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Sören Schoppmeier

PhD Candidate

Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin

Current Research Interests

  • Videogame Studies
  • Digital Media
  • Popular Culture
  • American (Cultural) History


Fall 2017 Research Associate at the University of California Santa Cruz
Since 2015 Doctoral Candidate at the Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin
2012-2014 MA in American Studies, Universität Leipzig
2008-2011 BA in English and History, Leibniz Universität Hannover
2010 University of Nebraska—Lincoln

Playing America(n): Ambioperative Videogame Worlds and the Production of American Culture (Dissertation Project)

Dissertation in Culture

Mentoring team:
First supervisor: Prof. Dr. Frank Kelleter
Second supervisor: Prof. Dr. Martin Lüthe
Third supervisor: Prof. Dr. Andreas Sudman

This project couples methods and theories from the fields of Videogame Studies and American Cultural Studies in order to elucidate the meaning and functioning of videogames in the broader assemblage of American culture. Its leading question asks: What happens when we play American in current open-world videogames? This dissertation illuminates the ways in which a specific genre of videogames is not only expressive of twenty-first-century American culture in the videogames’ interplay of themes, representations, and game mechanics, but in turn also (re)produces American culture in distinct ways. This genre is a subsection of open-world videogames which employs what I call ambioperative videogame worlds. The analytic chapters examine three videogame series as case studies, each of which is approached from a different theoretical angle, though all of the angles are similarly applicable to all case studies: Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs, Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto, and Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption. Three working theses run through all chapters, informing and driving the specific research questions of each of them:

  • Meaning in these videogames is principally produced through ambient operations in the gameworld, that is, all of those things happening around the player character (often in the background), at any given moment. These operations constantly capture the player’s attention, redirect their actions, and generally structure the experience of the world projected by a given videogame. The focus is thus on dynamic environments rather than plot-driven or goal-oriented gameplay (though both also play their roles in this).
  • Through the affordances of ambioperative videogame worlds and the interaction of their procedural and representational components during gameplay, the videogames studied here effectively involve players in central characteristics of American life in the twenty-first century—for example, the everyday impact of data profiling, the regime of flexibility in the post-Fordist workplace and the societies of control, the database logic inherent to a world predominately experienced through digital media, and more.
  • These videogames are as much products of a distinctly American culture, composed of an ecology of popular media, political discourses, technological developments, and societal dynamics, as they themselves produce particular versions of ‘America’ transnationally, in both their creation and reception. This practice of playing America(n) brings to the fore some of the processes underlying both American self-understandings and American predicaments.

Selected Publications and Conference Presentations

“Once upon a Time in the Digital West: Red Dead Redemption and the Politics of the Database Western.” U.S.-American Culture as Popular Culture. 66th Annual Meeting of the German Association for American Studies. University of Hamburg. 13-15 June 2019. Conference Presentation. (upcoming)

“Regeneration through Violence: Playable Wilderness, the Frontier Myth, and Making America Great Again in Far Cry 5.” Video Games, American Studies, and Space. University of Duisburg-Essen. 15-18 May 2019. Conference Presentation. (upcoming)

“Playing to Make America Great Again: Far Cry 5 and the Politics of Videogames in the Age of Trumpism.” COPAS: Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies, vol. 20, no. 1, 2019. (forthcoming)

“Of Mythical Cities, Actor-Networks, and American Culture: Thoughts on the Cultural Work of Grand Theft Auto.” Spiel-Kultur-Wissenschaften: Politische Mythen im Digitalen Spiel. Edited by Eugen Pfister. 9 Apr. 2019. www.spielkult.hypotheses.org/2409. (also available in German)

“Breaking the Habitual: Pony Island as Countergaming.” Modernities and Modernization in North America. Edited by Ruth Mayer and Ilka Brasch. Winter, 2019.

“The Politics of Playing Surveillance: Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs Videogames.” Surveillance and Social Order: Visibility, Invisibility, and the Blurring of Boundaries (Lecture Series). Freie Universität Berlin. 9 January 2019. Lecture.

“Playing to Make America Great Again: Far Cry 5 and the Politics of Videogames in an Age of Trumpism.” Postgraduate Forum of the German Association for American Studies. Essen. 8-10 Nov. 2018. Conference Presentation.

“Black Boxes, Black Bodies, and Surveillance as Gameplay: The Ambivalent Politics of Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs Games.” University of California Santa Cruz. 28 Nov. 2017. Invited Lecture.

“Playing the Black Box Society: The Procedural Rhetoric of Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs Games.” The Futures of American Studies Institute. Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH. 19-25 June 2017. Presentation.

“‘There Are Better Options Than This’ (i. e., Pony Lasers): Pony Island as Countergaming.” Modernities and Modernization in North America. 64th Annual Meeting of the German Association of American Studies. Leibniz University Hannover. 8-11 June 2017. Presentation.

“Control and Coordinate: Video Games as (Fictions of) Management.” Fictions of Management: An International Conference. John F. Kennedy Institute, Freie Universität Berlin. 10 Dec. 2016. Presentation.

“Places, Actors, Procedures: Transfictional World-Building in the Video Game Series Grand Theft Auto.” Expanding Universes: Exploring Transmedial and Transfictional Ways of Worldbuilding. Facta Ficta Research Centre, Kraków. 25 Sept. 2016. Presentation.

With Florian Bast et al., eds. aspeers: emerging voices in american studies 7 (2014). Print.

With Florian Bast et al., eds. aspeers: emerging voices in american studies 6 (2013). Print.

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft