Conference Agenda

Overview and details of the sessions of this conference. Please select a date or location to show only sessions at that day or location. Please select a single session for detailed view (with abstracts and downloads if available).

Session Overview
F-TC-2: Games as Culture
Friday, 09/Mar/2018:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: Frans Mäyrä
Location: Think Corner

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4:00pm - 4:15pm
Short Paper (10+5min) [abstract]

The Science of Sub-creation: Transmedial World Building in Fantasy-Based MMORPGs

Rebecca Anderson

University of Waterloo, The Games Institute, First Person Scholar

My paper examines how virtual communities are created by fandoms in massively multi-player online role-playing games and it explores what kinds of self-construction emerge in these digital locales and how such self-construction reciprocally affects the living culture of the game. I assert that the universe of a fantasy-based MMORPG necessitates participatory culture: experiencing the story means participating in the culture of the story’s world; these experiences reciprocally affect the living culture of the game’s universe. The participation and investment of readers, viewers, and players in this world constitute what Carolyn Marvin calls a textual community or a group that “organize[s] around a presumptively shared, but distinctly practiced, epistemology of texts and interpretive procedures” (12). In other words, the textual community produces a shared discourse, one that informs and interrogates what it means to be a fan in both analogue and digital environments.

My paper uses J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth as a case study to explore the creation and continuation of a fantastic universe, in this case Middle-earth, across mediums: a transmedial creation informed by its textual community. Building on the work of Mark J.P. Wolf, Colin B. Harvey, Celia Pearce, Matthew P. Miller, and Edward Castronova, my work reveals that the “worldness” of a transmedia universe, or the degree to which it exists as a complete and consistent cosmos, plays a core role in the production, acceptance, and continuation of its ontology among and across the fan communities respective to the mediums in which it operates. My paper argues that Tolkien’s literary texts and these associated adaptations are multi-participant sites in which participants negotiate their sense of self within a larger textual community. These multi-participant sites form the basis from which to investigate the larger social implications of selfhood and fan participation.

My theoretical framework provides the means by which to situate the critical aesthetics relative to how this fictional universe draws participants in. Engaging with Gordon Calleja’s discussions on immersion and Luis O. Arata’s thoughts on interactivity, I demonstrate how the transmedial storyworld of Middle-earth not only constructs a sense of space but that it is precisely this sense of space that engages the reader, viewer or gamer. To situate the sense of self incurred between and because of narrative and storyworld environment, I draw from Andreas Gregersen’s work on embodiment and interface, as well as from Shawn P. Wilbur’s work on identity in virtual communities. Anne Balsamo and Rebecca Borgstrom each offer a theorization of the role-playing specific to the multiplayer environments of game-based adaptations, while William H. Huber’s work contextualizes the production of space in epic fantasy narratives. Together, my theoretical framework highlights how the spread of a transmedial fantastic narrative impacts the connection patterns across the textual community of a particular storyworld, as well as foregrounds how the narrative environment shapes the degree of participant engagement in and with the space of that storyworld.

This proposal is for a long paper presentation; however, I'm able to condense if necessary to fit a short paper presentation.

Anderson-The Science of Sub-creation-148_a.pdf

4:15pm - 4:30pm
Distinguished Short Paper (10+5min) [abstract]

Layers of History in Digital Games

Derek Fewster

University of Helsinki,

The past five years have seen a huge increase in historical games studies. Quite a few texts have tried to approach how history is presented and used in games, considering everything from philosophical points to more practical views related to historical culture and the many manifestations of heritage politics. The popularity of recent games like Assassin’s Creed, The Witcher and Elder Scrolls also manifests the current importance of deconstructing the messages and choices the games present. Their impact on the modern understanding of history, and the general idea of time and change, is yet to be seen in its full effect.

The paper at hand is an attempt to structure the many layers or horizons of historicity in digital games as these, into a single taxonomic system for researchers. The suggestion considers the various consciousnesses of time and narrative models modern games work with. Several distinct horizons of time, both of design and of the related real life, are interwoven to form the end product. The field of historical game studies could find this tool quite useful, in its urgent need to systematize how digital culture is reshaping our minds and pasts.

