Empathy at Play: Embodying Posthuman Subjectivities in Gaming

Poppy Wilde, Adrienne Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
372 Downloads (Pure)


In this article, we address the need for a posthuman account of the relationship between the avatar and player. We draw on a particular line of posthumanist theory associated closely with the work of Karen Barad, Rosi Braidotti and N. Katherine Hayles that suggests a constantly permeable, fluid and extended subjectivity, displacing the boundaries between human and other. In doing so, we propose a posthuman concept of empathy in gameplay, and we apply this concept to data from the first author’s 18-month ethnographic field notes of gameplay in the MMORPG World of Warcraft. Exploring these data through our analysis of posthuman empathy, we demonstrate the entanglement of avatar–player, machine–human relationship. We show how empathy allows us to understand this relationship as constantly negotiated and in process, producing visceral reactions in the intra-connected avatar–player subject as well as moments of co-produced in-game action that require ‘affective matching’ between subjective and embodied experiences. We argue that this account of the avatar–player relationship extends research in game culture, providing a horizontal, non-hierarchical discussion of its most necessary interaction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)791-806
Number of pages16
Issue number5-6
Early online date29 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


  • Avatar–player relationships
  • World of Warcraft
  • digital culture
  • embodiment
  • empathy
  • posthuman
  • posthuman empathy
  • posthuman subjectivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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