Gaming settler colonialism: Adam Bowes, ‘Artificial Frontiers, Simulated Indigeneity: Western Big-Budget Open World Games and the Settler Colonial Imaginary’, PhD dissertation, The University of Western Ontario, 2021


Abstract: This dissertation studies Western big-budget video games of a genre often referred to as “open world.” By tracking the concept of the “frontier” as a settler colonial (and later neoliberal) signal for space that invites access, I argue these games are both expressive of and cater to settler and neoliberal cultural anxieties regarding extermination and desires for accumulative dominance. Furthermore, these games exhibit their settler colonial and neoliberal ideologies through their narratives, gameplay mechanics, and productive contexts. That exhibition of ideology comes in several formulas of settler and neoliberal cultural production identified by various fields of scholarship. This dissertation, drawing from Indigenous studies, video game studies, post-colonial and Marxist theory, studies the Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption series, Assassin’s Creed 3 and the so-called “Ubisoft formula” generally, as well as Horizon Zero Dawn to argue a few central points about big-budget Western open world games: (1) they are what I call artificial frontiers, and as such are the preeminent entertainment of settler colonial cultural mores and the sustained eliminative and accumulative logics of those mores’ historical frontierism; (2) they reveal, reflect, propagate, accommodate, and assuage settler colonial anxieties and desires; (3) they exhibit (though attempt to obscure) the genocidal logic and exploitative relations of Western settler colonialism and neoliberalism; consequently, to some extent this dissertation argues the video game industry’s social function shows the compatibility of settler-influenced neoliberalism with fascist ideology.

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