Video games, for a very long time, have been an easy target of media panics, scrutinized and accused of being a negative influence on the youth, in huge part due to their frequent depictions of violence and inclusion of it as gameplay mechanics for the players to engage with. As the years passed, some progress was made, and some of the research on video games tries to abandon the old approach to this subject from the angle of media effects. The need to talk about in-game violence while acknowledging the contexts surrounding it, its meanings and interpretations, was also signalled. Problematization of violence is a topic widely discussed by Taro Yoko, a Japanese video game director, in his works that try to question the industry’s normalized practice of games having to include violence. This study aims to answer questions related to Yoko’s most recent work, with the main one being: how is the topic of violence discussed in NieR: Automata? It is accompanied by subquestions: in what ways are the elements of dark play utilized to influence the player’s experience? How does the game discuss the humanity of in-game adversaries? To answer them, an in-depth playthrough of the game and a close reading of it was conducted, followed by textual analysis of the material gathered in the process in form of written notes and recorded gameplay. The analysis was divided according to the most prominent themes that emerged during gameplay. The results showed that across all the themes, the game heavily uses dark play related concepts, that is elements of subversion and a technique of defamiliarization, both in its narrative and gameplay, to prompt player’s reflection on their perception of in-game world. Players are revealed to be exploited by the game, being either lied to or having limited information that further encourages reflection. Constant cycling between acts that are humanizing and dehumanizing in-game adversaries is found to encourage the player to question acts of violence committed by the main characters, and is taken further by the choice to dehumanize the protagonists as well, taking away their sense of superiority and legitimacy of their actions. Symbolic violence has also been revealed as a prominent concept utilized throughout the game, signalling power relations between the characters and the game’s main organization, contributing to both legitimization of violence and dehumanization of the game’s protagonists.

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Media, Culture & Society
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication

Walesa, Dorota. (2020, June 29). A struggle in the search for meaning - approaches to violence in NieR: Automata.. Media, Culture & Society. Retrieved from