Dr Feng Zhu
Lecturer in Games and Virtual Environments
My research centres on two related areas. Firstly, I am interested in how computer games imply or suggest certain practices to us that can become engrained as dispositions or even ‘rationalities’. This pertains to the way that players actively exercise their ‘freedom’ in gameplay and how they transform themselves into subjects with particular mental attitudes, embodied dispositions, and forms of attention. These considerations bear on the relationship between power, subjectivity, and play.
Secondly, I explore how gameplay can be conceived as an aesthetic experience. This concerns the non-representational aesthetics of computer games, experienced through the player’s intuitive, non-cognitive grasp of the game as a system with possibilities and constraints. The player’s approach to gameplay can be a means for the player to continuously engage with self-interpretive processes and to develop their self-reflexivity towards that approach. In this way, gameplay could be the site of an aesthetics of the self, of a non-formalisable aesthetic interplay between cognitive judgements and non-cognitive perceptions. I am interested in aesthetic self-formation through gameplay as a terrain on which power and resistance plays out.
My background is interdisciplinary. I hold a PhD from the University of Manchester (Sociology), an MA from The Courtauld (History of Art), and a BA from University College London (Philosophy and the History of Art). My ESRC and President’s Doctoral Scholarship funded PhD explored the ways in which player practices in contemporary single-player computer games (particularly RPGs) can be said to be aligned with what may be called a ‘neoliberal self-fashioning’ or to constitute the Foucauldian aesthetic practices of the self that lead to a ‘transformation’ or ‘transfiguration’ of the playing subject.
Research Interests and PhD Supervision
- The aesthetics of computer games
- The technologies of the self, neoliberal subjectivity, and the aesthetics of existence
- Self-transformation through gameplay and playful technologies
- The socio-cultural significance of habitual practices connected to gaming
- Gaming and narratives of the self
I would look to supervise PhD candidates who are looking to work on any of these areas.
I teach on modules that explore the relationship between users and technologies, drawing upon a range of philosophical traditions to critically evaluate the ways in which users are entangled with technologies in complex ways that result in transformations in their relations to self.
Expertise and Public Engagement
- Game studies
- Foucault studies
- Subjectivity and identity
- Aesthetic theory
- Critical social theory
Participation in expert panels:
- Program chair of the 13th International Philosophy of Computer Games Conference, ‘The Aesthetics of Computer Games’. St Petersburg State University, St Petersburg (October 21-25, 2019).
- ‘Subjects’ and ‘objects’ in game studies.’ Panel at The 12th International Philosophy of Computer Games Conference: Values in Games. IT University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen (August 13-15, 2018). Panellists: Espen Aarseth, Andreas Gregersen, Justyna Janik, Sebastian Möring, Feng Zhu.
- ‘What Does it Mean to do Game Philosophy?’ Panel at The 10th International Philosophy of Computer Games Conference: Knowledge. The University of Malta, Malta (November 1-4, 2016). Panellists: Marta Matylda Kania, Olli Tapio Leino, Sebastian Möring, John Richard Sageng, Feng Zhu.
- ‘Critical Theory and Meaning in the Computer Game.’ Panel at The 9th International Philosophy of Computer Games Conference: Meaning and Computer Games. BTK, University of Art and Design, Berlin (October 14-17, 2015). Panellists: Emma Fraser, Graeme Kirkpatrick, Feng Zhu.
- ‘The ‘affective’ ethics of computer games: ‘aesthetic education’, the ‘technologies of the self’, and the cultivation of an ‘affectivity’’. Proceedings of The 12th International Philosophy of Computer Games Conference (2018). Available at: http://gamephilosophy.org/pcg2018/gameconference.itu.dk/papers/17%20-%20zhu%20-%20the%20affective%20ethics%20of%20computer%20games.pdf
- ‘The freedom of alienated reflexive subjectivity in The Stanley Parable.’ Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies (2018). Available at: http://journals.sagepub.com/eprint/g7cgYdT64gVksH8fgNHJ/full
- ‘Computer Gameplay and the Aesthetic Practices of the Self: Game Studies and the Late Work of Michel Foucault.’ ToDiGRA Vol. 3, No. 3 (2018). Available at: http://todigra.org/index.php/todigra
- ‘Between Autopoiesis and Neoliberal Self-Fashioning: the Dialectics of Self-Construction in Single-Player Role-Playing Games.’ Proceedings of The 9th International Philosophy of Computer Games Conference (2015). Available at: http://2015.gamephilosophy.org/