Let's Play with Trauma: An Autoethnographic Study of Traumatic Experience, Alienation, and Control in Video Games

  • Author / Creator
    Sapach, Sonja C.
  • This autoethnographic, interdisciplinary dissertation addresses the question “how have video games helped me to survive and overcome trauma – a kind of trauma that left me feeling alienated - and how might video games help others in the same way?” Written as a dialogue between various personas, both academic and personal, the entire project explains the arguments made and acts as a demonstration of the resolution of relations of relationlessness that are characteristic of the form of alienation at the core of the project. Following an exploration of canon understandings of alienation, a relational understanding is adopted where alienation represents a relation of relationlessness between and with the self, others, and the world. The methods and methodologies used include autoethnographic memory work, Let’s Play video recordings, and digital text-mining, which are used to explore relevant memories and life experiences that address the primary research question. Social alienation is theorized in relation to the author’s diagnosis of Complex PTSD, and it is argued that the similarities between the symptoms of both conditions allow for a synthesis of the individual experiences of the author and the social experiences of alienation. The video game Tetris is used as a full-chapter case study to demonstrate how a game can provide the interface required for the successful appropriation of relations across time, place, and personas that is fundamental to the resolution of alienation as understood here. A more extensive review of various video games takes place in the following chapter where the author’s interactions with games from her childhood are used to outline a theory of how video games mediate trauma and alienation through the following 5 themes: (1) games as providing links through time, (2) games as tools for mediating trauma and ameliorating flashbacks, (3) games as places of navigating uncertainty and learning control, (4) games as places to develop social solidarity, and (5) games as places of identity transformation,
    integration, and appropriation. Each theme represents a particular aspect of video games that leads to the concluding argument made in this project: the unique thing about video games that helped the author survive and overcome trauma is that they allow people to move away from a lack of control over perceived certainty toward perceived control over relative uncertainty. In other words, video games provide places to learn how to transform ingrained assumptions about the world, teaching the player to accept, and in many cases embrace, uncertainty. As the player accepts an uncertain world, they are able to learn, through video game play, that their actions have meaning and consequences, providing them with the agency to influence their own lives. While this does not necessarily eliminate alienation, gaining control over relative uncertainty allows for the transformation of relations required to connect people to themselves, others, and the world around them.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.