Concept: Digital Liminality

Digital is continuously disruptive. As the games industry migrates away from packaged goods, it is ill-equipped to understand the conceptual implications.

Whilst considering the migration from physical to digital products there is an intangible feeling that supported by much anecdotal evidence. Stories of a feeling of loss associated with the sale of a record collection compiled over many years for instance, and a feeling that digital formats are intangible because they do not have a real world physical “presence”.

This could be explained by the introduction of the concept of Digital Liminality. Anthropologists typify liminality as a “rite of passage”, an oft cited example is college graduation whereby the student had finished the course but is yet to receive the qualification, effectively a no mans land. Another example is Twilight which is the transitional period between day and night. These two examples represent a liminality in ritual and time, but it could also be contended that Digital Liminality has a third dimension, place. In “traditional” purchasing behaviour, there was an interaction between store, store employee and consumer. The meeting between Robert  Johnson and the devil took place at a cross roads, this is a liminal location.

The digital consumer has no real world interaction with time, product or place, and this combination not only creates uncertainty but could create a reluctance to engage with digital products at all.  Victor Turner (1967)[1] identified experiences that were “Liminoid”, even using a rock concert as an example. He argued that liminal experiences were uncommon in Industrial society. For this reason I argue that the migration to digital formats (in the Games Industry) is a Digital Liminoid Experience. You can quote me on that.

This theme was explored further in the PlayStation 2 game .hack//liminality released in 2003.


[1] Victor Turner, “Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage”, in The Forest of Symbols .Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press

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