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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Oldenbourg July 15, 2021

Toward a Foucauldian Genealogy of Video Game (Pre)history

Gabrielle Trépanier-Jobin


This paper highlights the distortive nature of narrative models that are often employed in video game historiographies to produce captivating tales. More precisely, it argues against: the search for video games’ origin(s); the “chronological-teleological” model based on linear progressions; the “chronological-organic” narrative revolving around a biological-like evolution; the “epistemic breaks” structure based on radical transformations; the “bi-polar” model involving a dialectic of oppositions; and the “cyclical” narrative revolving around postmodern tropes of return, recycling, and retrofitting. In addition to explaining why the uncritical use of these emplotment techniques is problematic, this paper argues in favor of a Foucault-inspired genealogical approach which avoids the quest for the media’s origin(s) and articulates video game history around coexistence, overlaps, interferences, synergies, networks of influences, and discontinuities. This genealogical method also restores the missing inventors, devices, and games in historical records while highlighting the power relations that led to their omission in the first place.

Corresponding author: Gabrielle Trépanier-Jobin, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montreal, Canada, E-mail:

Published Online: 2021-07-15

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston