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On the Bookshelf (November 2022)

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This month in ‘On the Bookshelf’ we feature ‘Game′ by Dr Tom Tyler (School of Media and Communication). This book was published in 2022 with University of Minnesota Press.

Video games conjure new worlds for those who play them, human or otherwise: they have been played by cats, pigs and penguins, and they let gamers experience life from the perspective of pets, predators, and prey. Tom Tyler’s eclectic collection of essays considers a host of animals who challenge players to think anew about winning and losing, difficulty settings, accessibility, virtuality, vitality and vulnerability, and much more.

Game comprises thirteen short essays, each of which examines a particular video game, franchise, aspect of gameplay, or production in which animals are featured, allowing us to reflect on conventional understandings of humans, animals, and the relationships between them. Tyler contemplates the significance of animals who insert themselves into video games, as protagonists, opponents, and brute resources, but also as ciphers, subjects, and subversive guides to new ways of thinking. These animals encourage us to reconsider how we understand games, contesting established ideas about winning and losing, difficulty settings, accessibility, playing badly, virtuality, vitality and vulnerability, and much more.

Written in a playful style, Game draws from a dizzying array of sources, from children’s television, sitcoms, and regional newspapers to medieval fables, Shakespearean tragedy, and Edwardian comedy; from primatology, entomology, and hunting and fishing manuals to theological tracts and philosophical treatises. By examining video games through the lens of animals and animality, Tyler leads us to a greater humility regarding the nature and status of the human creature, and a greater sensitivity in dealings with other animals.

With his characteristic combination of wit and erudition, Tom Tyler explores the powers of virtualization that stretch from the OED and the literary canon to video games both old and new. As he demonstrates, the power of reading closely, watching keenly, and listening carefully is an invitation to play otherwise, to push back against the force of the generic, whose foremost example might well be what we call, dumbly, ‘the animal.’

Ducks, dogs, sheep, and squid—not to mention dung beetles. These and many more creatures roam through Tom Tyler's lively ruminations on the nature of animals in video games. With delightful zigzags through etymology, folklore, literature, and history, Tyler shows how thinking about video games by considering the animals within defamiliarizes video games, recenters the nonhuman, and revitalizes our sense of our own humanness.

Tyler’s Game is a thoughtful reflection on what it means to be human in a hypermediated world on the verge of breakdown, with an eye toward a more ethical multispecies future to come.

About the Author:

Tom Tyler is lecturer in digital culture in the School of Media and Communication at the University of Leeds. He is editor of Animal Beings, coeditor of Animal Encounters, and author of CIFERAE: A Bestiary in Five Fingers (Minnesota, 2012).

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