The model considers aspects like memory culture, uses of period art and apocalyptic events, narrative structures, in-game events and real world discourses as parts of how a perception of time and history is created or adapted. The suggested “layering of time” is applicable on a wide scale of digital games.

Fewster-Layers of History in Digital Games-265_a.docx

4:30pm - 4:45pm
Short Paper (10+5min) [abstract]

Critical Play, Hybrid Design and the Performance of Cultural Heritage Game/Stories

Lissa Holloway-Attaway

University of Skövde

In my talk, I propose to discuss the critical relationship between games designed and developed for cultural heritage and emergent Digital Humanities (DH) initiatives that focus on (re-)inscribing and reflecting on the shifting boundaries of human agency and its attendant relations. In particular, I will highlight theoretical and practical humanistic models (for development and as objects of scholarly research) that are conceived in tension with more computational emphases and influences. I examine how digital heritage games move us from an understanding of digital humanities as a “tool” or “text” oriented discipline to one where we identify critical practices that actively engage and promote convergent, hybrid and ontologically complex techno-human subjects to enrich our field of inquiry as DH scholars.

Drawing on principles such as embodiment, affect, and performativity, and analyzing transmedial storytelling and mixed reality games designed for heritage settings (and developed in my university research group), I argue for these games as an exemplary medium for enriching interdisciplinary digital humanities practices using methods currently called upon by recent DH scholarship. In these fully hybrid contexts where human/technology boundaries are richly intermingled, we recognize the importance of theoretical approaches for interpretation that are performative, not mechanistic (Drucker, in Gold, 2011): That is we look at emergent experiences, driven by human intervention, not affirmed by technological development and technical interface affordances. Such hybridity, driven by human/humanities approaches is explored more fully, for example, in Digital_Humanities by Burdick et al (2012) and by N. Katherine Hayles in How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis (2012). Collectively these scholars reveal how transformative and emerging disciplines can work together to re-think the role of the organic-technical beings at the center (and found at the margins and in-between subjectivities) within new forward-thinking DH studies. Currently, Hayles and others, like Matthew Gold (2012) offer frameworks for more interdisciplinary Digital Humanities methods (including Comparative Media and Culture Studies approaches) that are richly informed by investigations into the changing role and function of the user of technologies and media and the human/social contexts for use. Hayles, for example, explicitly claims that in Digital Humanities humans “ think, through, with, and alongside media” (1). In essence, our thinking and being, our digitization and our human-ness are mutually productive and intertwined. Furthermore, we are multisensory in our access to knowing and we develop an understanding of the physical world in new ways that reorient our agencies and affects, redistributing them for other encounters with cultural and digital/material objects that are now ubiquitous and normalized.

Ross Parry, museum studies scholar, supports a similar model for inquiry and future advancement, based on the premise that digital tool use is now fully implemented and accepted in museum contexts, and so now we must deepen and develop our inquiries and practice (Parry, 2013). He claims that digital technologies have become normative in museums and that currently we find ourselves, then, in the age of the postdigital. Here critical scrutiny is key and necessary to mark this advanced state of change. For Parry this is an opportune, yet delicate juncture that requires a radical deepening of our understanding of the museums’ relationship to digital tools:

Postdigitality in the museum necessitates a rethinking of upon what museological and digital heritage research is predicated and on how its inquiry progresses. Plainly put, we have a space now (a duty even) to reframe our intellectual inquiry of digital in the museum to accommodate the postdigital condition. [Parry, 36]

For Parry, as with current DH calls for development, we must now focus on the contextualized practices in which these technologies will inevitably engage designers and users and promote robust theoretical and practical applications.

I argue that games, and in particular digital games designed for heritage experiences, are unique training grounds for such postdigital future development. They provide rich contexts for DH scholars working to deepen their understanding of performative and active interventions and intra-actions beyond texts and tools. As digital games have been adopted and ubiquitously assimilated in museums and heritage sites, we have opportunities to study experiences of users as they performatively engage postdigital museum sites through rich forms of hybrid play. In such games, nuanced forms of interdisciplinary communication and storytelling happen in deeply integrated and embedded user/technology relationships. In heritage settings, interpretation is key to understanding histories from multiple user-driven perspectives, and it happens in acts of dynamic emergence, not as the result of mechanistic affordance. As such DH designers and developers have much to learn from a rich body of games and heritage research, particularly that focused on critical and rhetorical design for play, Mixed Reality (MR) approaches and users’ bodies as integral to narrative design (Anderson et. al, 2010; Bogost, 2010; Flanagan, 2013; Mortara et. al, 2014; Rouse et. al, 2015; Sicart, 2011). MR provides a uniquely layered approach working across physical and digital artifacts and spaces, encouraging polysemic experiences that can support curators’ and historians’ desires to tell ever more complex and connected stories for museum and heritage site visitors, even involving visitors’ own voices in new ways. In combination, critical game design approaches and MR technologies, within the museum context, help re-center historical experience on the visitor’s body, voice, and agency, shifting emphasis away from material objects, also seen as static texts or sites for one-way, broadcast information. Re-centering the design on users’ embodied experience with critical play in mind, and in MR settings, offers rich scholarship for DH studies and provides a variety of heritage, museum, entertainment, and participatory design examples to enrich the field of study for open, future and forward thinking.

Drawing on examples from heritage games developed within my university research group and in the heritage design network I co-founded, and implemented in museum and heritage sites, I will work to expose these connections. From transmedial children’s books focused on Nordic folktales, to playful AR experiences that expose the history of architectural achievements, as well as the meta reflections on the telling of those achievements in archival documentations (such as the development of the Brooklyn Bridge in the 19th C) I will provide an overview of how digital heritage games, in combination with new hybrid DH initiatives can be used for future development and research. This includes research around new digital literacies, collaborative and co-design approaches (with users) and experimental storytelling and narrative approaches for locative engagement in open-world settings, dependent on input from user/visitors.


Anderson, E. F., McLoughlin, L., Liarokapis, F., Peters, C., Petridis, P., de Freitas, S.

Developing Serious Games for Cultural Heritage: A State-of-the-Art Review. In: Virtual Reality 14 (4). (2010)

Burdick, A., Drucker, J., Lunenfeld, P., Presner, T., Schnapp, J. Digital_Humanities. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA (2012)

Bogost, I. Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. MIT Press, Cambridge MA (2010)

Flanagan, M. Critical Play: Radical Game Design. MIT Press, Cambridge MA (2013)

Gold, M. K. Debates in the Digital Humanities. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN (2012)

Hayles, K. N. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, Chicago Il (2012)

Parry, R. The End of the Beginning: Normativity in the Postdigital Museum. In: Museum Worlds: Advances in Research, vol. 1, pgs. 24-39. Berghahn Books (2013)

Mortara, M., Catalano, C.E., Bellotti, F., Fiucci, G., Houry-Panchetti, M., Panagiotis, P. Learning Cultural Heritage by Serious Games. In: Journal of Cultural Hertiage, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 318-325. (2014)

Rouse, R., Engberg, M., JafariNaimi, N., Bolter, J. D. (Guest Eds.) Special Section:

Understanding Mixed Reality. In: Digital Creativity, vol. 26, issue 3-4, pp. 175-227. (2015)

Sicart, M. The Ethics of Computer Games. MIT Press, Cambridge MA (2011)

Holloway-Attaway-Critical Play, Hybrid Design and the Performance of Cultural Heritage GameStories-252_a.pdf

4:45pm - 5:00pm
Short Paper (10+5min) [publication ready]

Researching Let’s Play gaming videos as gamevironments

Xenia Zeiler

University of Helsinki

Let’s Plays, as a specific form of gaming videos, are a rather new phenomenon and it is not surprising that they are still relatively under-researched. So far, only a few publications focus on the theme. The specifics of Let’s Play gaming videos make them an unparalleled object of research in the vicinity of games – in the so-called gamevironments. The theoretical and methodical approach of the same name and literally merging the terms “games/gaming” – “environments” is first mentioned and discussed by Radde-Antweiler, Waltemathe and Zeiler 2014 who argue to broaden the study of video games, gaming and culture beyond media-centred approaches to better highlight recipient perspectives and actor-centred research. Gamevironments thus puts the spotlight on actors in their mediatized – and specifically gametized – life.

