The Idea of the Gamer, 4

Gaze, Diagram, Interaction


The pictorial image, the photographic image, the cinematic image, the interactive image. In each, play as the entanglement of spectator and spectated, the drama that is the coming to presentation of being.1 All images are known through interaction, a fact predating history. We see as much in the cave paintings of Lascaux, which solicit a particular mode of interaction to this day: use this light, in this way, to produce this effect of vision. One does not simply observe this prehistoric artwork; rather, we might say, one must enter into observation with it, enter into the play of images. At Lascaux, we find the pictorial and cinematic folded into each other, presenting a primordial situation for the play of spectator and spectated.2

In The Order of Things (1966), Foucault shows us when the image first becomes thematic, when “representation undertakes to represent itself.”3 Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656) is the very representation of “Classical representation” and the “definition of the space” that Classical representation “opens up to us.”4 This painting is “representation in its pure form,” representation that foregrounds the “essential void” of its “foundation”: the subject-spectator.5 The image as image is made thematic—the painting is made to be presented while also being about its presentation. But in this representation, the image subsumes interaction, reproducing it in a subsidiary mode: the gaze. Interaction as such remains implicit, unthematic.

In Las Meninas, the gesture remains frozen, the “skilled hand” of the painter “suspended in mid-air, arrested in rapt attention on the painter’s gaze.”6 The gaze, to be sure, “waits upon the arrested gesture,” but it is the gaze and not the skilled hand that will ultimately find its representation in Velázquez’s work.7 The gesture remains subject to the subject-spectator. This is not an attempt on my part to reinstitute the painter as master, but rather to indicate the abstract mechanism of the gestural, that which allows for the holographic upspringing of the volume of representation. Drama requires staging. But to get to the point indicated, we need to follow Foucault in his analysis.

The painter gazes at us from the painting, at the invisible point that we are: “our bodies, our faces, our eyes.”8 His gaze draws a “dotted line” that “reaches out to us ineluctably, and links us to the representation of the picture.”9 The spectator is included before the fact in that which they spectate, discovering their own gaze to have been anticipated, expected, invited. There is a “pure reciprocity” here: “we are looking at a picture in which the painter is in turn looking out at us.”10 This is the thematization of the image.

But there is not only this reciprocity of the gaze that gives form to the picture. The painter stands to the side of his “great canvas,” its back turned to us, “stubbornly invisible,” preventing “the relation of these gazes from ever being discoverable or definitely established.”11 The point that we are “never ceases to change its content, its form, its face, its identity.”12 Our attention is drawn to the canvas so that we might discern an answer to the question: “Seen or seeing?”13 But an answer yet alludes us.

The painter works on his painting by the “flood of light” emanating from a window to his left that “bathes at the same time, and with equal generosity, two neighbouring spaces, overlapping but irreducible”: the volume of the studio (the scene of the painting represented to us) and the volume of what we might refer to as the stage (the scene of the drama of the representation as such, of our spectation of the painting before us).14 The light from the window “serves as the common locus of the representation,” the “pure aperture” that “balances” the “Image par excellence,” the pure image, the work of the painter always withheld from us on his “invisible canvas.”15 Between these poles, pure aperture and pure image, “there streams in … the pure volume of a light that renders all representation visible.”16 We discover the image as such in diagram, the structure from which any and all images spring: aperture, surface, volume. An aperture that makes visible; a surface made visible that captures visibility; a volume that encompasses both making and capture, both the maker and the one who witnesses the making and what is made.

Foucault proceeds to draw our attention to the numerous pictures depicted on the walls of the studio, their representations “buried in a darkness without depth.”17 Only one stands out, visible through “a light that belongs only to itself,” a light that, upon further consideration, reveals that this representation is not a picture but a mirror.18 This represented representation “is the only one visible” in the scene, “nothing other than visibility” itself, “yet without any gaze able to grasp it.”19 It is not for anyone in the scene, but for us. Indeed, this mirror does not reflect anything in the scene, but rather two figures, represented nowhere else for our spectation. This mirror “cuts straight through the whole field of the representation, ignoring all it might apprehend within that field, and restores visibility to that which resides outside all view”: the place of the subject-spectator.20 The mirror, as a representation only for us, “is addressing itself to what is invisible both because of the picture’s structure and because of its existence as painting.”21 The diagram of the image is not only to be discovered within the painting; it is made explicit, thematic. The mirror displays “what is exterior to the picture, in so far as it is a picture,” offering a “metathesis of visibility,” a transposition that “allows us to see, in the centre of the canvas, what in the painting is of necessity doubly invisible.”22

In the mirror we see two figures: Philip IV and Mariana, sovereigns of Spain. The “compelling tracer line” of their gazes, “joining the reflection to that which it is reflecting, cuts perpendicularly through the lateral flood of light.”23 That is to say, the line of the subject-spectator’s gaze links up with itself, is continuous with itself, through the middle of the aperture-surface-volume diagram. By this line, we discover other forms superimposed on the first diagram of the image, other forms that contribute to its thematization. From painter, to mirror, to an open doorway in the back of a room, to the window, there is a “spiral shell that presents us with the entire cycle of representation.”24 The figures that form the frieze in the fore and middle ground of the painting have a double structure: a cross with its centre on the eyes of King Philip’s daughter, the Infanta Margarita, and a curve with the Infanta at its centre that “at once contains and sets off the position of the mirror,” creating a loop between foreground and background.25 The spiral that is the cycle of representation; the cross that is the represented; the curve that encompasses them both. By the gaze of the sovereigns, occupying the space of subject-spectator that we ourselves occupy, we discover a second diagram, a reduplication of the first, an externalization potentiated by the fact of the painting as painting.

What “creates this spectacle-as-observation,” Foucault argues, “is the two sovereigns.”26 Without their gaze, the second diagram is not made explicit, the thematization of the image not made complete. But with their gaze, captured for us by the mirror, made continuous with itself by way of this representation, the “entire picture” is revealed to be “looking out at a scene for which it is itself a scene.”27 This is what Foucault means by the effort of representation to represent itself. In this picture, there is an “exact superimposition” of the “model’s gaze as it is being painted, of the spectator’s as he contemplates the painting, and of the painter’s as he is composing his picture,” which “three ‘observing’ functions come together in a point exterior to the picture” revealed by the structure of the picture itself.28 This point is “an ideal point in relation to what is represented, but a perfectly real one too, since it is also the starting-point that makes the representation possible.”29 It is this point, with its constantly changing content, that is the subject of Velázquez’s representation—“representation in its pure form.”30

So we see that the pictorial or representational image has been thematized, and that the play of representation is here quite clearly on display. However, interaction as such, the play of coming to presentation as such, remains unthematized. In the thematization of the image, it is the representational image, deriving its structure from the gaze, that is represented. Though interaction is necessary for the construction of such a representation, interaction is not its subject. We must pursue the construction itself, the instrument of which is not the gaze but the gesture, and the expression of which is not the painting but the diagram. Foucault has already shown us one such diagram, but we must leave the domain of Classical representation if we are to ascertain the diagram as such. In so doing, we will be able to make the connection, across history, between the pictorial image and the interactive image, taking hold of the play that is common to them both.


It is Gilles Deleuze’s study of painting, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (1981), that provides us with a path forward.31 In Las Meninas, we witness the gesture arrested by the gaze. In the paintings of Francis Bacon, on the other hand, we see how the gesture prefigures the figurations of the gaze, the figurations of the domain of representation. There is a “preparatory work that belongs to painting fully,” writes Deleuze, that is distinct from painting insofar as it “precedes the act” that in its completion will include it.32 This work is the work of the diagram: “invisible,” “silent,” and “extremely intense.”33 In the diagram, the painter approaches the canvas prior to representation as a field of “figurative and probabilistic givens” out of which a pictorial representation may yet be constructed, but need not be.34 The diagram of the image that Foucault shows us in Las Meninas is a diagram, just one possible response to the givens of the canvas. Velázquez’s use of this diagram—aperture, surface, volume—and his thematization of it through a second diagram—the spiral, the cross, the curve—spring up from his gestural “battle” with the canvas that goes unrepresented in the painting itself.35

