Portals, Goffman, Language and Performance

June 3rd, 2009

My latest Lingua Franca column is now up on GameSetWatch and probably Gamasutra too, if habits prevail. I rarely talk myself up, but I’m very proud of this piece. It’s been stewing away since last November and finally I’ve had the opportunity to apply myself with it. This time around I discuss Portal and the way the tale represents the management of social performance through language. It’s a critique, and worthy of that illusionary word as my methodology combines the sociology studies of Erving Goffman with concepts from the linguistics discipline as well as game narrative. It’s pretty heavy stuff and spans out to a massive 5600 words. The larger chunk of that preposterous amount of text is pure analysis.

I prepped up pretty good for this article. I’ve been studying Goffman’s work for a while now, but I decided to read The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life just in case. I’ll be onto his other works later on sometime. I also went through some old lecture slides from Uni and dug out a few quotes by people like Bourdieu and Foucault that are relevant to the article. I hope to eventually read more of what they have to say too. Here are two of my favourite quotes, worth reading before you approach the essay:

“Language is a guide to “social reality”… it powerfully conditions all our thinking about social problems and processes. Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. It is quite an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language and that language is merely an additional means of solving specific problems of communication or reflection. The fact of the matter is that the “real world” is to a large extent unconsciously built upon the language habits of the group. No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached to…. We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation.” (Sapir 1962).

“Institutions are powerful to the extent that people have come to interpret them as ‘the way things are (and should be) done’. There are likely to be sanctions for people who deviate from or are unable to interpret what is normal” (Bourdieu 1991)

  • You definitely went far beyond the beyonds of tl;dr on that one, mate. I’m going to have to buckle down later tonight and read it through just to get your comments section rolling 🙂 Really excited, especially since it’s Goffman and you explicitly bring up my complaint about the difference between critique and analysis.

  • Oh Jesus I said “mate” because it made sense in the context of the sentence, but then I remembered you were Australian and that I was American and so it would totally come off as me being an ass. I apologize. Change that to “friend.”

  • I only found one major typo that you might wanna fix.

    “The two devices are self reliant, that is language (compulsory narrative), cannot exist without context (player narrative), hence I shall be analyzing how both these tools operate to reach my conclusion.”

    If they can’t exist without each other then they’re “mutually reliant,” not “self reliant.” (1st paragraph, Abstract)