, and detrimental to the viability of videogames as mainstream entertainment products. Counterplay is often framed through the rhetoric of transgression as pathogen, as a hostile, infectious, threatening act. Those found conducting it are subject to a range of punishments ranging from expulsion from videogames to criminal conviction. Despite the steps taken to manage counterplay, it occurs frequently within contemporary videogames causing significant disruption to play and necessitating costly remedy. This thesis argues that counterplay should be understood as a practice with its own pleasures and justifying rhetorics that problematise the rhetoric of pathogen and attenuate the threat of penalty. Despite the social and economic significance of counterplay upon contemporary videogames, relatively little is known of the practices conducted by counterplayers, their motivations, or the rhetorics that they deploy to justify and contextualise their actions. Through the use of ethnographic approaches, including interview and participant observation, alongside the identification and application of five popular rhetorics of transgression, this study aims to expose the meanings and complexities of contemporary counterplay. It examines counterplayer testimonies that articulate the practices and rhetorics underpinning the creation of incendiary user generated content, grief play, glitching, modding, and hacking on the Xbox 360 platform in particular. This study represents a contribution to the field of game studies in an area so far underresearched, offering voice to a previously silent demographic, that of counterplayers. In focussing upon their practices, communities and motivations, this study challenges the framing of counterplay as reductively oppositional or hostile. Instead, counterplay is shown to be an act of seduction, a means of articulating identity, status and recognition, as an expression of hacker ideology, and as a re-engagement with the carnivalesque. These meanings, in addition to the rhetoric of pathogen, offer an expanded image of counterplay and the counterplayer that highlights the significance of counterplay within the context of contemporary popular and youth culture.
Supervisor: Krywinska, T. Sponsor: Canterbury Christ Church University's Staff Development programme
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Hacking ; Cheating ; Modding ; Grief play