The diagram, as Bacon defines it, cannot be characterized by the clean visibility of representation. Rather, in a diagram, one must “make random marks (lines-traits); scrub, sweep, or wipe the canvas in order to clear out locales or zones (color-patches); throw the paint, from various angles and at various speeds.”36 In the diagram, there is a “catastrophe” that appears “in the midst of the figurative and probabilistic givens” of the canvas and the painter’s mind, a catastrophe that surpasses them both.37 The diagram is the “emergence of another world” within the world of these givens, an emergence that indicates the possibility of holograms altogether other from those of representation: “irrational,” “involuntary,” “accidental,” “free,” “random,” “nonrepresentative,” “nonillustrative,” “nonnarrative.”38 Where the lines and forms of classical representation are “significant,” acting as “signifiers,” the “traits” of the diagram are entirely “asignifying,” “traits of sensation” rather than representation.39 Certain traits can indeed be used for representation—pure aperture, pure image, pure volume—but they only signify in a configuration like the one Foucault describes, and the traits themselves operate in a domain other than the visible: the domain of the “manual.”40

In Las Meninas, the painter is “caught in a moment of stillness” because he “could not at the same time be seen on the picture where he is represented and also see that upon which he is representing something.”41 He must halt his work for representation to take form; the gaze must overcome the gesture. But with Bacon’s diagrams, the painter “works with a rag, stick, brush, or sponge; it is here that he throws the paint with his hands.”42 Prior to visibility, prior to representation, the hand can be characterized by “an independence,” is “guided by other forces, making marks that no longer depend on either will or sight.”43 The diagram signals the intrusion of the outside:

These almost blind manual marks attest to the intrusion of another world into the visual world of figuration. To a certain extent, they remove the painting from the optical organization that was already reigning over it and rendering it figurative in advance. The painter’s hand intervenes in order to shake its own dependence and break up the sovereign optical organization: one can no longer see anything, as if in a catastrophe, a chaos.44

The diagram is a “turning point” for painting, the “chaos-germ” that “ends the preparatory work and begins the act of painting” as such.45 There are many paths that can be followed from this point, as many paths as there are possible diagrams. But the diagram, as a concept, is the “operative set of asignifying and nonrepresentative lines and zones, line-strokes and color-patches,” that must be “utilized” in the coming to presentation of the artwork.46 The diagram is not significant; it is “suggestive”; it presents “possibilities of fact” that “do not yet constitute a fact (the pictorial fact).”47 For traits to “evolve into a Figure, they must be reinjected into the visual whole”; but in Bacon’s painting, “it is precisely through the action of these marks that the visual whole will cease to be an optical organization; it will give the eye another power, as well as an object that will no longer be figurative.”48 For Bacon, it is not the image that is made thematic, but the particularity of use that produces it.

Bacon’s path is the path of “analogy,” a predecessor to which Deleuze identifies in Cézanne.49 Other paths include the path of abstraction “that reduces the abyss or chaos (as well as the manual) to a minimum,” and the path of abstract expressionism in which “the abyss or chaos is deployed to the maximum.”50 In abstraction, artists “replaced the diagram with a code”; in abstract expressionism, “the diagram merges with the totality of the painting,” the work becoming “exclusively manual.”51 It is for this reason that Deleuze considers Bacon’s path a “kind of middle way.”52 In Bacon, the diagram “remain[s] operative and controlled,” a “possibility of fact” that does not “submerge the whole,” allowing us to “emerge from the catastrophe” with both the “precision of the sensation” and the “clarity of the Figure” that is altogether new.53 It is the “rigor of the contour” that Bacon conserves, the thought of the “outline” that renders this third path the path of analogy.54

Analogy uses the diagram as a “motif,” the “intertwining” of a “sensation” and a “frame.”55 Analogy is “modular” rather than “integral”—it “establish[es] an immediate connection between heterogeneous elements,” it “introduc[es] a literally unlimited possibility of connections between these elements, on a field of presence or finite plane whose moments are all actual or sensible.”56 The digital, on the other hand, is an operation of “codification,” “homogenization,” and “binarization” that integrates its elements “on a seperate plane, infinite in principle,” the moments of which are only available by “conversion-translation.”57 Cézanne’s motifs are works of analogue “modulation”, utilizing “planes” rather than “perspective,” “color” rather than “chiaroscuro,” and “body” rather than the “form-background relationship.”58 In Bacon’s assumption of this diagram, there is a “liberation” of painting from the representational regime, a liberation that “occur[s] only by passing through the catastrophe” of the diagram to produce a “more profound resemblance” than representation, the realization of sensation.59 The diagram is a “modulator,” an abstract machine.60 And it is with this machine that we can at last address interaction directly.


