Digital Heroisms Conference: Panel 5 | Embodiment & Identity

Paper One: “The New Heroism” in Jennifer Egan’s Black Box

Mairi Power, University of Glasgow


I am in year two of my PhD at the University of Glasgow, where I am working on my thesis ‘Digital Identities: Technology and Selfhood in Jennifer Egan’s Fiction’. I am particularly interested in the changing nature and role of the human body as technologies take over basic physical and cognitive tasks, and in the rise of online profile culture where identity can exist without embodiment.

I work as a GTA at the University of Glasgow in their Comparative Literature and English Literature departments and I am also on the board of U.S. Studies Online as their social media editor.

Please see Mairi’s research profile for further details on her work.


‘In the new heroism, the goal is to transcend individual life, with its petty pains and loves, in favour of the dazzling collective’ (Jennifer Egan, Black Box)

Jennifer Egan’s 2012 Twitter fiction Black Box endorses a very specific kind of heroism; favouring the collective above the individual, and viewing the everyday pains and loves of human existence as petty. This heroism is inherently digital, as the path to becoming part of the dazzling collective involves abolishing the limitations of corporeality (Kathryn Hume) through technological upgrades which embed surveillance equipment and weaponry within the central character’s flesh body.

This breaking of embodied limitations is also reflected  in the form of the text itself, first published as a series of tweets via The New Yorker’s Twitter account. This dislocated publication method meant that the text arrived on Twitter one tweet at a time, slotting in amongst the mass of other posts and becoming part of a larger story. In this sense, Black Box loses its individual structure as a unified piece of fiction and itself becomes part of the dazzling digital collective.

In my paper I will ask how digitisation can remove individuality and promote this collective identity that Black Box promotes, in which ‘the goal is to renounce the American fixation with being seen and recognised’ (Egan, 2012). Centrally, I will address the concept of collective heroism in Egan’s text and ask how this is tied to the digitisation of both the human body and the textual body of the fiction itself.

Paper Two: “Well, Excuse Me Princess!”: Designed Identity and Gendered Heroism in Nintendo Switch Advertising

David Kocik, University of Wisconsin


David Kocik is a first-year Ph.D. student in the Media, Cinema and Digital Studies plan in the English Department at University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He holds a BA in English Education from University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire and an MA in Media Studies from University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. His research focuses on the political, social, and discursive power of video game fan cultures, particularly queer fandoms and fan games. Kocik also researches the portrayals of governmental power in video games and video game regulation.


For decades, video game companies have envisioned their core demographic and digital heroes as men. Although much important work has analyzed the discourses and representations of gender and sexuality in video games and fantasy genres, relatively little research has focused on how video game advertising portrays fantasy games and the people who play them. Released from 2016-2020, advertisements for the Nintendo Switch console show both men and women of all ages playing a variety of games, diverging from the male-centered advertising of previous Nintendo consoles. Yet, these advertisements continue to portray games with fantasy elements as a masculinized genre. In Nintendo Switch ads, women play mostly social and casual games like 1, 2, Switch!  while only men play fantasy games like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Using Shira Chess’ (2017) conceptualization of designed identity and other work on gendered discourses of fantasy and video games, I analyze how Nintendo Switch advertisements reify fantasy video games as a site of masculinized consumption and play. Although players of all genders can play fantasy games on the Switch, these ads still engage in discourses that prioritize the male gamer as a core demographic of video games, particularly the fantasy genre, limiting the ability for anyone who is not a cisgender male to be considered a true digital hero in mainstream video gaming discourses and environments.

Paper Three: To Shine by its own Merit: Indigenous Representation in Mulaka

Ana Gabriela Méndez Gutiérrez


Eager dreamer and professional bookworm. She graduated with a BA in Literature from the Universidad de Monterrey, completed an MLitt in Comparative Literature at the University of Glasgow, and a master’s degree in Books and Literature for Children and Young People from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

She has published short stories, and hopefully one day will actually finish longer ones. Fascinated by adaptations, transmedia storytelling, and fan culture, she is currently employed as a remote educational entertainer (a.k.a. High School teacher via Zoom). She refuses to die before the Mexican football team wins the World Cup.


Beyond the well-trodden path of traditional Western fantasy, there are numerous heroes waiting for their stories to be told. In Mexico, far from famous jungle pyramids, the reclusive rarámuri people have survived for centuries, hidden among the mountains and sandy landscapes of what used to be known as Aridoamerica.

Today, thanks to a meticulous labor of love and a profound respect for tradition, this culture has been vividly captured in Mulaka, a 3D action-adventure videogame developed by Lienzo. Playing as a Sukurúame (a shaman or warlock), the player is taken head-first into a largely unknown mythological world based on indigenous cultures from Northern Mexico. Although the development of the game itself can be seen as its own hero’s journey –with the trials and tribulations of funding, the patient guidance of renowned anthropologists, and a persistent desire to give back to the community– the main issue at hand remains unanswered: can this unlikely hero, with his brown skin and unique name, use his story and game mechanics to capture the hearts of any player, or is it doomed to a life of tokenism? In a digital world dominated by Western myths, is it possible for other heroes to break free from the cliché and shine through their own merits? Mulaka, son of stars, is willing to give it a try.

By Gabriel Elvery

Gabe is researching the effects of Fantasy in single-player, narrative-driven video games. Their project will explore whether its effective use facilitates affective engagement with digital fantasy worlds and whether this digital affect has the potential to impact the emotional wellbeing of players in their off-screen lives. Gabe’s research will develop a new kind of reader reception theory by investigating whether literary analysis of video games has practical applications and corresponds with the experiences of players. The end result will make available a fuller understanding of the affordances, implications and impact of the Digital Fantastic.

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