Digital Heroisms Conference: Panel 4 | Disruptive Digital Heroes

Paper One: Breaking the Protection Stave: God of War as Critique of the Heroic Magic Circle

Ruth Booth, University of Glasgow


Ruth Booth is a Creative Writing doctoral student at the University of Glasgow, where she uses folktale adaptations to explore susceptibility to far-right extremism. Her column for Scottish Science Fiction journal Shoreline of Infinity won 2019’s British Fantasy Award for Best Non-Fiction, and she has previously received the British Science Fiction Association’s Award for Best Shorter Fiction. Ruth has presented papers in Finland, Svalbard, Ireland, and the UK. She co-organized the first three years of Glasgow International Fantasy Conversations and is on the Promotions team for the Glasgow in 2024 Worldcon Bid. For her latest projects, head to or @ruthejbooth on Twitter.


Like many stories and folktales, video-games echo societal values, with (anti-)heroic narratives often embodying models of ideal masculinity and femininity. Games may also challenge these narratives, for example in Spec Ops: The Line and Braid.

This may also occur in games exploring the toxic Magic Circle. Magic Circles describe Huizinga’s (1950) notion of games as bounded spaces where the rules of ordinary life do not apply. While Consalvo (2009) suggests they are inapplicable to contemporary digital games, I believe the magic circle is a useful metaphor for exploring toxic masculinity and its reflections in heroic narratives. The concept of a community – a magic social circle – that considers itself so powerful, it is exempt from society’s rules provides a useful perspective within the framework of Tajfel and Turner’s Social Identity Theory and Matt Hills’ (2002) explorations of Butler’s (1993) theory of performativity in fan cultures.

In this paper, I examine 2018’s God of War as a critique of the toxic (anti-)heroic myth through the Magic Circle metaphor. This game has many literal and figurative magic circles, including the broken protection stave around the home of Kratos – or the Norse Gods’ social circle with its performative superiority. I will show how these circles foster toxic behaviour by protecting those within from its consequences, while harming those without: for example, the literally unfeeling Baldur’s homicidal violence towards Kratos. This metaphor – and how Kratos breaks his son’s own circle – has implications for future examinations of heroism, toxic masculinity, and their representation across media.

Paper Two: (Dis)ability on (Dis)play

Rebecca Waldie, Concordia University and Alex Louie, University of Calgary


Rebecca Waldie is a PhD candidate in the Communications Department at Concordia University in Montréal, Canada. Rebecca researches the representation and stigmatization of mental illness in video games. Through an intersectional lens, she analyses the impact of gender, race, and mental illness as forms of marginalization.

Alex Louie is studying music at the University of Calgary Arts department at the undergraduate level. His goal is to eventually become a school music teacher and professional conductor. A gamer in his spare time, Alex enjoys analyzing the art behind the creation and production of games, as well as how music has evolved in the gaming world. The differences between game mechanics on interactive, personal, and emotional levels to create immersive experiences unlike any other medium is a focal point in his analysis of how games can be interpreted as an art form. He has recently begun exploring virtual reality and how this affects the player differently from a game on a flat screen, as well as the applications of a more interactive world as a whole.


Rosemarie Garland Thomson’s concept of the “freaky” considers disability as a historical display of spectacle and oddity(Garland Thomson, 1996). A performativity rooted in marginalization and institutionalization(Garland Thomson, 1996). Extending that concept to societal perceptions, Elizabeth Grosz expands to conclude that “Freaks are those human beings who exist outside and in defiance of the structure of binary oppositions”(Grosz, 1996, p. 57) which is supported by Simi Linton’s equally binary assessment of conventional understandings of ableness: “Normal and abnormal are convenient but problematic terms used to describe a person or group of people. These terms are often used to distinguish between people with and without disabilities”( Linton, 2006, p. 167). Throughout this conceptualization of disability, abnormality exists outside the boundaries of the conventional; it is seen as a display of the Other as a target of ridicule or marvel, but not of the collective We.

Conventional representations of disability routinely shape disabilities as super powers or alien(Crawford, 2017), once again creating a perception of Otherness outside normalcy. So how do we consider spaces where super powers are the benchmark of normalcy? Video games often rely on super-human abilities in their protagonists in order to create experiences of spectacle and adventure(Geraci, 2012). When those games offer a level playing field in terms of protagonist selection between characters of whole body and altered bodies, does disability cease existing? Or is it a reimagined concept of Garland Thomson’s “the freak as spectacle”? Is the spectacle then the ability of disabled bodies to perform? Blizzard’s 2016 first-person shooter game Overwatch presents an ever-growing pool of protagonists whose abilities unanimously embody the definition of superhuman, but whose bodies range from the conventional, ubiquitous, abled body of a soldier to bodies with prosthetics, cybernetics, and mental disorders. The power balance of the game positions such bodies as “normal” while also striving to create unique embodied experiences within a landscape where spectacle and normalcy are interwoven.

Overwatch serves as a case study for this paper, which utilizes the concept of disability as freaky to unpack the representation and re-imagination of (dis)ability on (dis)play as both the abject spectacle and the inspiring superhuman. Analysis will consider the body and mind of the various protagonists; assessing the characters on the basis of both in-game ability and official back stories through other media such as comics, video, and press releases – such as they relate to a character’s conceptualization or development – to ascertain the (dis)abled nature of each character. This content analysis will conclude with some initial comparisons to conventional representations of any notable (dis)abilities and present assessments of similarities or differences that might distinguish the protagonist construction of Overwatch as either an intervention against or re-creation of freaky abnormality.

By Gabriel Elvery

Gabe is researching the effects of Fantasy in single-player, narrative-driven video games. Their project will explore whether its effective use facilitates affective engagement with digital fantasy worlds and whether this digital affect has the potential to impact the emotional wellbeing of players in their off-screen lives. Gabe’s research will develop a new kind of reader reception theory by investigating whether literary analysis of video games has practical applications and corresponds with the experiences of players. The end result will make available a fuller understanding of the affordances, implications and impact of the Digital Fantastic.

One reply on “Digital Heroisms Conference: Panel 4 | Disruptive Digital Heroes”

[…] The Games and Gaming Lab at the University of Glasgow are currently uploading videos from all the panels at the Digital Heroisms symposium. In the latest upload (Panel 4: Disruptive Digital Heroes), you can hear me speaking about how Kratos and Atreus found new ways to be heroes in God Of War in my talk ‘Breaking the Protection Stave: God of War as Critique of the Heroic Magic Circle’. For the full panel video, check out the link below.… […]

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