The diagrammatic gesture postdates the representational gaze in the pictorial arts, just as the interactive image postdates the pictorial image in the arts at large. And yet, it is the paradox indicated from the beginning of this essay that the diagrammatic and interactive subtend the representational and pictorial. In chapter three of Amanda Phillips’ Gamer Trouble (2020), all these lines of force converge.61 The present essay, continuing the series “The Idea of the Gamer,” takes us to the site of the turn in video games, to the diagram that operates as the modulator between the preparatory work and the work of gameplay. Just as there are multiple possible paths from this point in painting, so too are there multiple possible paths in gaming. Phillips identifies three such paths, made concrete by three figures: Chell from Portal, Bayonetta from Bayonetta, and Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider reboot. Each of these figures is distinguished by a particular interactive diagram that Phillips meticulously analyzes. As Deleuze writes, we can both “differentiate” and “date” diagrams, allowing us to identify the “moment” when a painter, or in the present case, a game studio or franchise, “confronts” the diagram of their work “most directly.”62 As Phillips shows, in each of these three diagrams, the confrontation is primarily a confrontation with the “figurative and probabilistic givens” of race and gender from which each gameworld springs. These figures realize gamic sensation in distinct ways, and it is my purpose in this final section to unpack Phillips’ presentation of each.

In the previous entry in this series, I mentioned how Phillips moved from the “hidden surface problem” in 3D graphics to a reading of the “face” in video games. I also remarked that an inclusion of Deleuze and Guattari’s examination of faciality in A Thousand Plateaus (1980) would have been beneficial, but was too much to include given the limited scope of these pieces.63 Insofar as Deleuze and Guattari define “faciality (visagéité)” as an abstract machine, I am pleased to have returned to this point by way of another route, providing something of an armature for the previous discussion. Now, however, it will be worth broaching the hidden surface problem not as matter of the face but of interaction, using the same article cited by Amanda Phillips, Jacob Gaboury’s “Hidden Surface Problems” (2015), to do so.64

In his article, Gaboury works toward a “theory of the digital image that is not visible in the rendered output of the screen, but which nonetheless structures and limits our engagement with computational technology.”65 In other words, he is working toward a diagram of the digital image, or what he also names the “screen image.”66 The screen image is a “material object in its own right,” and so we can say with Deleuze that the screen image, like painting, is to be “made the object of practical studies.”67 The screen image is not a “mere interface for deeper material processes,” but a complex material process in its own right.68

The inaugural question of the field of computer graphics, the question that gives rise to the diagram of the screen image, is threefold: “How is an object constructed, what is it made of, how does it interact with the world around it?”69 The problem that arises from this triple question is the problem of the “hidden surface.”70 Gaboury is careful to establish that this problem should not be seen as a problem of “perspective,” but of “simulation.”71 While computer graphics have succeeded photography and film as the dominant mode of the image today, the problems of this mode do not stand in simple continuity with the problems of modes past. The simulation of perspective as a “structuring system whereby space is mapped and displayed in relation to a viewing subject,” the system Foucault describes in his analysis of Las Meninas, posed little difficulty in the early days of computer graphics.72 Perspective did not need to be reinvented for the computer. Rather, the primary difficulty for early computer graphics was the simulation of objects.73 For instance, the first “perspective-construction algorithm,” produced by Lawrence Roberts in 1963, did not construct a “virtual object,” such as the cube primitive with which game designers and developers would be familiar in game engines like Unity; rather, it produced a “three-dimensional representation,” the “simulation of a largely mathematical technique”—“Renaissance perspective”—“for constructing vision.”74

