Congratulations to Dr. Betsy Brey!

Tuesday, April 18, 2023


Congratulations to UWaterloo English’s newest PhD, Dr. Betsy Brey! On April 14, Betsy successfully defended her dissertation, “Digital Dialogism: Space, Time, and Queerness in Video Games.” She was co-supervised by Drs. Neil Randall and Gerald Voorhees, with committee members Drs. Ken Hirschkop and Heather Smyth. The External Examiner was Dr. Cody Mejeur and the Internal/External Examiner was Dr. Luke Potwarka. 


Video games are multimodal pieces of media; they communicate meaning through many layers of signification including aural, visual, narrative, mechanical, and more. To understand the ways that games communicate meaning and influence interpretation, it is crucial to not just examine the various layers of game modalities, but the ways that those layers communicate with each other. By adapting Mikhail Bakhtin’s literary and language theory of dialogism (1981), this dissertation argues that because games are multimodal, they have layers of different “voices” that communicate ideas about the game to its players. These dialogic modalities “speak” different meanings to players, who then transform their interaction with these modalities into a narrative whole.

Joining queer theory, narrative theory, and game studies, this dissertation examines one of the most successful video game titles to date, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011), which in addition to its widespread popularity, has also been identified by white supremacist groups as a game that supports white nationalist causes. Through a dialogic analysis of temporal and spatial languages within the game, this dissertation identifies narrative, genre, gameplay, and representational elements of Skyrim that support white nationalist play while also silencing potential anti-racist perspectives within the game.

Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3 work together towards a functional version of dialogism for the study of games, proving its relevance, formalizing the changes I make to the original theory, and indicating how important dialogic readings can be. Chapter 4 argues that the construction of timespace of Skyrim follows a chronotope of domination, where the player’s use of and engagement with the game are devoted to the control of time and space. Chapter 5 examines player self-narration and embodiment in queered space, looking at how spaces communicate to players, and Chapter 6 makes the case that player use and manipulation of queered time in the game encourages players to understand and interact with Skyrim in particular ways. Together, these chapters suggest that the ways players are oriented to play Skyrim, based on its spaces and temporalities, points players towards narratives that normalize and uphold instances of white supremacy based on narrative, interactive, and mechanical means.