Zeiler-Researching Let’s Play gaming videos as gamevironments-185_a.pdf

5:00pm - 5:15pm
Short Paper (10+5min) [abstract]

The plague transformed: City of Hunger as mutation of narrative and form

Jennifer J Dellner

Ocean County College, United States of America,

This short paper proposes and argues the hypothesis that Minna Sundberg’s interactive game in development, City of Hunger, an offshoot or spin-off of her well respected digital comic, Stand Still Stay Silent, can be understood in terms of the ecology of the comic as a mutation of it; as such, her appropriation of a classic game genre and her storyline’s emphasis on the mechanical over the natural suggest promising avenues for understanding the uses of interactivity in the interpretation of narrative. In the game, the plague-illness of the comic’s ecology may or may not be gone, but conflict (vs. cooperation) becomes the primary mode of interaction for characters and reader-players alike. In order to produce the narrative, the reader-player will have to do battle as the characters do. Sundberg herself signals that her new genre is indivisible from the different ecology of the game world’s narrative. “City of Hunger will be a 2d narrative rpg with a turn-based battle system, mechanically inspired by your older final fantasy games, the Tales of-series and similar classical rpg's.” There will be a world of “rogue humans, mechanoids and mysterious alien beings to fight” (2017). While it remains to be seen how the game develops, its emphasis on machine-beings and aliens in a classic game environment ( a “shadow of the past”) suggests strongly that the use of interactivity within each narrative has an interpretive and not merely performative dimension.

Dellner-The plague transformed-274_a.pdf

5:15pm - 5:30pm
Short Paper (10+5min) [abstract]

Names as a Part of Game Design

Lasse Hämäläinen

University of Helsinki,

Video games often consist of several separate spaces of play. They are called, depending on the speaker and the type of the game, for example levels, maps, tracks or worlds. In this paper, the term level is used. As there are usually many levels in a game, they need some kind of identifying elements. In some games, levels only have ordinal numbers (Level 1, Level 2 etc.), but in the other, they (also) have names.

Names are an important part of game design, at least for three reasons. Firstly, giving names to places makes the imaginary world feel richer and deeper (Schell 2014: 351), improving the gameplay experience. Secondly, name gives the player first impression of the level (Rogers 2014: 220), helping him/her to perceive the level’s structure. And thirdly, level names are needed for discussing the levels. Members of a gaming community often want to share their experiences and emotions of the gameplay. When doing so, it is important to contextualize the events: in which level did X happen?

Even though some game design scholars seem to recognize the importance of names, there are very few studies of them. This presentation is aimed to fill this blank. I have analyzed level names in Playforia Minigolf, an online minigolf game designed in Finland in 2002. The data include names all the 2,072 levels in the game. The analysis focuses especially on the principles of naming, or in other words, what kind of connection there is between the name and level’s characteristics.

The presentation also examines the change of naming practices during the game’s 15-year history. The oldest names mostly describe the levels in a simple, neutral manner, while the newest names are far more ambiguous and rarely have anything to do with level’s characteristics. This change is probably caused by the change of level designers. First levels of the game were designed by its developers, game design professionals, but over time, the responsibility of designing levels has passed to the most passionate hobbyists of the game. This result might be an interesting for game studies and especially for the research of modding and modifications (see e.g. Unger 2012).


Playforia (2002). Minigolf. Finland: Apaja Creative Solutions Oy.

Rogers, Scott (2014). Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design. Chichester: Wiley.

Schell, Jesse (2014). The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses. CRC Press.

Unger, Alexander (2012). Modding as a Part of Gaming Culture. – Fromme, Johannes & Alexander Unger (eds.): Computer Games and New Media Cultures. A Handbook of Digital Games Studies, 509–523.

Hämäläinen-Names as a Part of Game Design-118_a.pdf
Hämäläinen-Names as a Part of Game Design-118_c.pdf

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