What would prevent this algorithm, and others being developed at the same time, from being deployed at scale or in real time, was the problem of “account[ing] for what parts of the object should be visible to a viewer, and which should be hidden.”75 Researchers were not interested with “reproduc[ing] a particular way of seeing,” because this had already been solved by perspective, by representation; instead, they were interested “in the structure of objects themselves.”76 The field of the screen image presents different givens than that of the pictorial image. Consequently, the “technical challenges” of computer graphics “have no basis in earlier visual media forms,” which requires that we not “presume a genealogy of the visible,” not presuppose the diagram of aperture-surface-volume.77 Citing Friedrich Kittler, Gaboury maintains Kittler’s point that computers “are born dimensionless and imageless.”78 As such, “graphics must not only calculate that which is to be seen, but also anticipate and hide that which is known but should not be seen, that which must be made hidden and invisible.”79 The pure volume of representational space is easy; the simulation of opaque objects is the challenge.80

The diagram that came closest to solving the problem of the opaque, the hidden, the invisible, was the “list-priority” algorithm, the variations of which were “designed for high quality interactive simulation.”81 List-priority algorithms determined whether an aspect of a “scene” should be “calculated using static image-space algorithms” or dynamic “object-space” algorithms, solving the hidden surface problem through the “proper categorization of a given scene.”82 This solution, the closest to the modern solution, was found not by conceiving of the computer screen as a surface like a painting, photo, or film, but as a scene for interaction. The problem was not the representational drama, but the staging of the drama. In 1978, Edwin Catmull developed the Z-Buffering method, the modern solution, which “utilizes a custom physical memory storage—known as a ‘buffer’—to store depth information for the purpose of hidden surface removal.”83 Insofar as scene prioritization presented the path forward for computer graphics, “hardware solutions” arose in turn as means to better “accelerate, decode, connect, and transform graphical data in a given system”—exemplified by developments in graphics card technology today, developments that are primarily driven by the gaming sector.84

The screen image, therefore, is not a matter of “capturing the world through the indexical trace of light on a surface,” but rather of “constructing objects for visual interaction.”85 The “figurative and probabilistic givens” of the interactive scene are the “graphical objects” potentiated by a given game engine, which is itself the game designer’s palette and brush.86 The basic diagram of the digital image, the screen image, the interactive image, is that of scene-object-interactor, a diagram for doing rather than seeing, of the gesture rather than the gaze, making explicit the manual quality of the diagram as such. It is through this diagram that the modulation of catastrophe into figure, field into game, is performed.

For Phillips, then, it is vital to understand this history if we are to correctly interpret their presentation of the “gamic gaze.” If we revert to the diagram of representation, interaction will be subjected to the image and gesture subjected to the gaze. But in the three instances of the gamic gaze Phillips analyses, the operative diagram is not that of aperture-surface-volume but scene-object-interactor. Insofar as the history of the screen image is a history driven by the demands of interaction, Phillips analyses help us chart the long course of the manual arts through the regime of the optical and back to their conditions of existence.

Phillips argues “for an understanding of the gamic gaze that attends to more than what is looked at and who is looking, but to the procedural, historical, corporeal, and cultural contexts in which the looking is done.”87 In other words, Phillips positions the gamic gaze as subject to the scene, the stage, the space of interaction rather than the space of representation. Video games certainly have a distinct “power of visuality,” but “computation and play help sculpt how we look at the screen—as well as how it looks back at us.”88 This sculpting, this manual art, is the diagram to be considered.

The modulating action of this diagram can be seen in the operation of the “machine-eye view.”89 This is a view “from the perspective of the rendering engine responsible for tracking and drawing the portions of gamespace visible to the gamer in real time.”90 In other words, this is the basic construction of a scene for interaction, the making visible of a stage for an interactor and objects.91 This scene and the gaze surveying it are “more than a visual field,” more than a volume of representation.92 Phillips contends that the visual field is, “rather, a matrix of recursive vectors of desire among the elements of a gamic system: human, hardware, software, rules, narrative, and representation.”93 The gamic gaze is subject to the “gamic system that kinesthetically entangles the body of the gamer via technological peripherals and the demands of play.”94 Thus, in the same way that the spectator is included before the fact in Las Meninas, the gamer is included before the fact in the game, discovering their action to have been anticipated, expected, invited.

Following Deleuze, we recognize that the diagram of interaction is deployed in a variety of different ways, producing modulations that lead players down very different paths. First, if we consider Chell in Portal, the machine-eye view is from a first person perspective, the visual field constituted much like that of the subject-spectator of representation. However, unlike the representational subject-spectator, the player as Chell takes on the role of subject-actor. The “game camera functions as the player character’s eyes from a position that sutures gamer to character through the gaze.”95 But the game is not for the gaze; the game is for the gestures of interaction. The “tangled gazes” of Chell and GLaDOS’s cameras constitute a visual field criss-crossed by competing lines of action, and the Portal Gun that occupies much of the player and Chell’s visual field is a means of traversing this visual field, a means of action.96 The visibility it makes possible is a visibility that restructures the scene, that connects points in space not previously so distributed. The final confrontation with GLaDOS sees the deployment of this active visibility to dismember and desubjectify her. The representational volume collapses, the “gamer’s hostile gaze” not a pure reciprocity but the mobilization of the scene itself for violence.97 Phillips rightly critiques the narrative around Portal as a story of female empowerment, seeing in Portal the use of a voiceless feminine body (Chell) and a bodiless feminine voice (GLaDOS), modulated by the first-person shooter diagram, to antifeminist ends. Furthermore, Chell’s depiction as not only a feminine body but a “brown feminine body” reproduces the “histories of women of color … who have been forced into scientific experimentation in the name of the greater good.”98 Rather than structure the action of the game around an assault on “the white supremacist cisheteropatriarchal structures that put them there in the first place,” both Chell and GLaDOS “continuously hold each other in check with their gazes,” with the former ultimately killing the latter by way of the player’s actions.99

There is, however, a quiet short circuiting of this matrix of violence that Chell effects. At the beginning of the game, the gamer is provided with a “wide angle of the avatar’s body” through a portal specifically “set up in such a way … [to] help the gamer orient themselves in the twisted spatial perspectives of the game, making these mirrors … integral to connecting with the avatar.”100 Chell is “literally objectified” by the “portal gaze,” made into the “avatar-thing with which the gamer must identify.”101 But, insofar as the suture of the first-person perspective is modulated by the institution of this loop between avatar-thing and player-subject, the possibility of the suture coming undone presents itself. Beyond that introductory scene, the gamer can only see Chell’s body “through the lens of carefully arranged portals.”102 But it is this “particular restriction of vision” that has the “curious effect” of splitting the suture of gamer and character: for Chell to look back at the camera “requires the avatar to break the physics of the game.”103 Chell glances at herself, looks away from the “line of sight” of the “gamer’s camera,” dissolving the “suggestion that the camera is coterminous with her eyes.”104 The pilot becomes a passenger for just a moment, with just a glance, troubling the scene of interaction with a question of unreconciled agency. This glance is not ultimately a liberatory one, insofar as the gendered and racial violence of the game as a whole overcodes such minor actions. But the very possibility of such minor actions as programmed, the fact of the manual labour required to produce such a disruptive look, indicates the distinction of the screen image and the interactive scene from the pictorial and representational.

In Bayonetta, then, Phillips identifies a disruptive modulation of the diagram of interaction that is not relegated to a glance but characterizes the game as a whole. Interpreted according to a representational paradigm, the character of Bayonetta “is the ideal candidate for thinking about the objectification of women in video games.”105 But, insofar as a video game is not primarily a representational space, but an interactive one, Bayonetta’s presentation has the effect of “femme disturbance,” which “disrupts simplistic notions of agency and resistance to open the way for recognizing how systems might be assailed from within.”106 Phillips does not shy away from the “difficult context” of Bayonetta’s production as a character, the fact of the “visual enticement of misogynist consumers” and creators alike.107 As a game, however, the interaction that Bayonetta requires “enlists the gamer in a project that deprivileges and ridicules phallic scopophilia, dismembers the structures of religio-corporate masculinity, literally and figuratively castrates its central figures, and channels masturbatory pleasure at the game’s climaxes into a clitoral form.”108 Bayonetta’s “hypervisible” body is not simply about being visible, as it would be as a pure representation, but rather is about “imagining new ways to confront oppressive regimes.”109 In a refusal of representation, Bayonetta denies the gamer “control” of its “scopic regime,” refusing to privilege the spectator-subject’s view.110 Furthermore, the game uses its interactive space to “create moments” that Phillips describes as “sexual analogues in which controller functions mimic sexual activity” with a distinctly “clitoral” structure.111 That is to say, the game modulates player action, is a modulator of interaction, introducing a catastrophe to the givens of masculine gamespace. Bayonetta goes beyond masculine “voyeurism” to enact “a masculine identification with a feminine character,” what Phillips calls a “transgender gamer identification[]” that rejects the “foundational mytholog[y]” of the “target demographic” of “straight white adolescent boys,” using its interactive possibilities to “explore the queer and transgender fantasies that attend feminine avatars in games that court masculine audiences.”112 Phillips concludes that “Bayonetta’s aggressively feminine, queer sexuality reaches beyond the screen to implicate the gamer in its own pleasures, disturbing the narratives we tell about what it means to be a gamer, or a woman, or a slut, or a hero in contemporary times.”113 Bayonetta is the realization of a truly radical sensation.

