Conceptualizing Cyborgs in the Virtual and Physical World: With Consideration to Feminism and its Connection to Video Games


It was Christmas 2006 when I first experienced that there were different expectations to genders and what society expected me to enjoy as a young girl. My brother had just unwrapped his brand-new PlayStation 2 with a guitar-hero set and a FIFA game included, all generously gifted from my grandparents. Simultaneously I was staring at a plastic set of pearls in different sizes that I was meant to create my own necklaces from. Looking back to my childhood, there were more instances like this where my brother was expected to enjoy technology more, and I was expected to enjoy dolls and books. As I grew older, my resentment for video games and other digital platforms intensified, mostly because I never knew how to play as I never got a chance to practice. Now, as a young adult, I am exploring the world of console gaming and computer games very carefully and slowly, but with a sense of sadness for all the virtual experiences I missed out on because of misjudgment earlier in my youth. This paper serves as an exploration of video games through the conceptualization cyborgs, a word I was not familiar with until I started my minor at university. This is done through the discussion of more established scholars in the field of video games and cyborgs all the way back to Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline, and Donna Haraway, to more contemporary scholars such as Brendan Koegh and Grant Tavinor, Jacqueline Marie Potvin, and further to the more recent ideas put forward by Zachery Tyler Rakes, Dennis Jansen, and Roxanne Chartrand and Pascale Thériault. This is meant to broaden my own, as well as others’, understanding of the cyborg and to speculate on its relevance for physical and virtual society, while also considering if there is a chance to revive Haraway’s feminist rethinking through the help of cyborgian ways.  

Conceptualization of the Cyborg and Video Games

What are videogames?

In Brendan Koegh’s A Play of Bodies he evaluates the experience of the human body interacting in a digital and virtual environment, where he makes a connection to the “cyborgian ways” that the player is being controlled in terms of the limitations set by the interface of the video game.[1] As accounted for in Grant Tavinor’s discussion on the definition of video games, it is challenging to propose an academic definition that would encompass all of the different types of video games that exist, although his suggestion gives a good basic understanding of what video games are.[2] The conditions he proposes for an “artefact” to be considered a video game are as follows: it is presented in a “digital visual medium”, its intention is for it to be entertaining, and the possible “modes of engagement” are “rule-bound gameplay or interactive fiction”, where a combination of modes are also available.[3] Another addition to the definition of video games put forward by Veli-Matti Karhulathi in a dialogue style article from 2015 is how “Videogames evaluate performance”.[4] This addition circles back to the ideas of Koegh in reference to how video games can be in control of the player, in terms of that there are limitations to how the game can be played, which further is dependent on the skill level and input from the player, and is what makes the action of playing a video game an interaction.

What are Cyborgs?

To understand the “cyborgian ways” that Koegh is referring to, it will first be outlined what is meant by the term cyborg, and also how the concept has evolved over time. When Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline introduced the term in 1960, exploration of space was highly in focus, and especially the idea of humans in space, which is why it was necessary to consider how humans could adapt to a vastly different environment than what is found on earth. In other words, there was a lot of motivation to develop technology to increase the potential of humans in space. Essentially, the original definition provided for the concept is that technical advances are imposed on the biological body “as an adjunct to the body’s own autonomous controls”, which are meant to improve the ability of the body to survive and function in foreign conditions.[5] A more contemporary definition of a cyborg is “a bionic human”, wherein bionic refers to the technological enhancement of the biological body.[6] While the term was coined more than six decades ago, it is believed that the first cyborg was Kevin Warwick, who in 1998 got a chip inserted in his arm, which connected his nervous system to a computer that could send signals to back and forth.[7]

Connection between Video games and Cyborg

They key aspect to be taken from these two definitions to understand their connection can be found in the “enhancement of the biological body” as a cyborgian component that is enabled through the “modes of engagement” of the video games. This supports the suggestion made by Koegh that playing video games is cyborgian since the technology can be seen as an extension of the body to interact with the game. Furthermore, the player controls the development made in the game within the framework of limitations set by the game, which indicates that there is an interaction between the human body and the technology. In his master thesis Zachery Tyler Rakes comments on this connection by considering how the human video game player can be a virtual cyborg, based on the societal preference, for improved functionality rather than developing ourselves as physical cyborg, since this would be quite a daunting possibility for some people to imagine.[8] From his discussion of the definition of a cyborg he proposes the idea of a “conceptual cyborg”, which implements the appeal for functionality and argues that this will be easier to introduce to society on a larger scale as the concept of a cyborg can be easier to process for people than technological alterations physically being imposed on the human body. Rakes does however criticize Brendan Koegh’s definition of the player interacting with the video game and therefore being considered a cyborg, because this indicates that there is a separation between the two worlds.[9] Instead of there being a division, Rakes argues that a cyborg is a “collection of parts”, where he also refers back to Donna Haraway to claim that a cyborg is a “combined being by definition”.[10]

The Cyborg manifesto by Donna Haraway

Donna Haraway has become an important scholar for the discussion on cyborgs and their position within our society ever since she published “A Cyborg Manifesto” in 1985, where she, just as Rakes mentions, speaks of the cyborg as being an integral part of our society.[11] She is also a feminist and suggests that the cyborg enables humans to have a new perspective on societal behavior and that it can contribute to deconstructing the inequal relations between men and women that have been engrained in society for centuries. Dennis Jansen comments on Haraway’s descriptions of the cyborg and how she has been skeptical of video games, as seen when she claims that it is a capitalistic exploitation of people, especially how it could encourage further marginalization of women. The debate on gender and video games has been again brought up by Jacqueline Marie Potvin, who supports Haraway’s accusations regarding video games and women and reflects over the “gender dualism” that could be “destabilized”, although this is an opportunity that has not yet been realized.[12]Potvin’s argument is that the cyborg represents a blurring between the organism and the machine, which is in line with Rakes assertion that there should not be a separation or division between the human and the cyborg. This can be further connected to Haraway’s contention that “the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion”, and Potvin’s “blurring” of the boundary is an appropriate way to refer to this “optical illusion” as it represents people’s eventual realization that the boundary has been constructed by society itself.[13]

Gender and Video Games

Potvin also claims that video gaming has created an environment for “extreme sexism and misogyny”, where conceptualization of the cyborg can be helpful in turning this platform to a space free from the traditional gender norms that society is bound by.[14] Whether or not this is possible, it would still mean that this platform would only exist in the virtual world, and for it to reach the rest of society it would need more implementation in our day-to-day life than just game applications. This is however what Rakes implies in that our social media and other online interactions should embrace the conceptual cyborg, and if combining that with the efforts of Haraway and Potvin, one could ideally switch the virtual space to be separate from the structural gender inequalities otherwise found in physical society. Building on that, one could hope that the physical society, due to these “blurred boundaries” that Potvin refers to, can understand the benefits of the virtual structures and adapt these to physical society. From a feminist perspective, Haraway’s arguments are ideological in that she attempts to bring women on to the same level as cyborgs, although this could also create negative reactions from other women who do not relate to the technological advancement of humans to be as important or aligning with women’s rights. According to Roxanne Chartrand and Pascale Thériault, video games have always been “targeting a male audience”, and so while Haraway attempted to connect cyborgian thinking to that of women and rethinking gender structures, cyborgs became a discussion within video gaming, which is again a male dominated field. While women have still participated in gaming culture, Chartrand and Thériault assert that their treatment would be “toxic”, and that “harassment of women in gaming has always been a part of the gaming culture”. They also comment on Haraway’s breakthrough for women through her cyborg manifestations, and while it was off to a promising start, it did not develop much further, since it is still “mostly conceptual”.

Cyborg Development

When looking at the current development of cyborg technology, there is little that indicates the female advantage is being taken into account during this process, despite Haraway’s importance for the academic understanding of cyborgs. According to Futurism, Neil Harbisson is the first human that has been “legally recognized” as a cyborg, since he developed an antenna to be connected to the back of his head so that he could perceive color through hearing its frequencies, since he was never able to see color.[15] While this is an impressive innovation, it still seems as though cyborg technology is used mostly used by humans to improve their bodies to compensate for an ability that they do not have, and is not yet used to advance humans beyond what we are already capable of. Perhaps this is rooted in that there is not as much motivation or creativity to explore what more humans can do with the help of technology, since humans are already so technically advanced. This is not to say that technological progress is declining, but more that the human and machine combination is not yet being developed as much as one would think since Kline and Clynes discussed it in the 1960s. All the six cases in the Futurism article are related to improving a condition of someone who does not have the same capabilities as a “normal” human, which indicates that there is still a lot of skepticism to developing cyborgian technology, since a lot of motivation is required for a human to want to take the risk of combining one’s own body to that of a machine. This is why Rakes suggestion of implementing the conceptual cyborg as a slower transition into a cyborg reality.

There is for instance Elon Musk, who inserted a chip in a monkey to show how it can play pong based on its brain activity through thinking about the move it wants to make and therefore the computer recognizes the signal and plays the move, without further interaction from the monkey being necessary. Musk also claims that “integrating human brains with computers would be the way to “beat” AI should it become autonomous at some point”.[16] While this takes the ability of the monkey beyond that of humans, it also shows how much money and equipment is needed to achieve this on a small scale, which also explains why this sort of technological advancement of humans is taking so long since it is not essential for our survival at the moment. Therefore, there are more immediate matters to take into consideration than making it possible for humans too to play pong with their mind by inserting an expensive chip inside their heads. Interestingly enough, Musk is also working to develop completely autonomous vehicles, which could be why he is recommending cyborgian development as he wants this technology to be available and necessary when he has reached the stage of producing an autonomous Tesla.


Through the conceptualization of the cyborg by relating it to video games we gain a better understanding of how the machine is combined with the human body to create an interactive experience, albeit a virtual one. While Koegh has played an important role in establishing the definitions with regards to what a cyborg is, he has also been criticized, for separating the body and the technological, which is contradictory to Haraway and Rakes understanding of the cyborg to be a collective of parts, where the organism and machine is combined. The further issue of connecting cyborgs to video games is how Haraway’s feminist approach got lost in the masculine culture of video gaming, and as Chartrade and Thériault agree, this has contributed to her ideas remaining on a conceptual level for the past three decades. Nevertheless, as seen through the arguments put forward by Rakes, strengthening the “conceptual cyborg” to widely distribute it functions across the world might be the preferred option for how to make space for cyborgs in our society. The downside of this would naturally be that the feminist argument would be lost in the conceptualization of how we can technologically advance our personalities in the virtual space. While the ideas of Haraway and Potvin are certainly utopian, they provide a necessary commentary to how feminism can be reintroduced in a new world order where cyborgs are our reality.


Clynes, Manfred E., and Nathan S. Kline. “Cyborgs and Space.” Astronautics, September 1960, 26-27,74-76. “Elon Musk’s Cyborg Monkey Plays Video Game With His Mind.” Accessed August 10, 2022.

Haraway, Donna. “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s.” In Feminism/ Postmodernism, 190–233. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Karhulahti, Veli-Matti. “Defining the Videogame.” Game Studies 15, no. 2 (December 2015).

Keogh, Brendan. A Play of Bodies: How We Perceive Videogames. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press, 2018.

Pester, Patrick. “Who Was the First Cyborg?”, November 10, 2021.

Potvin, Jacqueline Marie. “Cyborgs and Consoles: Gender Performativity and the Liberatory Potential of Video Games.” Stories in Post-Human Cultures, January 1, 2013, 133–43.

Rakes, Zachery Tyler. “My Avatar, My Self: A Posthuman Examination of Video Games and Cyborg Bodies,” n.d., 65.

Staff, WIRED. “Cyborg 1.0.” Wired. Accessed July 10, 2022.

Tavinor, Grant. “Definition of Videogames.” Contemporary Aesthetics (Journal Archive) 6, no. 1 (January 1, 2008).

Futurism. “The Future Is Here: Six of Today’s Most Advanced, Real-Life Cyborgs.” Accessed August 10, 2022.

[1] Brendan Keogh, A Play of Bodies: How We Perceive Videogames (Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press, 2018), 189.

[2] Grant Tavinor, “Definition of Videogames,” Contemporary Aesthetics (Journal Archive) 6, no. 1 (January 1, 2008),

[3] Tavinor, 12.

[4] Veli-Matti Karhulahti, “Defining the Videogame,” Game Studies 15, no. 2 (December 2015),

[5] Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline, “Cyborgs and Space,” Astronautics, September 1960, 27.

[6] Patrick Pester, “Who Was the First Cyborg?,”, November 10, 2021,

[7] Pester; WIRED Staff, “Cyborg 1.0,” Wired, accessed July 10, 2022,

[8] Zachery Tyler Rakes, “My Avatar, My Self: A Posthuman Examination of Video Games and Cyborg Bodies,” n.d., 4.

[9] Rakes, 26.

[10] Rakes, 27.

[11] Donna Haraway, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s,” in Feminism/ Postmodernism (New York: Routledge, 1990), 190–233.

[12] Jacqueline Marie Potvin, “Cyborgs and Consoles: Gender Performativity and the Liberatory Potential of Video Games,” Stories in Post-Human Cultures, January 1, 2013, 133–43,

[13] Haraway, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s,” 191.

[14] Potvin, “Cyborgs and Consoles.”

[15] “The Future Is Here: Six of Today’s Most Advanced, Real-Life Cyborgs,” Futurism, accessed August 10, 2022,

[16] “Elon Musk’s Cyborg Monkey Plays Video Game With His Mind,”, accessed August 10, 2022,