Communication ETDs


Alexis Pulos

Publication Date



Video games are currently one of the leading entertainment mediums across the globe, with games like Call of Duty: Black Ops (Activision) selling 4.3 million dollars in the first week of sales and adding to the parent company Activision Blizzard's 2011 revenue of 4.9 billion dollars. In 2011 the North American video game industry had a revenue of $25 billion (ESA, 2012), more than twice the film industry establishing video games as a predominant entertainment medium. However, in the fifty-four years that video games have been a medium for meaning making, the majority of research has focused on quantitative analysis and media effects research that has limited the cultural, interpretive and critical analysis of digital games. Despite some interdisciplinary research conducted on digital games, few scholars take into account what is being communicated through digital game design and how electronic games function as a medium of learning and meaning making in contemporary society. Utilizing two case studies of FarmVille 2 and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the goal of this study is to understand the ways that digital games work as a cultural medium and to analyze how the constructed messages in game design create and enforce modes of action and forms of knowledge. The following research questions guide this study: - RQ 1: What is the relationship between game design and the processes of meaning making? - RQ 2: How does game design enable and constrain player agency? - RQ 3: What intertextual structures are present within the cultural production of digital games? Sub Question: What forms of social learning occur in games as a result of these structures? The purpose of this study then, is to understand how the medium of electronic games functions as a field of cultural production by analyzing the ways game structures communicate forms of acting and knowing within the game and the broader social contexts. To accomplish this goal, I first explored the ways that games orient players to their field or environment; second, I investigated how objects and their related capital present in the design of digital games influence the choices, outcomes and performances of players; third, I dissected the interfaces present in games to look at how game design enables and constrains player agency; fourth, I analyzed the ways in which rules guide and create player habitus with game units; and finally, I situated this exploration through the ways that digital games create meaning in and out of the game. In doing this dissertation expands upon existing theories of video game analysis, medium theory, habitus, field and capital by using an innovative method that establishes a new communicative approach to the textual analysis of electronic games.




Digital games, Habitus, Field, Capital, Medium theory, Cultural production

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

Schuetz, Jan

First Committee Member (Chair)

Foss, Karen

Second Committee Member

Schaefer, Richard

Third Committee Member

Flor, Nick