Game Studies meets Surveillance Studies at the Edge of Digital Culture: An Introduction to a special issue on Surveillance, Games and Play

Jennifer R. Whitson, Bart Simon


While we could attribute the close ties between surveillance and video games to their shared military roots, in this editorial we argue that the relationship goes much deeper to that. Even non-digital games such as chess require a mode of watchfulness: an attention to each piece in relation to the past, present, and future; a drive to predict an opponent’s movements; and, a distillation of the player-subject into a knowable finite range of possible actions defined by the rules. Games are social sorting, disciplinary, social control machines.

In this introduction we tease apart some of the intersections of games and surveillance, beginning with a discussion of the NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden on using games to both monitor and influence unsuspecting populations. Next, we provide an overview of corporate data-gathering practices in games and further outline the production of manageable, computable subjectivities. Then, we show how the game Watch Dogs explores the surveillant capacities of games at both the game mechanical and representational scales. These three different facets of surveillance, games, and play set the scene for the special issue and the diverse articles that follow.  In the following pages we pose new lines of questioning that highlight the nuances of play and offer new modes of thinking about what games - and the processes of watching and being watched that are a foundational part of the experience – can tell us about surveillance.

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