What is Posthumanism, and Why Should You Care?

Jul 31, 2019 | 0 comments

Welcome to Posthumanism and Video Games. The purpose of this project, conducted by St. Olaf undergraduates Anthony Dungan and Israa Khalifa, is to examine how numerous video games interact with posthumanism and what audiences can learn about posthuman ideas through video games.


What is posthumanism?

At its core, posthumanism is a theoretical framework that wants to re-imagine what a human is or rethink humanity’s place in society. Some posthumanists want to remove humanity as the center of existence and want to every object in existence to be treated equally; others consider what existence on Earth would be like if humanity went completely extinct. Some challenge the boundaries of the human body and want to extend or augment those capabilities through cybernetics; others consider the personhood of completely artificial beings like androids or artificial intelligence. For a more nuanced definition and understanding, see our glossary entry on posthumanism.


Why does posthumanism matter?

The fact is, humanity is already becoming a posthuman society. Cybernetic bodies aren’t some far-off concept, but rather something that exists already. There are recent advancements like cybernetic and prosthetic limbs, as well as enhancements that have been around for decades, like hearing aids. Artificial life is making significant progress as well. In 2017, the first robot became a citizen of a country, and robots are becoming more physically capable. Imagining an existence without humanity might not be that hard, considering the threat that global warming poses to society means Earth might very well be literally posthuman within a few hundred years.


In addition, scientific knowledge and technological advancements are historically situated. Keeping this in mind allows for an understanding of Western culture’s long history of individualism, technological warfare, and the binarism between body and soul. Posthumanism rejects that binary and allows for a fuller understanding of the West’s obsession with a human and technological apocalypse or a techno-utopian world. In addition, posthumanism breaks free from the patriarchal and supremacist legacy created by Christianity in the Enlightenment as well as favoring  humans over other objects. These legacies of the Enlightenment are directly linked to systematic oppression, racism, slavery, and wars all over the world. Posthumanism, to an extent, allows for alternative solutions or ways of thought to break free from these problems.


Why research video games and why should I care about games?

We could say something about how games are the most profitable medium in the modern entertainment industry. We could also say that video games reach an incredibly large audience, or a number of other reasons. The fact is, we researched video games because the medium allows players to directly interact with ideologies in a safe space. Unlike audiences in other mediums like film, literature, or music, players directly interact with what’s happening. They don’t just see fancy technology, they use it. Players are active participants in the messages they create, which is something unique to the medium of games. As games are a relatively young medium, researching the medium helps establish a better understanding of how games engage audiences in unique ways.


With that in mind, please enjoy the results of our research! You can read our analyses in any order, but if you want to be directed to a good beginning spot, I’d recommend our podcast episode, Embodiment in Transistor. If you’re interested in making your own Thoughtful Play project, contact thoughtfulplay@gmail.com. You can check out our glossary here, and if you want to check our sources, head over here.


About us

Anthony Dungan has been playing video games for almost longer than he can remember. It all started when his parents would let him watch them play Star Wars video games, and his obsession that started then has only become more rabid. Almost two decades later, Anthony has started mixing academic work into his love of video games. After watching a thoughtful, engaging presentation on The Last of Us by a professor from St. Olaf College, Anthony knew that he had to attend St. Olaf to improve his writing skills and hopefully have a chance to engage in academic work on video games. This wish was granted, and resulted in Posthumanism and Rhetoric in Video Games.

Israa Khalifa studies sociology and anthropology at St. Olaf College. 

Dr. Rebecca Richards (St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota) curates Thoughtful Play.
If you’re interested in creating your own project for Thoughtful Play, contact thoughtfulplay@gmail.com