Latest Entries »

Playing Nature is finally out!

A very overdue announcement that my book Playing Nature: Ecology in Video Games was released this past December, 2019, by University of Minnesota Press. I’m thrilled that this work is finally in the world, and I hope it has some impact on scholars, players, and designers alike. The Ms. Feminist Know-It-All listed Playing Nature as one of its December 2019 must reads (, Foreword Reviews also had some kind words (, and, to my greatest nerdy excitement, Science published a review authored by Stephanie Lemenager in its January 10, 2020 issue (

Looking forward to the conversations ahead.

Playing Nature book cover

Presentations at MLA 2017 in Philadelphia

If you’re in Philly for MLA this year, I’ll be speaking on Friday and Saturday, schedule and details below:

326. Natural Media
Friday, 6 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Independence Ballroom Salon I, Philadelphia Marriott

Program arranged by the forum MS Visual Culture

Presiding: Elizabeth Swanstrom, Univ. of Utah

Speakers: Karen Elizabeth Bishop, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick; Alenda Chang, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; Jason D. Gladstone, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder; Zach Horton, Univ. of Pittsburgh; Kim Knight, Univ. of Texas, Dallas; Carlos Nugent, Yale Univ.

Session Description:

The term media ecology suggests a more inclusive approach to media studies than the merely technological, yet the “ecology” in question has not, until recently, tended to include features of the natural environment. Participants discuss recent scholarship that promotes continuity between natural and technological media environments.

Full details/abstracts available here.


569. Digital Pedagogies
Saturday, 7 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., 105B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

Program arranged by the MLA Publications Committee

Presiding: Fiona Somerset, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs

1. “Place,” Victoria E. Szabo, Duke Univ.

2. “Networks,” Patrick Jagoda, Univ. of Chicago

3. “Nature,” Alenda Chang, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara

Roundtable at NCEAS

If you’re in the Santa Barbara area, I’m giving a lunchtime talk tomorrow at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), located downtown next to the Paseo Nuevo shops. Information here:

Interview for The Christian Science Monitor

Given the current spate of video game movies (Warcraft, The Angry Birds MovieRatchet & Clank, Assassin’s Creed), I was recently interviewed by a reporter for The Christian Science Monitor regarding the challenges of adapting games to the big screen. You can check out the full article here.WarcraftMovie

CFP: Green Computer and Video Games

Ecozon@: European Journal of Literature, Culture and Environment 8.2
Autumn 2017

Guest editors: John Parham (University of Worcester, UK) and Alenda Chang (University of California, Santa Barbara) 

Green Computer and Video Games

In Last Child in the Woods (2008) Richard Louv indicts computers and game consoles as part of his thesis that the generations of children born since the 1970s are suffering from ‘nature-deficit disorder’. Yet gaming, now, is an enormous growth industry while, correspondingly, computer or video games are rapidly becoming a key area of research in ‘ecomedia’ or green cultural studies.

Ecocritical studies of games and gaming raise fundamental questions about the capacity of popular culture to present complex ecological and environmental ideas and themes and to raise public awareness, not least amongst substantial, often younger, audiences. In several studies critics have legitimately argued that games and gaming can have ecologically or environmentally damaging consequences: they can serve to remove, distance or screen us from nature; games can be ideologically complicit as Witherford and de Peuter suggest, powerfully, in Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games (2009); moreover, as Maxwell and Miller argue in Greening the Media (2012), supposedly low impact new media, including video or computer games, have merely perpetuated the detrimental material-ecological impact of ‘old media’: waste and pollution created by ‘planned cycles’ of obsolescence; or the toxic risk of rapidly discarded and dismantled components of disposable, rapidly evolving media technologies.

Nevertheless, a green reading of computer games encapsulates the contradictions that govern popular texts’ engagement with environmental or ecological themes. In that context, consideration of the anthropocentric and/or ideological dimensions of electronic games has to be balanced and offset against a variety of factors: the educational utility of ‘serious games’; McKenzie Wark’s argument that games productively dissolve the boundary between the virtual and the real (Gamer Theory (2007)); Alenda Y. Chang’s argument that we can learn ecological principles in the act (and interactivity) of playing a game (‘Games as Environmental Texts’, Qui Parle 19:2 (2011)); a complex ‘media ecology’ encompassing both a rich tradition of independent, countercultural, and ‘dissonant’ games, game companies, and gaming communities and online, massive multiplayer games where intercultural dialogue might facilitate an ‘eco-cosmopolitan’ popular culture. Most substantially, at the level of the text, there is also the potential of ‘meditative’ or immersive games to constitute a deep ecological sense of ecological interconnectedness; or, conversely, the role that educational games can play in teaching the precepts of ecological science or in nurturing awareness by simulating processes of social-ecological decision-making around topics such as energy supply, conservation, or the construction of sustainable cities (as in SimCity 4).

Proposals are invited for, but not limited to, essays considering video or computer games in relation to:

  • representation, and the modelling of nature, environment, the sublime etc.
  • interplays of real/virtual, action/simulation, the physical world/gamespace.
  • imagining and constructing utopian and/or dystopian societies.
  • environmental awareness and the formal properties of games/gaming, encompassing: interactivity; gameplay; narrative; game design; algorithmic structure; software code etc.
  • games and sustainable education.
  • games and scientific education.
  • genre studies: e.g. farm games; strategy games; conservation games; ‘meditative’ games; adventure games.
  • framings of nature and/or ideological framing in computer games.
  • modes of production: the gaming industry; ‘indie’ games; massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs); public sector/educational games.
  • ‘dissonant’ games, gamers, games companies.
  • intercultural and ‘eco-cosmopolitan’ dimensions to gaming.
  • the eco-materiality of game production, distribution, waste, recycling etc.
  • games and ecocritical theory e.g. mimesis; dark ecology; material ecology.

Please direct your questions to John Parham Manuscripts (6.000 – 8.000 words) should be submitted via the online journal platform no later than January 15th, 2017. See All submissions will be subject to peer review. Authors must comply with the guidelines of Ecozon@ as indicated on the platform, including title, abstracts and keywords (these must be provided in the language of the article, and in English and Spanish). MLA style is expected for citations. Permission must be obtained for any images used and included in the text. Manuscripts will be accepted in English, French, German, and Spanish. Submissions in other languages may be considered. Please discuss with the editors.

Although this is not a formal requirement, we would like to encourage potential contributors to contact the guest editor with an abstract (approx. 500 words) prior to handing in their full article. Please submit your abstract by September 15th, 2016.

Pervasive Play at CHI 2016

On Saturday, May 7th I will be participating in a CHI 2016 (#chi4good) pre-conference workshop focused on pervasive play.

The workshop is closed to registered participants, but information about our players and our schedule can be found on the organizers’ blog.

Critical Game Studies at UCI

I will also be speaking at UCI’s Critical Game Studies Symposium on Monday, May 2nd.

Details on the schedule and speakers can be found at the UCI School of Humanities’s website.



Power Dynamics at UCSB

On Friday, April 29 I will be speaking at the Power Dynamics: Media and the Environment Conference at UCSB’s Loma Pelona Center. UCSB students are encouraged to attend this on-campus event!

Details on featured speakers and topics can be found on the Carsey-Wolf Center’s website.

Power Dynamics Poster

Bringing Games to Life at USC Playthink

On Monday, April 25th, I will be giving a short talk at the USC School of Cinematic Arts during a Playthink salon on “bringing games to life” (hosted by the wonderful Bonnie Ruberg and Jane Pinckard, of USC’s Interactive Media & Games Division).

Other featured speakers will include Harrison Gish and Ingmar Riedel-Kruse (Stanford University), and Interactive Media and Game Design MFA students Kylie Moses and Bethany Martin presenting works in progress.

You can find more information on the Playthink  website.

USC Playthink Image 4-25-2016



SCMS 2016 panel on speculative aesthetics

Coming soon!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

09:00AM-10:45AM (Session N)

N23: Speculative Aesthetics: Media Between Art and Science

Chair: Brooke Belisle (Stony Brook University)

Tung-Hui Hu (University of Michigan), “Media for 10,000 Years: Aesthetics, Visualization, and the Long Duration” (had to withdraw)

Alenda Chang (University of California, Santa Barbara), “An Infinite Canvas in Time” and Space: Big History, or Science Fiction?”

