Carnal Hermeneutics and the Digital Game


  • Paul Martin University of Nottingham Ningbo China



Carnal hermeneutics claims that the body makes sense of the world by making distinctions and evaluating those distinctions in a non-predicative mode. This article makes the case that ludohermeneutics can be enriched by attending to the way in which the body makes sense of digital games and advances carnal hermeneutics as a way of theorising this process. The article introduces carnal hermeneutics, argues for its relevance to ludo-hermeneutics, and outlines three examples of how carnal hermeneutics can be used to theorise sense-making in digital games. The first example demonstrates the capacity for touch-screen games to put us in a new relationship with the image. The second example shows how generic control schemas can take on new meanings in different games. The third example shows how marketing of game controllers draws on conventional attitudes to touch to make digital game touch meaningful.

Author Biography

Paul Martin, University of Nottingham Ningbo China

Paul Martin is Assistant Professor in Digital Media and Communications in the School of International Communications at University of Nottingham Ningbo China.



Pinchbeck, Dan. 2012. Dear Esther. Windows.

Lovable Hat Cult. 2016. La Petite Mort. Mobile.

Valve. 2004. Half-Life 2. Windows.


Aarseth, Espen. (2003). Playing Research: Methodological Approaches to Game Analysis. Australia DAC, Melbourne.

Aarseth, Espen. (2013). Ludology. In The Routledge Companion to Video Game Studies, edited by Mark J.P. Wolf and Bernard Perron. Abingdon: Routledge.

Aristotle. 2001. On the Soul: Infomotions Inc.

Arjoranta, Jonne. (2011). Do We Need Real-Time Hermeneutics? Structures of Meaning in Games. Proceedings of DiGRA 2011 Conference: Think Design Play.

Behrenshausen, Bryan G. (2007). Toward a (Kin)Aesthetic of Video Gaming: The Case of Dance Dance Revolution. Games and Culture 2 (4):335-354.

Bogdan, Radu J. (2009). Predicative Minds. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press

Calleja, Gordon. (2007). Digital Game Involvement. A Conceptual Model. Games and Culture 2 (3):236-260.

Clarkson, Michael. (2009). Critical Compilation. Bioshock. Critical Distance, accessed 23rd of March.

Classen, Constance. (2005). Touch and Technology. In The Book of Touch, edited by Constance Classen, 401-406. Oxford and New York: Berg.

Flynn, Bernadette. (2008). The Navigator's Experience: An Examination of the Spatial in Computer Games. In The Pleasures of Computer Gaming: Essays on Cultural History, Theory and Aesthetics, edited by Melanie Swallwell and Jason Wilson, 118-146. Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland & Company.

Fuchs, Thomas. (2012). The Phenomenology of Body Memory. In Body Memory, Metaphor and Movement, edited by Sabine C. Koch, Thomas Fuchs, Michela Summa and Cornelia Müller, 9-22. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. (2004). Truth and Method. Translated by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall. London and New York: Continuum. Original edition, 1960.

Giddings, Seth, and Helen Kennedy. (2010). ‘Incremental Speed Increases Excitement’: Bodies, Space, Movement and Televisual Change. Television and New Media 11 (3):163-179.

Hansen, Mark B.N. (2006). Bodies in Code: Interfaces with Digital Media. New York: Routledge.

Heidegger, Martin. (2008). Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper & Row. Original edition, 1927.

Husserl, Edmund. (1970). Logical Investigations. Translated by J.N. Findlay. New York: Humanities Press. Original edition, 1900/1901.

Karhulahti, Veli-Matti. (2015). Hermeneutics and Ludocriticism. Journal of Games Criticism 2 (1):1-23.

Kearney, Richard. (2014). Losing Our Touch. The Stone, August 30th 2014.

Kearney, Richard. (2015). What is Carnal Hermeneutics? New Literary History 46 (1):99-124.

Kirkpatrick, Graeme. (2009). Controller, hand, screen. Aesthetic Form in the Computer Game. Games and Culture 4 (2):127-143.

Kirkpatrick, Graeme. (2011). Aesthetic Theory and the Video Game. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Kondo, Dorinne. (2005). Polishing Your Heart: Artisans and Machines in Japan. In The Book of Touch, edited by Constance Classen, 409-411. Oxford and New York: Berg.

Leino, Olli Tapio. 2011. Re-Conceptualising the Play-Element in Electronic Art. In Proceedings of The 17th International Symposium on Electronic Art, Istanbul, Turkey.

Leino, Olli Tapio. 2013. Playability and Its Absence–A Post-Ludological Critique. In Proceedings of DiGRA 2013: DeFragging Game Studies. Digital Games Research Association DiGRA, Atlanta, GA.

Marks, L.U. (2000). The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. (1968). The Visible and the Invisible. Followed by working notes. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Edited by Claude Lefort. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. Original edition, 1964.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. (2002). Phenomenology of Perception. Translated by Colin Smith. London and New York: Routledge. Original edition, 1945.

Monbiot, George. (2017). Our Greatest Peril? Screening Ourselves off from Reality. The Guardian, 28/2/2017. Accessed 28/3/2017.

Nintendo. (2016). A Completely New Console with a Brand New Controller. Accessed May 15, 2016.

Nørgård, Rikke Toft. (2010a). The Body under the Mask : Unveiling the Corporeal Practice of Gamers. Under the Mask 2010: Perspectives on the Gamer, Luton, UK.

Nørgård, Rikke Toft . (2010b). Stillborn Gamers? Writing a Birth Certificate for Corporeality and Locomotion in Game Research. Nordic DiGRA, Experiencing Games: Games, Play, and Players, Stockholm, Sweden.

Nørgård, Rikke Toft . (2011). The Joy of Doing : The Corporeal Connection in Player-Avatar Identity. Philosophy of Computer Games, Athens, Greece.

Nørgård, Rikke Toft . (2013a). Corporeal-Locomotive Media: Experiencing First Person Being and First-Person Doing in Onscreen-Offscreen Gameworlds. Nordmedia 2013: Defending Democracy, Oslo, Norway.

Nørgård, Rikke Toft . (2013b). Endeavors to Represent the Non-Representational : Researching Corporeal-Locomotive Media. Nordmedia 2013: Defending Democracy, Oslo, Norway.

Pozo, Diana. (2015). Countergaming's Porn Parodies, Hard Core and Soft. In Rated M for mature. Sex and Sexuality in Videogames, edited by Matthew Wysocki and Evan W. Lauteria, 133-146. London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Robins, Kevin. (1996). Into the Image. Culture and Politics in the Field of Vision. London and New York: Routledge.

Saussure, F. (2011) Course in General Linguistics. Translated by Wade Baskin. Edited by Perry Meisel and Haun Saussy. New York: Columbia University Press. Original edition, 1916.

Shusterman R (2012) Thinking Through the Body: Essays in Somaesthetics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sobchack, V. (2004). Carnal thoughts. Embodiment and Moving Image Culture. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Sony. (2016a). DualShock 4 Wireless Controller. Accessed May 15, 2016.

Sony. (2016b). PlayStation® Move. Accessed May 15, 2016.

Sudnow, David. (1983). Pilgrim in the Microworld: Warner Books.

Summa, Michela. (2012). Body Memory and the Genesis of Meaning. In Body Memory, Metaphor and Movement, edited by Sabine C. Koch, Thomas Fuchs, Michela Summa and Cornelia Müller, 23-43. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Švankmajer, Jan. (2014). Touching and Imagining: An Introduction to Tactile Art Translated by Stanley Dalby. London, UK and New York, NY: I.B. Tauris.

Toner, John. (2017). Habitual Reflexivity and Skilled Action. Body & Society.

Tuan, Yi Fu. (2005). The Pleasures of Touch. In The Book of Touch edited by Constance Classen, 74-79. Oxford and New York: Berg.

Microsoft. 2016a. Xbox One Wireless Controller. Accessed May 15, 2016.

Microsoft. 2016b. Kinect for Xbox One. Accessed May 15, 2016.