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The fourth installment of the Playing the Field conference series in American Studies focuses on video game politics in any sense of the phrase: the representation of concrete or abstract political concerns or processes in games; politics as gameplay or an aspect of interactivity; the politics and economics of game production and consumption in global capitalism; games as political tools or media of ideology; the politics of video game historiography; the imagination of identity in games in terms of nationality, gender, ethnicity, etc.; the discursive politicization of games or their construction as non-political spaces; the political aspects of gamer culture and technology; the environmental impact of gaming; politics in game design and game didactics; the relation of video games to popular culture and its politics; the politics of video game journalism; and many, many more. While there can be no doubt that video games are political, it is absolutely necessary to talk about how they are political.

The mission of the Playing the Field research initiative is to foster video game research, to connect scholars across disciplines, career stages, and borders, and to provide a public space for conversations about current issues that are relevant in and beyond academia. While we are based in American Studies, we welcome interdisciplinary connections of any kind, always mindful of the key question of methodology at the heart of this endeavor: how can our respective fields study video games, and how does the study of video games change our fields? With this particular thematic focus, one might add: What are the institutional, structural, or personal politics of studying video games in any given framework today? How do video games change our notions of the political?

The keynote speaker at the conference will be Christopher A. Paul, professor of Communication and Media at Seattle University, USA, and the author of Free-to-Play: Mobile Video Games, Bias, and Norms (MIT Press, 2020), Real Games: What’s Legitimate and What’s Not in Contemporary Video Games (with Mia Consalvo, MIT Press, 2019), The Toxic Meritocracy of Video Games: Why Gaming Culture Is the Worst (University of Minnesota Press, 2018), and Wordplay and the Discourse of Video Games: Analyzing Words, Design, and Play (Routledge, 2012). His latest monograph is the forthcoming Optimizing Play: Why Theorycrafting Breaks Games and How to Fix It (MIT Press, 2024).

The conference is open to the public, and there is no conference fee. You don't need to register, but if you do - by sending an e-mail to sascha.poehlmanntu-dortmundde - we'll have a name tag waiting for you. All are welcome!

Conference program

Download this program as a PDF here.


Thursday, July 11

6 p.m.: keynote, Christopher A. Paul (Seattle): "The Stakes of Optimization: Why What’s Best for the Individual Breaks Games (and Society)"

Abstract: Optimization shifts play, making it more instrumental and risking a tragedy of the commons, where actions that are good for individual players jeopardize the overall state of the game and the community of players. As players theorycraft to develop a meta, or most effective tactic available, they structure and limit play, seeking out a best option and casting other choices to the side. Optimization limits games and causes disharmony amongst the player base. In worst case scenarios players can build the perception that a game is solved, leading them to turn away from the game and seek out other options. Looking at games from Overwatch to Marvel: Snap and World of Warcraft to professional sports, this talk makes the case that what is best for individual players often isn‘t best for the game then reaches beyond games to argue that games can teach us about the broader implication and political impacts of optimization run amok throughout society.


Friday, July 12

9:00     Marko Jevtic (Konstanz): "Between Interactivity and Activism: Identity Tourism and the ‘Playful Translations’ of (Radical) Resistance"

9:30     Stefan Schubert (Leipzig): "'Another White Asshole Deciding What I Get To Do': Narrative Instability, Black Female Agency, and the White Male Writerly Self in Alan Wake 2"

10:00   Steffen Wöll (Leipzig): "Race and the Politics of Survival in the Chthulucene: The Case of Dark Corners of the Earth"

coffee break

11:00   Kübra Aksay (Freiburg): "(Outer) Space for Politics: Diplomacy, Authority, and Colonialism in Space Exploration Games"

11:30   Eren Ileri (Vienna): "Working for the Factory: Planetary Colonization and the Imagination of Outer Space in Construction and Management Simulation Games"

12:00   Nicole A. Schneider (Munich): "Of Lines and other Things: Video Games and the Politics of (Infra)Structures"

lunch break

2:00     Sarah E. Beyvers (Passau): "Playing against the Grain: The Politics of Critical, Transgressive and Queer Play"

2:30     Jaya Bauer (Duisburg-Essen): "Woke Games: Exploring Approaches to Queer Visibility in Video Games and their Application in ELT

3:00     Tom Dirkschnieder (Tübingen): "Walking Through Backlash: Resisting Heteronormativity in Fullbright’s Gone Home"

coffee break

4:00     Cornelius Beckers (Freiburg): "Playing through the Ages of Empire: Politics of Imperial Temporality in Strategy Games"

4:30     Andrei Nae & Alessandra Ciufu (Bucharest): "Colonial Diversity in Uncharted. The Lost Legacy"


5:30     games & pizza



Saturday, July 13

9:00     Elliot Niblock (U of Virginia/Dortmund): "The Janus Face of Video Games: Immersion—For Better-and-Worse—in the Culture Industry's Products, Considering Horizon Zero Dawn"

9:30     David J. Cross (Stuttgart): "The Politics of the Post-Apocalypse and Kinship in Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding"

10:00   Max Andreas Oehmichen (Leipzig): "'Cyberpunk is dead' – Performative Agency in the Post-Political Dystopia of Cyberpunk 2077"

coffee break

11:00   Rüdiger Brandis & Alexander Boccia (Göttingen / Achtung Autobahn Studio): "The Lack of Democratic Systems in MMORPG Guild Structures"

11:30   Lisa Westermayer & Luisa H. Rieger (Dortmund): "Authenticity in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey: A Sociolinguistic Evaluation"

12:00   Angelina Skuratova (Paderborn): "Faithful Infidelity: Innovative Game Adaptation Strategies in HBO’s The Last of Us (2023)"

lunch break

2:00     Naghmeh Esmaeilpour (Berlin): "Gameture: The Storyworld of Interactions between Iran and the US"

2:30     Diogo Oliveira (Porto): "Pikachu, the Lightning American: How Nintendo America Changed the Way the West Played Pokémon"

3:00     Rebecca Käpernick (Oldenburg): "Mothers, Clones and Brain Children: The Maternal as Political Force in Guerilla Games’ Horizon Series"

coffee break

4:00     Nataliya Gorbina (Konstanz): "Play-to-Die(t): The Anti-Speciesist 'Other' in Video Games"

4:30     Lars Lindemann (Kiel): "'Ecofascism' or 'Fully Automated Luxury Communism'? – Political Visions of Life after Climate Catastrophe in Frostpunk"