Digital Seriality: On the Serial Aesthetics and Practice of Digital Games

Shane Denson, Andreas Jahn-Sudmann


In this paper we are concerned to outline a set of perspectives, methods, and theories with which to approach the seriality of digital games and game cultures – i.e. the aesthetic forms and cultural practices of game-related serialization, which we see unfolding against (and, in fact, as a privileged mediator of) the broader background of medial and socio-cultural transformations taking place in the wake of popular media culture’s digitalization. Seriality, we contend, is a central and multifaceted but largely neglected dimension of popular computer and video games. Seriality is a factor not only in explicitly marked game series (with their sequels, prequels, remakes, and other types of continuation), but also within games themselves (e.g. in their formal-structural constitution as an iterative series of “levels” or “worlds”) as well as on the level of transmedial relations between games and other media (e.g. expansive serializations of narrative worlds across the media of comics, film, television, and games, etc.). Particularly with respect to processes of temporal “collapse” or “synchronization” that, in the current age of digitization and media convergence, are challenging the temporal dimensions and developmental logics of pre-digital seriality (e.g. because once successively appearing series installments are increasingly available now for immediate, repeated, and non-linear consumption), computer games are eminently suited for an exemplary investigation of a specifically digital type of seriality.

In the following, we look at serialization processes in digital games and game series and seek to understand how they relate to digital-era transformations of temporally-serially structured experiences and identifications on the part of historically situated actors. These transformations range from the microtemporal scale of individual players’ encounters with algorithmic computation processes (the speed of which escapes direct human perception and is measurable only by technological means) all the way up to the macrotemporal (more properly “historical”) level of collective brokerings of political, cultural, and social identities in the digital age. To account for this multi-layered complexity, we argue for a decidedly interdisciplinary approach, combining media-aesthetic and media-philosophical perspectives with the resources of discourse analysis and cultural history. We approach the seriality of digital games both in terms of textual and aesthetic forms as well as in the broader context of serialized game cultures and popular culture at large.

Full Text: