Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Preface and Introduction to the Phenomenology of the Mind. Ed. Lawrence Stepelvich. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1990. Print.
The essential argument in Hegel’s “Phenomenology of the Mind” is that the whole of history should be viewed and understood as an ongoing process moving closer and closer (and propelled by an Absolute Idea which can be understood as God) toward rational self-determination. Individuals are thus part of the ongoing process too, and since they are also propelled by the Absolute Idea, are less individual or autonomous than they are actors expressing and helping to move closer to the freedom and self-expression of the Absolute Idea. Whether one accepts this overarching premise or argument, this philosophy created a form of analysis Hegel refers to Phenomenology. Given that the Absolute Idea is both expressed individually through each person but also the result of their collective efforts, it can be understood as both the subject (the individual) and the object (the experience). As subject it is self-aware and as object it is the substance of thought or that which is know/comes to be known as a result of the experience (75). Essentially, Hegel argues that the subject cannot be removed from the experience or the understanding of an occurrence. Thus, in any conducted analysis of the event, the subject should not seek to remover him/herself from understanding, but allow their subjectivity to lead them toward a deeper understanding. The subject becomes, itself, an object of analysis integral to the process (76). To use a phenomenological approach to analysis, the subject pays attention to itself, and reflects critically on how his/her experience leads to an understanding of an experience of an object of inquiry. Thus, his/her analysis accounts for subjective experience, but he/she should seek also to analyze his/her subject experience against the subject experience of others. Such critical engagement that is not removed from subjectivity can lead to deeper understandings that take us, as a uniform group, closer to truth and freedom.
In terms of agency, Hegel in one way removes it by claiming that our individuality is in some ways null – we are all, as individuals, merely expressions of an Absolute Truth. In this capacity we are all merely pawns marching humanity closer to its realization. Yet, in another way, Hegel heralds subjectivity and its importance in analytical processes that constitutes agency over again. The agent has power that cannot be removed from understanding but instead holds a privileged place within it.
It’s also not hard to see why Phenomenological approaches have become popular in the study of games. The player is nearly impossible to remove from the experience. While we can agree that a crowd in a theater all sees the same movie (though their perception of the movie can differ) this is not the case for games, which (despite the unchanging code that runs the game) provide unique experiences to individual players. Because choice is part of the game experience, players will make separate choices that alter their game experience and thus their understanding of the game. Hegel’s approach addresses these issues by allowing researchers to privilege their experience as an important part of analysis so long as the research is able to treat the subject of analysis as also part of the object of analysis while remaining part of its subject.