International Center for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW)

The Interactive Gaze – On the Status and Ethics of Surveillance Images in Digital Games

Digital games are sites where surveillance and control are being represented and negotiated (in medium specific ways). While these games are often critical towards surveillance, they also run the risk of perpetuating the power structures inscribed in the surveillance images they depict. The aim of this project is to identify different types of surveillance images in digital games with the help of qualitative and quantitative analyses. In addition, the project will create an ethical framework that can serve game designers and other practitioners to find new ways of displaying surveillance topics and create an alternative imagery of surveillance.


Duration: 1 April 2023 to 31 March 2026


Dr. Martin Hennig, Universität Tübingen (Principle Investigator)

Dr. Wulf Loh, Universität Tübingen (Principle Investigator)

Dr. Markus Spöhrer, Universität Tübingen (Operative Project ResearchersOperative Project Researchers)

M.A. Theresa Krampe, Universität Tübingen (Operative Project ResearchersOperative Project Researchers)

Local Organizational Units

International Center for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW), University of Tübingen


German Research Foundation (DFG)


The aim of the project is to develop a framework for the ethical assessment of digital

surveillance images by way of qualitative and quantitative analyses of surveillance images in

digital games. Surveillance images are central to the formation of cultural and social discourses about the technologies, functions, and legitimacy of surveillance. Due to their popularity and their active involvement of the player, digital games play a particularly important role in shaping surveillance habits and mentalities. The project will analyze these mechanisms with conceptual tools and methods borrowed from aesthetics, visual semiotics, cultural analytics and digital humanities. The central goals of the projects are 1) the systematic analysis of the state of surveillance images in digital games, 2) the ethical reflection of problematic aspects and 3) the discussion of the research results with the academic community and the wider public as well as their application in political education. The project not only adds to the study of the visual aesthetics of digital games, but also provides an informed basis for an ethical framework that can serve game designers and other practitioners in their goal to create an alternative imagery of surveillance. Furthermore, the project contributes to image theory by focusing on the ideologies and semantics that are (re)produced by means of ludic and interactive types of images.

Research Perspectives

This ethical framework will be developed on the basis of three research perspectives that allow for a critical reflection of digital images of surveillance:

The first angle concerns the ontology of digital images, elaborating on the overlaps and differences between traditional and digital-ludic surveillances images. This requires careful consideration of the interactive as well as narrative components of digital gaming that are intimately connected to the production, reception and practices of surveillance images. Consequently, this perspective provides insights into the implementation or representation of vertical or horizontal power structures in digital games while also furthering an analysis of the semantics, functions and visualizations of digital data spaces and data surveillance.


The second angle deals with the visual semiotics of surveillances images. This encompasses the description and analysis of types or stereotypes in the context of surveillance and digital games, which are then compared with the surveillance imagery of other media contexts, formats or products, for example film, visual novels or literature. This will consequently allow for asking whether surveillance images function as mediators of an entire worldview and perpetuate classic power structures and role relationships.


The third angle analyses the depiction of surveillance and surveillance practices in digital games in relation to contemporary surveillance practices (that are not necessarily connected to digital gaming). Our thesis here is that there is an important gap between reality and fiction concerning the prevalence of “vertical” and “horizontal” surveillance on the one hand and the potential for empowerment and coping on the other hand. Where videogames tend to foreground the potential for resistance or even counter-surveillance, real-world practices of surveillance potentially produce forms of resignation. Finally, we will ask whether surveillance aesthetics in games could have effects of naturalization and reiteration of surveillance ideologies and if we could also imagine digital games and digital games’ images that subvert this tendency?

Project-Related Publications

Hennig, Martin (in publication): Ethik des Computerspiel(en)s. In: Grimm, Petra (ed.): Praxisfelder der digitalen Ethik. Baden-Baden: Nomos

Hennig, Martin/Krah, Hans (2020): Typologie, Kategorien, Entwicklung von Überwachungsnarrativen: Zur Einführung. In: Hauptmann, Kilian/Hennig, Martin/Krah Hans (eds.): Narrative der Überwachung. Berlin: Peter Lang, pp. 11–48.

Hennig, Martin/Schellong, Marcel, eds. (2020): Überwachung und Kontrolle im Computerspiel. Glückstadt: Verlag Werner Hülsbusch.

Hennig, Martin (2020): Demokratisierte Überwachung? Transformationen gesellschaftlicher Modelle im Überwachungsfilm der digitalen Gesellschaft. In: Grimm, Petra/Neef, Karla (eds.): Digitalisierung und Demokratie. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, S. 143–159

Hennig, Martin (2019): Überwachung in der Kultur – Kultur der Überwachung. In: Schüller, Liane/Jung, Werner (eds.): Orwells Enkel. Überwachungsnarrative. Bielefeld: AISTHESIS, pp. 101–122.

Hennig, Martin/Piegsa, Miriam (2018): The Representation of Dataveillance in Visual Media: Subjectification and Spatialization of Digital Surveillance Practices. In: On_Culture: The Open Journal for the Study of Culture. No. 6 (2018). DOI:

Hennig, Martin/Edeler, Lukas/Piegsa, Miriam (2018): Culture of Surveillance. In: Arrigo, Bruce A. (eds.): The SAGE Encyclopedia of Surveillance, Security, and Privacy. Thousand Oaks.

Hennig, Martin (2017): Spielräume als Weltentwürfe. Kultursemiotik des Videospiels. Marburg: Schüren.

Hennig, Martin (2016): Big Brother is watching you: hoffentlich. Diachrone Transformationen in der filmischen Verhandlung von Überwachung in amerikanischer Kultur. In: Beyvers, Eva et al. (eds.): Räume und Kulturen des Privaten. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, pp. 213–246.

Krampe, Theresa (2022): Von Kontrollräumen und panoptischen Sichtverhältnissen: Das Panopticon als wiederkehrendes Motiv im zeitgenössischen Computerspiel. In: Lukman, C. (ed.): Kontrollmaschinen: Zur Dispositivtheorie der Computerspiele. Münster: Lit Verlag, pp. 123–147.

Loh, Wulf (2022): Social Pathologies of Informational Privacy. In: Journal of Social Philosophy, Online first.

Loh, Wulf (2022): with Hauke Behrendt: Informed Consent and Algorithmic Discrimination – Is giving away your data the new vulnerable? In: Review of Social Economy 80/1, pp. 58–84.

Loh, Wulf (2022): Geralt von Riva – Ein Diskriminierungsopfer? Zur Ethik des Fantasy-Franchise ‘The Witcher.’ In: Meisch/ Brand/ Müller (eds.): Ethik in Serie – Staffel 2, Tuebingen Library Publishing, pp. 85–102.

Loh, Wulf (2019) The Gamification of Political Participation. In: Moral Philosophy and Politics 6/2, pp. 261–280.

Loh, Wulf (2018) Politik. In: Feige/ Ostritsch/ Rautzenberg (eds.): Philosophie des Computerspiels, Metzler, pp. 149–173.

Loh, Wulf (2018): A Practice-Theoretical Account of Privacy. In: Ethics & Information Technology 20/4, pp. 233–247.

Spöhrer, Markus (in publication): Surveillance-Kameras und Agency: Zu Blick- und Interaktionskonstellationen in Bloodshore und The Devil in Me. Augenblick: Konstanzer Hefte zur Medienwissenschaft.