Kristopher Fallon (University of California, Davis), “Data Visualization and Documentary’s (In)visible Frontiers”

Nicole Starosielski (New York University), “Material Compositions of Agricultural Media”


This panel explores speculative media at the intersection of actual and virtual, abstract and material, art and science. The examples we will discuss defy easy categorization, and meet multiple definitions: they are games, models, works of art, experiments, data visualizations, scientific documents or demonstrations. They represent phenomena otherwise difficult to render, such as geological time, or the air that surrounds us. They engage complexity that is difficult to frame, such as the algorithmic extrapolation of a galaxy, or the human and non-human ecology of one farm.

Cinema has always opened an unstable relationship between the fantastic and evidentiary: consider, for example, the similar magic of “trick films” and time-lapse studies, or the intimacy and yet distortion of an extreme close up. Today, the properties of digital, algorithmic technologies both reiterate and reconstruct such tensions between observation and fabrication, perception and imagination. On one hand, digital media have allowed new “techno-aesthetic regimes”, as one of our panelists puts it, to proliferate, allowing for a user to browse and zoom through the massive timescales of a computer-generated Deep History or the infinite space of a virtual universe. On the other hand, scholars have increasingly understood natural and elemental processes–atmospheric, geological, waterways–as themselves forms of media, and used other experimen tal processes to interrogate and expand the boundaries of cinema and media studies. How do the speculative aesthetics of new media draw upon the history of cinematic representation but also extrapolate emergent modes of representation, exhibition, and spectatorship? How do they reshape formal conventions for rendering space and time, stretch our notions of “documentary,” and even challenge our definition of “media”?


“An Infinite Canvas in Time” and Space: Big History, or Science Fiction?

Historians, scientists, and designers of speculative or science-fiction worlds increasingly find themselves before similar challenges. As the range and depth of specialized knowledge expands, they must not only articulate the nature, scale, and complexity of phenomena ranging from stellar evolution to climate change, but also render those articulations compelling for non-expert audiences. Several recent projects are attempting to straddle these aesthetic and scientific imperatives while making grand swathes of space and time accessible: the interactive timeline ChronoZoom, dedicated to “visualizing the history of everything,”[1] and the highly anticipated No Man’s Sky, billed as a “science-fiction game set in an infinite procedurally generated galaxy.”[2]

Even as one emphasizes time and the other space in presenting the cosmos, both ChronoZoom and No Man’s Sky treat representation, navigability, and complexity as integral concerns. Part of a recent push for “Big History,” ChronoZoom’s creators hope that it will introduce a “browsing” model of knowledge acquisition more visual and intuitive than text-based searching. The developers of No Man’s Sky face an analogous task, that of creating organized and engaging complexity out of potentially infinite material. Granted, ChronoZoom has been proposed as a response to the overabundance of information in our contemporary moment, a means to skim and rearrange the ever-growing stuff of history, while No Man’s Sky promises to set before us a fictional computer-generated game universe without end. Yet both suggest novel techno-aesthetic regimes predicated on eliminating the perceived boundaries of existing media—one, a visual epistemology based on “deep zoom” image technology, and the other an alternative method of producing playable content using algorithm-driven procedural generation rather than manual design.

Despite ambitious claims to the contrary, both ChronoZoom and No Man’s Sky are inevitably asymptotic enterprises, always approaching but never reaching total coverage. In fact, what makes them so intriguing is not the rhetoric of absolute scale, but the way they invite us to craft media experiences at effective or relative scales, set against the field of inexhaustible time and space.

[1] “ChronoZoom.” Microsoft Research. 26 Aug. 2015.

[2] “No Man’s Sky.” Hello Games. 26 Aug. 2015.


  1. Costikyan, Greg. Uncertainty in Games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013.
  2. Dyer-Witherford, Nick, and Greig de Peuter. Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.
  3. Liu, Cixin. The Three-Body Problem. Trans. Ken Liu. New York: Tor, 2014.
  4. Tong, Chris. “Ecology without Scale: Unthinking the World Zoom.” Animation 9.2 (2014): 196-211.