To round out the chapter, Phillips turns to Lara Croft, the “First Lady of gaming,” and the 2013 reboot of her character and the franchise in particular.114 Lara’s “ascension to the role of hero” in this game and its sequels is coupled with a “physical vulnerability … more common in survival horror games,” drawing Tomb Raider into the territory of the “body genre,” as theorized by Carol Clover and Linda Williams.115 The machine-eye and visual field of Tomb Raider “take[] on the physiological aspects of the first-person camera,” which “amplifies the gamer’s connection to Lara, despite the placement of the camera at a distance from her body.”116 In one particular instance of in-game trauma, “[c]olor drains from the screen and the image distorts with the pain of the impact, the controller pulsing and Lara whimpering with every step as the gamer guides her limping body around.”117 Phillips sees this particular sequence as “exemplary of the gamic gaze” because the visual field is “complicated by a recursive set of multisensory input and output that serves to invoke a sense of copresence (and commiseration) with the avatar.”118 The screen image is not a representation to be spectated, but an interactive scene that directly involves the player’s body in its action. The diagram is manual, physiological, a “forward-looking, anticipatory loop that engages digital and physical bodies.”119 Lara “exist[s] as more than an object separate unto herself”; she, like Bayonetta, “reaches back through the gamer’s gaze upon her and imposes [her] own demands on their behavior.”120 Lara’s body is a locus for the modulation of the player that results in the production of the figure of gameplay, a total scene and a plurality of scenes that are, indeed, more profound resemblances than mere representation.

Phillips notes Lara’s role in the narrative as a “kick-ass avenger and brutal colonizer” like Indiana Jones, but reserves a more in depth discussion of the politics of such gameplay for the following chapter.121 It will be that discussion we consider in the next entry for this series.


  1. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 1960, trans. revis. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), 106ff. 

  2. I first learned about the remarkable construction of these images from Sean Zabashi, Twitter, June 12, 2021, In 1960, Sigfreid Giedion proposed the essential role of firelight in the interaction with cave paintings, and in 1993 Edward Wachtel theorized how the superposition of paintings and etchings, when viewed by firelight, could produce a sort of animation or proto-movie. See Giedion, “Space Conception in Prehistoric Art,” in Explorations in Communication, eds. Edmund Carpenter and Marshall McLuhan (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1960), 71-89, and Wachtel, “The First Picture Show: Cinematic Aspects of Cave Art,” Leonardo 26, no. 2 (April 1993): 135-140. For contemporary reporting, see Zach Zorich, “Early Humans Made Animated Art,” Nautilus, March 27, 2014,, and Jennifer Ouellette, “Archaeologists recreated three common kinds of Paleolithic cave lighting,” Ars Technica, June 19, 2021,

  3. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, 1966, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1994), 16. 

  4. Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656,, and Foucault, The Order of Things, 16. 

  5. Foucault, The Order of Things, 16. This is the subject of the painting and the aesthetic subject who is a spectator of the painting. 

