What Can Play: The Potential of Non-Human Players

  • Kara Stone University of California, Santa Cruz


What can post-humanism teach us about game design? This paper questions the line drawn between what species and matter can play and what cannot play. Combining works by scholars of feminist post-humanism, new materialism, and game studies, primarily Jane Bennett, Donna Haraway, and T.L. Taylor, it proposes that play is a form of communication not only between animals and humans but also between plants and cyborgs, insects and atoms. Beginning by interrogating the borders of the human that have been built on ableist and racist discourses, this paper moves towards considering the human as interspecies and outlines that we must reassess the ways in which a multiplicity of species experience the intra-action that constitutes “play.” With a brief look into the history of defining play in both game studies and animal studies and their small crossover, play is reconfigured into an outlook or an approach rather than a set of rules. It is a drive that all species and matter experience, including insects, bacteria, and metal. This moves us beyond considering solely the materiality of our bodies at play by reconsidering the objects of play as our co-players, as matter with agential force. I argue that we need to reconsider the videogame player as an interspecies being, an assemblage of human and non-human bodies. The de-anthropocentricization of the popular notions of player agency allows for a multiplicity of reactions not created in the linear cause and effect course, the belief in ultimate player control within procedural systems, which dominates game studies. This paper concludes by submitting possibilities of what considering the non-human through a feminist and anti-ableist lens can offer game designers, players, and critics, such as considering the material platform’s impact on play, reforming the individualistic agency of players, and designing for the Other(s).

Author Biography

Kara Stone, University of California, Santa Cruz
Kara Stone is an artist and scholar interested in the affective and gendered experiences of mental illness, wellness, and healing as it relates to art production, videogames, and traditional crafting. Her artwork has been featured in The AtlanticWired, and Vice. She is a member of the Different Games Collective and not-for-profit Dames Making Games. She holds an MA from York University in Communication and Culture and is currently a PhD student in Film and Digital Media with a designated emphasis in Feminist Studies at University of California at Santa Cruz.