[Chinese DiGRA 2014] Sebastian Möring on Global metaphors in games

[This abstract is from the Chinese Game Studies Conference at Ningbo Nottingham University, Spring 2014.]

Global metaphors in games?

Sebastian Möring, School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong

This paper explores what global metaphors can mean for the study of computer games. It will tackle the question from two angles. The first angle is concerned with the question of which metaphors in games can be considered as global in that they can be projected on or found in many games. The second angle takes an intercultural approach and asks if the metaphors found in games would also count for different cultures like the Chinese culture, which would make them global metaphors.

The first part of the paper starts with the observation that the study of metaphor and/in games is a very recent perspective in game studies and systematic studies of the topic are rare. Commonly, authors omit to explain how metaphors in games work and why the notion of metaphor is applied in the first place. This paper therefore introduces the metaphor-simulation dilemma/paradox (Möring 2013; 2012) derived from an investigation of the Western metaphor discourse of game studies. It then offers to discuss a central and therefore presumably global metaphor associated with computer games – the LIFE IS A JOURNEY metaphor. This paper makes the argument that this central metaphor can be projected on games due to the spatiality which many games provide, since many of them (first-person shooters, platformers, games in virtual environments etc.) simulate the space we live in in our non-computer game lives. This coincides with one central assumption of cognitive linguistic metaphor theory, founded by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (2003), that our metaphorical system is grounded in our bodily existence in space (Lakoff and Johnson 1999).

From there this paper develops the second angle from where it questions if these observations count for a Western perspective only. It will contrast the Western perspective with Chinese metaphor research. To do so it demonstrates that the game The Marriage (Humble 2006) simulates a metaphorically structured model of love in that it exemplifies many common conceptual metaphors which are commonly used in Western thought to speak about love. It will then compare these findings with common Chinese metaphors used to conceptualize love (see Yu 1998; Liu 2002; Wu 2007). Despite many similarities in Western and Chinese metaphorical systems one can see differences. This paper discusses two of them. Firstly, it discusses the fact that different cultures can have the same conceptual metaphors but parts of them can be interpreted differently in different cultures. As such Chinese and Western thought share the LIFE IS A JOURNEY METAPHOR, yet, interpretations of the journey element differ. In Western thought the journey is thought of as linear whereas in Chinese (and also Vedantic and Buddhist philosophy (see Mukherjee 2009)) the journey element is interpreted as circular (Wu 2007, 57–58). From a Chinese perspective the reincarnation implied in many computer games would never have posed a philosophical problem. Games would have rather confirmed Chinese thought. Secondly, some metaphor researchers say that the LOVE IS A JOURNEY metaphor is present in Chinese as in Western (Leung 2008). However, it would be more likely in Chinese that somebody speaks using the LOVE IS A BOAT metaphor which inherits the structure of the LOVE IS A JOURNEY metaphor but is subordinated to it (Wu 2007, 34–35). This is contrary to Western thought (Lakoff 2001 in Wu 2007, 34). Nevertheless, even if the LOVE IS A BOAT metaphor is more prevalent in Chinese this would still allow Chinese to consider The Marriage as a simulation of love since the LOVE IS A BOAT metaphor contains many structures of other spatial love metaphors.


Humble, Rod. 2006. The Marriage. http://www.rodvik.com/rodgames/marriage.html.

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. 1999. Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books.

———. 2003. Metaphors We Live By. With an afterword from 2003. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press.

Leung, Winifred Yuk Ying. 2008. “A Contrastive Study of Chinese and English Metaphors of Marriage.” LCOM Papers 1: 21–35.

Liu, Dilin. 2002. Metaphor, Culture, and Worldview: The Case of American English and the Chinese Language. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Möring, Sebastian. 2012. “Tackling the Metaphor-Simulation Dilemma.” In Proceedings of DiGRA Nordic 2012 Conference: Local and Global – Games in Culture and Society. Tampere, Finland. http://www.digra.org/wp-content/uploads/digital-library/12168.04280.pdf.

———. 2013. “The Metaphor-Simulation Paradox in the Study of Computer Games:” International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations 5 (4): 48–74. doi:10.4018/ijgcms.2013100103.

Mukherjee, Souvik. 2009. “‘Remembering How You Died’: Memory, Death and Temporality in Videogames.” In Proceedings of DiGRA 2009. http://www.digra.org/wp-content/uploads/digital-library/09287.24412.pdf.

Wu, Shixiong, George. 2007. “A Corpus-Based Synchronic Comparison and Diachronic Interpretation of Lexicalized Emotion Metaphors in English and Chinese.” http://commons.ln.edu.hk/eng_etd/3/.

Yu, Ning. 1998. The Contemporary Theory of Metaphor: A Perspective from Chinese. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: J. Benjamins Pub.

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