Science Fiction Film & Television

‘I find this disgusting but I can’t help myself’

Videogame panics and sinister origins in 1990s sf media

Science Fiction Film & Television (2021), 14, (2), 169–186.


This paper examines the narratives and themes present in two pieces of sf media about videogames: a 1991 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode entitled ‘The Game’ and David Cronenberg’s 1999 film eXistenZ. Both present a ‘moral panic’ narrative about videogames, using the futuristic imagery and technological speculation of the sf genre to explore contemporaneous concerns about the ability of videogames to manipulate the behaviour of players and shape their perceptions of reality. However, these narratives also mirror promotional claims used to market videogames, as well as foundational assertions of the field of game studies. Drawing on a close reading of these works, as well as the ‘material turn’ in game studies, the paper goes on to articulate contradictions between the ways in which videogames are theorised and experienced, and between the marketing and moral panics that accompany their production. It further suggests how these contradictions create a persistent ‘unhappy consciousness’ surrounding the videogame object that causes these anxieties to recur. Placing fictional depictions of videogames in sf media alongside public and academic discussions sheds light on the roots of these contradictions and allows us to better assess their cultural impact.

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Author details

Reed, Emilie