The Emancipated Avatar: The Virtual Theatre of The Witness

Sierra Ortega


The Witness (released January 26, 2016) is an immersive 3D puzzle game created by developer Jonathon Blow. What has been described as a daunting, confounding, and maddening game represents a new wave of innovative, thought- provoking video game design that holds many implications for the future of entertainment and what it means to engage with spectacle. Video games represent a kind of digital neo-theatre with players embodying the spirit of the Boalian spect-actor. They observe action and they create action, simultaneously. The Witness, and its facilitation of digital being through an avatar, allows a player to achieve a state of emancipation (as proposed by Jacques Ranciere) in ways that are impossible through corporeal theatrical practices. We are all just observers of this world around us. We are all spectators; all witnesses. The avatar of The Witness, that is to say the player, which is to say ourselves, reaches this state of emancipation through an active movement through and engagement with the game’s environment. We are totally immersed in its spectacle; we have total ignorance of our place inside of it; and thus, we must practice total inquiry of it.