Videogames are intrinsically political texts, even when political messages are not explicitly presented, but there is still uncertainty on how game studies can take that into account. Within our field of research, since the earliest debates and publications, we have been interrogating interactive texts for their political messages, and aiming to establish a method for making sense of how videogames exist in the world. The early work of art historian Julian Stallabrass, for example, was already identifying in videogames a representation of economic systems, which inevitably reflects on the ‘real life’ economy in which the game has been produced and is played (Stallabrass, 1993; Giddings, 2018).
Games as a vehicle for political and moral aims have a history as long as games in general. For example, ancient games such as Senet and Royal Game of Ur seemingly carry political meanings alongside ritual and entertainment purposes and many of the early modern board games (The Landlord Game, variations of the Royal Game of Goose and so on) had overt political and societal messages espoused by their designers. Games without explicit political messages often embody a specific political agenda. Especially strategy oriented games (for example, Diplomacy, games by Avalon Hill and SSI) represented heavily European centric and Machiavellian political perspectives. Digital games, likewise, display overt and covert political meanings. Civilization series and hordes of other 4X games embody colonialism in a problematic way (Mukherjee, 2017) while The Sims series advocates values associated with neoliberal consumerism. Digital games are used in political campaigns (Tax Invaders, Corbyn Run) and examples from persuasive games and games for change movements often advocate explicit political agendas.
Ian Bogost’s work on procedural rhetoric has identified ways for talking about the effects of games through their textual strategies, while looking at these in parallel with the technical affordances of digital media (Bogost, 2006; Murray, 1997). As noted by many authors, this approach risks being too centred on the designer’s ability to simulate a digital environment and master its properties, and tends to take the player (and theories on semiotics and interpretation) out of the picture (Sicart, 2011). The study of politics and/in games appears to involve questions over representation, player’s interpretation, as well as the analysis of the game’s rhetoric, design and affordances.
Such a complex spectrum has brought authors to re-evaluate theories of affect, representation and embodiment to understand how videogames and players engage with each other (Keogh, 2018; Shaw, 2014). As observed by Anable (2018), game mechanics and representational practices are both involved in the act of playing videogames. Videogames can then be seen as texts where feelings and emotions are rehearsed and elaborated, creating intimate connections with the digital technologies that we use to play, work, and think with. This perspective opens new political potentials for videogames, as interactive texts where our beliefs, questions and concerns regarding the world surrounding us can be enacted and challenged (Flanagan, 2009).
This year British DiGRA conference explores politics in games from various angles and approaches from design to analysis and from impact evaluations to philosophical issues. The focus is not just on games as designed artefacts but also includes, among other aspects, the production and circulation of games, forms of public discourse around games and how they are made. Submissions on all kinds of games from board games through LARPs to videogames are welcome.
The conference invites submissions in topics including, but not limited to:
- Civic engagement and activism
- Digital misinformation proliferation
- Loss of confidence in democracy
- Fake News
- Stretching of truth
- Parody and disinformation
- Promoting engagement with voters
- Knowledge and awareness of politics
- Politics and art
- Politics in online communities
- Politics of videogame industry
- Political uses of gamification
The conference is fully online using Zoom and consists of paper sessions of three hours spread over the course of three days and workshop sessions of four hours the day before.
The paper session of the conference is organised following the successful Spring Seminar format of Tampere Game Research Lab (https://gameresearchlab.tuni.fi/spring-seminar/). The format emphasises work-in-progress submissions, and we strongly encourage submitting late breaking results, working papers, and new approaches and voices. In particular we welcome submissions from graduate and PhD students. The aim is to have peer-to-peer discussions and thereby provide support in refining and improving research work in this area.
The papers to be presented will be chosen based on extended abstract review. Full papers are distributed prior to the event to all participants, in order to facilitate discussion. Two invited expert commentators will provide verbal feedback on the papers during the conference.
Selected papers from the conference will be invited to a special issue of ToDiGRA journal to be published in 2022.
Paper submission guidelines
The papers will be selected for presentation based on extended abstracts of 500-1000 words (plus references). Abstracts should be delivered in PDF format. Please use 12 pt Times New Roman, double-spaced, for your text. Guidelines for submitting full papers and 10 minute prerecorded presentations will be provided with the notification of acceptance.
Our aim is that all participants can familiarise themselves with the papers in advance and the participants get access to all submitted full papers one week before the conference. The maximum length for a full paper is 5000 words (plus references). The prerecorded 10 minute seminar presentations should encourage discussion, instead of repeating the information presented in the papers. After the presentation the designated commentator and the audience will have 20 minutes to discuss the paper online.
Workshop proposal submission guidelines
The workshops will be selected based on proposals of maximum 1000 words (plus references). The proposals should include a description of the workshop focus and format, technical and online venue requirements, maximum and minimum number of participants, and how the workshop participants are selected (e.g. drop-in session, position paper submission).
Submissions and any questions regarding the conference should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maximum of 15 papers and 2 workshop proposals will be accepted to the conference.
Abstract and workshop proposal deadline: April 4, 2021
Notification of acceptance: April 12, 2021
Full Paper deadline: July 12, 2021
Conference dates: Workshops July 20, paper sessions July 21 – 23, 2021
British DiGRA 2020 Conference is organised by University of Lincoln in collaboration with University of Liverpool, Brunel University London, and British Digital Games Research Association (http://bdigra.org.uk/). The conference is hosted by University of Lincoln Games Research Network. More information at the conference web-site http://lncn.ac/bdigra21.
The conference will be held fully online using Zoom and Discord.
Many thanks for Tampere Game Research Lab for providing inspiration and guidance for the event format!
List of References
Anable, A. (2018). Playing with feelings: Video Games and Affect. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Bogost, I. (2006). Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Flanagan, M. (2009). Critical play: Radical game design. Cambridge, MA: MIT press.
Giddings, S. (2018). Accursed play: The economic imaginary of early game studies. Games and Culture, 13, 765–783.
Keogh, B. (2018). A Play of Bodies: How We Perceive Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Mukherjee, S. (2017). Videogames and postcolonialism: Empire plays back. Springer.
Murray, J. H. (1997). Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Shaw, A. (2014) Gaming at the Edge: Sexuality and Gender at the Margins of Gamer Culture. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Schrier, K. (2018). Using Games to Solve Real-World Civic Problems: Early Insights and Design Principles. Journal of Community Engagement & Higher Education, 10(1).
Sicart, M. (2011). Against procedurality. Game Studies, 11. http://gamestudies.org/1103/articles/sicart_ap
Stallabrass, J. (1993). Just gaming: Allegory and economy in computer game. New LeftReview, 198, 83–106.