Staff Research: Immersion and Playspace in Contemporary Irish Novels

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Danielle explores how discourses of play and resistance intertwine to create immersive experiences in the contemporary Irish novel.

This month, lecturer Danielle Barrios-O’Neill will be presenting her research on Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (2013) and Emma Donaghue’s Room (2010) at the Atlantic Irish Studies Network meeting in Washington, D.C. This paper, which forms part of her monograph on tech-imbued approaches to modern Irish literature, examines specifically how discourses of play and resistance intertwine to create immersive experiences in the text.

In both of these novels, Danielle argues, the playful environment of the text serves as a liminal space between childhood and adulthood, a space with an ever-changing architecture and vivid imaginative depth. These imagined spaces interact with real environments in which the child or adolescent is deeply vulnerable; textual strategies such as circumlocution and digression, the invention of grammars and words, the interspersal of noise amid information, and the disruption of linearity, weave into content where similar games of hide-and-seek characterise the anxiety of vulnerability—as a victim and as a child.

However, these spaces also construct amid their violent landscapes forms of interludic (in-game) escape, and encourage playful readings at times. These novels also complicate boundaries of individual consciousness and individual texts to borrow, repeat, collect, translate, digress, shift, play, merge—a web of interlinking voices fill the many rooms of narrative, performing collectivity and opening up the space, the room, the life.

This paper engages games studies and contemporary environmental philosophy, alongside literary critique, to explore the nature of immersive spaces in contemporary bildungsroman, drawing out what is uniquely Irish, and what is certainly global, in the ways these writers manage space in the text.


Danielle Barrios-O’Neill is an Undergraduate Course Coordinator and Senior Lecturer in English. Her research mostly revolves around technology, literature and multiplatform texts, with a special interest in Ireland.