Player vs. Monster
The Making and Breaking of Video Game Monstrosity
240 pp., 5 x 8 in, 30 b&w illus.
- Published: February 7, 2023
- Publisher: The MIT Press
A study of the gruesome game characters we love to beat—and what they tell us about ourselves.
Since the early days of video games, monsters have played pivotal roles as dangers to be avoided, level bosses to be defeated, or targets to be destroyed for extra points. But why is the figure of the monster so important in gaming, and how have video games come to shape our culture's conceptions of monstrosity? To answer these questions, Player vs. Monster explores the past half-century of monsters in games, from the dragons of early tabletop role-playing games and the pixelated aliens of Space Invaders to the malformed mutants of The Last of Us and the bizarre beasts of Bloodborne, and reveals the common threads among them.
Covering examples from aliens to zombies, Jaroslav Švelch explores the art of monster design and traces its influences from mythology, visual arts, popular culture, and tabletop role-playing games. At the same time, he shows that video games follow the Cold War–era notion of clearly defined, calculable enemies, portraying monsters as figures that are irredeemably evil yet invariably vulnerable to defeat. He explains the appeal of such simplistic video game monsters, but also explores how the medium could evolve to present more nuanced depictions of monstrosity.
“Švelch shows us how monsters in video games are created, where they run rampant, what they mean, and how we came to kill them, enabling us to make sense of such monstrosities with intelligence and wit.”
Bernard Perron, Full Professor of Film and Game Studies at Université de Montréal; author of The World of Scary Video Games
“The book elegantly reveals the running tensions and contradictions in the figure of the monster and how games transform their cultural meaning, combining academic elegance and rigor in equal measure.”
Clara Fernández-Vara, Associate Arts Professor at the NYU Game Center
“Švelch casts the ubiquitous figure of the videogame monster under a sharply critical, historically informed analytical lens. What emerges is a radical new understanding of monstrosity and otherness as constitutive of videogames' form and meaning.”
Daniel Vella, Senior Lecturer, Institute of Digital Games, University of Malta; coauthor of Virtual Existentialism