Meaning and Emotion in Squaresoft's Final Fantasy X :

Re-Theorising “Realism” and “Identification”

in Video Games

Glen R. Spoors

A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements of

Doctor of Philosophy, Edith Cowan University

Faculty of Communications and Creative Industries

School of Communications and Multimedia

January, 2005


This thesis takes the position that traditional theories of “realism” and “identification” misrepresent the relationships between players and videogames, and that a cross-disciplinary approach is needed. It uses Ed Tan's (1997) and Torben Grodal's (1997) analyses of narrative, cognition, and emotion in film as a basis for interrogating existing research on, and providing a working model of, video gameplay. It develops this model through an extended account of Squaresoft's adventure role-playing game Final Fantasy X ( FFX ) (2001), whose hybrid narrative and game macrostructures foreground many of the problems associated with video games. The chapters respectively address: existing research on video games; how perceptual qualities of the interface determine the reality-status of gameplay; how narrative and game codes regulate or retard interest; FFX 's hermeneutic coding of reality; the dual narrative and game coding of video game characters; the uses and limits of the psychoanalytic concept of identification when analysing video games; how gameplay promotes empathetic emotions towards characters; how players develop empathetic emotions towards themselves; and how the disjunctive quality of play may have an existential quality.


I certify that this thesis does not, to the best of my knowledge and belief:

(i) incorporate without acknowledgment any material previously submitted for

a degree of diploma in any institution of higher education;

(ii) contain any material previously published or written by another person

except where due reference is made in the text; or

(iii) contain any defamatory material.


I also grant permission for the Library at Edith Cowan University to make duplicate copies of my thesis as required.


The encouragement and support of many others helped in the writing of this thesis. Rod Giblett, my primary supervisor, offered patient guidance and supportive feedback as well as many hours of rewarding discussion. Without Rod's encouragement it is unlikely that I would have taken up this study or tutoring. He also introduced me to the Taoist Tai Chi Society, which afforded me a measure of health and stillness throughout the research process.

Dennis Wood, my secondary supervisor, offered timely and supportive counsel and has always been eminently approachable. Along with Norm Leslie, Debbie Rodan, and Michael O'Shaugnessey, Dennis has supervised my tutoring at Edith Cowan University . This work has helped me to grow both professionally and personally.

I would like to express my thanks to the other postgraduate students at Edith Cowan University, notably Panizza Allmark, Renai Desai, James Hall, Steve McKiernan, Rucci Permvattana, Judith Pugh, Taryn Ricketts, Scott Smith, and Juha Tolonen, for their peer support. Indeed, given the atmosphere of congeniality I have enjoyed during my research, I must offer a blanket thank you to all the staff and students with whom I have worked at ECU.

Outside the university, Sean Curran has been a good-humoured, intelligent companion in countless episodes of movie-going. Craig Nichols introduced me to affect theory, self psychology, and cognitive behavioural therapy, and throughout my research we have shared many long and productive discussions on psychology and video games. I also would like to thank his wife Gaye, for accommodating me since their marriage. The civil and literate company that both have extended has been a regular sanctuary.

And, finally, I must thank my family. My parents, Brian and Cheryl, have provided me with the love, stability, and practicality that has allowed me to persist with studying. My brother, Richard, has been my ally in many sessions of Tai Chi, movie-going, and video-watching. Aside from his level-headedness, he has always quietly tolerated my volubility. Lastly, my nephew, Jordan, has helped me to renew my connection to play. Such a connection is valuable in itself, but it is also fortunate when one is researching play only to discover that theory has confounded the experience one is trying to convey.

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