  6. Foucault, The Order of Things, 3. 

  7. Foucault, The Order of Things, 3. 

  8. Foucault, The Order of Things, 4. 

  9. Foucault, The Order of Things, 4. 

  10. Foucault, The Order of Things, 4. 

  11. Foucault, The Order of Things, 5. 

  12. Foucault, The Order of Things, 5. 

  13. Foucault, The Order of Things, 5. 

  14. Foucault, The Order of Things, 5. 

  15. Foucault, The Order of Things, 6. 

  16. Foucault, The Order of Things, 6. 

  17. Foucault, The Order of Things, 6. 

  18. Foucault, The Order of Things, 6. 

  19. Foucault, The Order of Things, 7. 

  20. Foucault, The Order of Things, 8. 

  21. Foucault, The Order of Things, 8. 

  22. Foucault, The Order of Things, 8. 

  23. Foucault, The Order of Things, 10. 

  24. Foucault, The Order of Things, 11. 

  25. Foucault, The Order of Things, 13. 

  26. Foucault, The Order of Things, 14. 

  27. Foucault, The Order of Things, 14. 

  28. Foucault, The Order of Things, 14-15. 

  29. Foucault, The Order of Things, 15. 

  30. Foucault, The Order of Things, 16. 

  31. Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, 1981, trans. Daniel W. Smith (London, UK: Continuum, 2003). 

  32. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 99. 

  33. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 99. 

  34. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 99. 

  35. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 99. 

  36. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 99-100. 

  37. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 100. 

  38. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 100. 

  39. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 100. 

  40. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 100. 

  41. Foucault, The Order of Things, 4. 

  42. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 100. 

  43. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 100-101. 

  44. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 101. 

  45. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 101, 102. 

  46. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 101. 

  47. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 101. 

  48. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 101-102. 

  49. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 111. 

  50. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 103, 104. 

  51. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 104. 

  52. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 111. 

  53. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 110. 

  54. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 110, and fn. 18, 186. 

  55. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 112. 

  56. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 116. 

  57. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 116. 

  58. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 118. 

  59. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 119. 

  60. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 120. For “abstract machine” see Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 1980, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 510: “There is no abstract machine, or machines, in the sense of a Platonic Idea, transcendent, universal, eternal. Abstract machines operate within concrete assemblages: They are defined by the fourth aspect of assemblages, in other words, the cutting edges of decoding and deterritorialization. They draw these cutting edges. Therefore they make the territorial assemblage open onto something else, assemblages of another type, the molecular, the cosmic; they constitute becomings. Thus they are always singular and immanent.” 

  61. Amanda Phillips, Gamer Trouble: Feminist Confrontations in Digital Culture (New York, NY: New York University Press, 2020). 

  62. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 102. 

  63. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 167-191. 

  64. Jacob Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems: On the Digital Image as Material Object,” Journal of Visual Culture 14, no. 1 (2015): 40-60. 

  65. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 42. 

  66. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 41. 

  67. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 41, and Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 114. 

  68. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 41. 

  69. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 43-44. 

  70. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 45. 

  71. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 46. 

  72. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 46. 

  73. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 47. 

  74. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 47-49. 

  75. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 50. 

  76. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 50. 

  77. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 51. 

  78. Friedrich Kittler, cited in Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 50. 

  79. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 51. 

  80. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 52. 

  81. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 54. 

  82. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 55. 

  83. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 56. 

  84. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 57. 

  85. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 57. 

  86. Gaboury, “Hidden Surface Problems,” 57. 

  87. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 105. 

  88. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 105. 

  89. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 126. 

  90. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 126. 

  91. Pippin Barr has produced a set of presentations of the basic “scenes” of twenty different game engines, The Nothings Suite, April 21, 2021,, a project remarkable for its simplicity. In each, the scene as a space for interaction is made explicit, one of the three constituent elements of the diagram of the interactive image. 

  92. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 132. 

  93. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 132. 

  94. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 132. 

  95. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 107. 

  96. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 108. 

  97. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 113. 

  98. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 117-118. 

  99. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 119. 

  100. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 116. 

  101. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 116. 

  102. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 114, and Figure 3.6, 115. 

  103. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 115. Fans have commented on this peculiarity online. For instance, see Reddit user drachenhunter, “Just started playing portal,” June 28, 2014,

  104. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 115. 

  105. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 120. 

  106. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 121. Phillips receives the concept of “femme disturbance” from micha cárdenas. 

  107. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 122. 

  108. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 129. 

  109. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 121. 

  110. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 126. 

  111. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 128-129. 

  112. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 131. 

  113. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 132. 

  114. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 133. 

  115. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 133, 134, 127. 

  116. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 135. 

  117. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 135. 

  118. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 135. 

  119. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 135. 

  120. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 135. 

  121. Phillips, Gamer Trouble, 135. 

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