Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Greg Smith

Second Advisor

Jennifer Barker

Third Advisor

Matthew Payne

Fourth Advisor

Ethan Tussey


In the field of video game studies, meaningful action and flow are upheld as primary targets of game design, and key factors in many ontological definitions of what games can and should be. Yet, games are not all action. Within most games one encounters numerous pauses and interruptions of various kinds, including the much-maligned “cut-scenes” that lead or force the player out of an active role at certain moments. Furthermore, not all actions are goal-directed. If they are, they are not necessarily pragmatic. These pauses, interruptions, and nuanced goals are often overlooked, if not actively derided, in the field of game studies. In short, ideas about how players stop and reflect, how their goals and experiences take on emotional and/or moral valences, are under-represented. My work argues that moral reflection does occur even in mainstream games, and that it tends to happen in connection with the very moments game scholars often overlook—in the pauses before or after actions, in the moments of awe or realization, when the controller has been set down or the keyboard pushed away, and yes, even during cut-scenes. Such moments may invite the player into a state of moral reflection, but for this state of moral reflection to be poignant and memorable to the player these moments must also involve a consideration of differing values. Finally, how a game structures the player’s experience of time, from receiving quests to setting out into the game world, from pauses to demanding challenges, and even through the layout of video game spaces lends these points of reflection their crucial impact.