Digital Games and the Anamorphic Subject, in Refractory: A Journal of Entertainment Media, vol. 13, 2008

The history of the digital game interface is typically traced through two historically potent technologies of vision. The graphic interface used in most digital games is the rectangular frame inherited from Western painting and Hollywood cinema. The spatial architecture and visual appearance of nearly all 3D videogames is derived from the perspectival schema developed by Leon Battista Alberti in the fifteenth century. A picture constructed according to the rules of classical perspective is a simple form of graphic interface, enabling the subject to access a virtual world ‘behind’ the plane of the image. Most digital game software – and much of the hardware as well – is structurally married to linear perspective, and theoretically aligned with the logic of classical representational space.

Anamorphic images – concealed images in pictures, revealed only when the subject moves away from the intended viewing position – are discussed in almost all treatises on perspective up to the end of the eighteenth century, and are widely recognized as a means of proclaiming the limits of perspectival representation. As a concept of transformation ­– from the Greek anamorphoun, to transform or ‘form again’ – anamorphic images require the viewer to experience the picture as both image and object. This essay suggests that anamorphic pictures offer a more accurate model of the way that the digital game interface actually operates.

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